When you’re a parent, some days it can feel like a struggle just to keep your kids alive.
On other, better, days, most parents are desperately hoping and attempting to raise a child who will go out one day and positively impact the world around them.
However despite their hope and desire, many parents feel as if they lack practical strategies and tactics for effectively raising a responsible child.
Diana Pendley, who has served as children’s minister at Prestonwood Baptist Church for more than 27 years and has three grown children of her own, believes the best way to ensure this type of success is to start early.
First, as with any goal, parents must define what responsible means. To Pendley and her husband, responsible means being dependable and honest, having a strong work ethic, and wise and effective use of money, gifts and talents.
Of course, one of the initial steps in developing these qualities in children is teaching them about chores.
“We need to start teaching our kids about chores when they are young, not when they’re 10,” Pendley stressed.
Pendley’s family classified their responsibilities into personal, something only the child did, and family, something done together or that benefits the family as a whole.
“Children need to learn that being part of a family, a team, or a class means accepting responsibility,” Pendley said.
As early as 2 or 3 years old, children can take on personal responsibilities by assisting in making their bed and helping pick up their toys. It’s the family’s responsibility to keep the house clean, but the child should take part in that. They can take their dirty clothing to the laundry basket and help their parents clean up spills or dirt.
As they age, children should gradually be given more responsibility. By ages 8-11, children should be making their own beds, helping to fold laundry, and waking up on their own using an alarm clock.
“As parents, we have to recognize the difference between a chore—an ongoing task that benefits our household—and a life skill—an activity that children should know how to do before living on their own,” Pendley explained.
Seems simple enough, right? So what makes this such a challenge for so many parents? Enforcement. “Our kids are so privileged in Plano,” Pendley said. “Sometimes that can be hard.”
With the world at their fingertips, it’s crucial Plano children learn what’s good and what is not. While most adults aren’t chores fanatics either, they understand the necessity of completing specific tasks. Pendley emphasized there must be follow through, even when it’s hard.
“As working parents, you have to be consistent,” she said. She noted this can be challenging after a long day at work and school, but in the long run, it will help children to continue positive habits, regardless of circumstances.
If a child is defiant or lazy, Pendley said it can be a bit of trial and error, but consistency is key. “With one of my sons, I had to make sure I made eye contact and he understood what was asked,” Pendley said.
Giving a time frame to do a chore and following through on consequences can also be helpful. At the Pendley home, if a chore did not get done, Pendley and her husband would “trade” chores with their kids.
Since adults tend to have more extensive chores than children, this often served as a deterrent. “For example, I’d say ‘I noticed you didn’t get the trash out to the curb, so I did it,’” Pendley said. “But now I need you to vacuum the family room.”
As for her approach, Pendley said their family worked to reward what was good. “Try to say yes as much as possible,” she said, “because when you say no, you need to mean it.”
Acknowledging that every family and child are different, Pendley knows not everyone starts with these strategies straight out of the womb. Although starting earlier helps produce the best results, results, Pendley stressed it’s never too late. For families who begin later, starting small and building on that is essential.
“It can’t be a knee-jerk reaction,” Pendley said. “And it takes a family talk where you say, ‘We’re making some big changes, but we’re going to do this together.’”
It’s a process that must be taken one day at a time, she explained. Always praise them for a successful day and have consequences in place that can be followed through on.
“We also have to remember that every child matures at a different pace,” she said. “We have to know our children, their skills, and talents.”
Managing money is another major area Pendley believes should be worked on in the home from early childhood. “Because of the affluence in Plano, our kids have to know it’s not always about me getting,” she said.
Pendley’s family had “banks” for the children. These banks, or jars, had three sections—spending, saving and giving. In addition to reminding their children there were people in need, the Pendley’s wanted them to understand the issue firsthand. “We went down to Bonton [an inner-city Dallas ministry with BridgeBuilders] once a month,” she said.
It also gave their children a chance to see their parents serving and giving back to the community. Research has found evidence to support that children model the behavior of their parents, so seeing the adults making positive choices and helping contribute to their community is crucial.
Pendley said this stretches farther than serving. It’s also important to demonstrate characteristics such as honesty and integrity for children. “Make sure what you say is shown by what you do,” Pendley said.
While strict enforcement of responsibilities and rules is important in raising a responsible child, Pendley believes there’s another element as well—building memories, laughing, talking a lot, and simply doing life together.
“People are so busy, and we all want our kids to be the best, but sometimes you just have to pause,” Pendley said. “We need to do things like going for ice cream in our PJs.”
With that kind of relational foundation, children know the parent is a safe person to discuss more serious topics, as well as someone they can just have fun with.
It’s a long journey, but as a parent of three grown children, the last who just graduated from high school this May, Pendley said she doesn’t believe parenting stops at 18.
“We’re still parents but with a whole different seat on the bus,” she said. “We can still guide, but I can’t always show my opinion. But I can let them know I’m there for them and always praying for them.”