Bob is four years old and regularly leaves his pajamas on the floor in the bedroom after he gets dressed. Mom wants to help him manage himself in this simple area. How can she use a conscience approach to help her son do what’s right without being told?
All parents want to help their children develop responsibility, and it happens at any age. A three-year-old puts away his toys, an eight-year-old cleans up the counter after getting a drink, a thirteen-year-old cleans up the bathroom without being asked, and an eighteen-year-old checks in and abides by a curfew. These are all signs of internal motivation and demonstrations of responsibility. They reveal that the conscience is growing and motivating the child in life.
Responsibility develops as children learn to rely on the internal prompting to do what’s right. Responsibility training requires transferring ownership to the child, not just to complete a task, but to do it well, and to remember to get it done.
A strong conscience keeps a child on track when tempted to play instead of work, do a minimal job, or forget the job altogether. Parents can do several things to strengthen the conscience and help build responsibility. The goal is to help children feel an internal obligation to complete the task instead of relying on parents, teachers, or others to be those prompters.
Being responsible, organized, and reliable requires that children be sensitive to internal cues. Often internal cues are attached to external indicators, such as a calendar, a clock, or a to-do list.
Just think about yourself for a moment. How do you remember when to get the oil changed in the car, when it’s time to buy more toilet paper, or to send a card to your mother on her birthday? You typically have indicators you use to remind you to get those things done. You may watch the mileage on the car and know when the next oil change is needed. When you open the last package of toilet paper, that’s your indication that you need to put it on the shop- ping list, and you might put a reminder on your calendar for important birthdays. Those indicators keep you self-motivated.
Children can also learn to see cues, feel uncomfortable about the situation, and do something about it. Your children can learn to do the same thing you do, but it will take some thought, creativity, and practice.
Much of the work of parenting is identifying what heart quality needs development and then practicing it to increase internal strength.
God’s Word is a powerful force for forming convictions. As children memorize and discuss Scripture, they develop a standard that feeds the conscience to make it strong and healthy. Kids often need help understanding God’s Word and suggestions for making it practical.
Spiritual formation for children is essential for their growth and has an amazing effect on internal motivation levels. Passing the faith on to your children does something deep within their hearts and helps them develop strong convictions about how they will live.
Keep in mind that telling kids what to do or simply teaching them information isn’t enough to get it into their hearts. The heart contains a person’s operating principles. You can often determine what those operating principles are by looking at your child’s tendencies. A child who has a tendency to lie to get out of trouble has a conscience problem in the same way a child who can’t accept responsibility for an offense or who is relentless in teasing does. Those behavioral tendencies reveal heart problems.
Much of the heart change takes place in a child through prayer, study of God’s Word, and by the grace of God at work in the child’s life. However, the parent can do a lot to influence this heart change as well. One of the ways to change those tendencies is by repeating the right response over and over again.
Training the conscience involves teaching a child what the right thing is to do and then practicing it. If a child isn’t doing well following instructions, part of the solution is to concentrate on that skill for a period of time. Some parents think they can just change the way they give an instruction and the child will change. Although that may happen sometimes, it usually takes some extra practice for a child to change the tendency to not follow instructions. It may take twenty practice instructions a day, in addition to the normal instructions, to heighten the learning curve for a child who needs to develop a new pattern.
As parents use a conscience approach to help children do what’s right, they contribute to an internal sense of obligation in that child to do the right thing. The parents then are contributing to the child’s sense of responsibility and maturity, and help build internal motivation.
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Excerpted with permission from Motivate Your Child: A Christian Parent’s Guide To Raising Kids Who Do What They Need To Do Without Being Told by Dr. Scott Turansky & Joanne Miller, R.N., copyright Nelson Books, 2015.
As parents, we all need help building the knowledge and skills for helping kids choose to do what’s right. How have you helped your child initiate heart change and assume more responsibility in their lives? We want to hear from you! Come leave a comment on our blog!