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Teaching responsibility through encouragement, not meddling

How do parents encourage children to take responsibility? It's a tricky situation. If we intrude too much, we end up carrying the load for them. On the other hand, most kids do need guidance as they assume more control over their lives. Here are some ways that we can guide without meddling: Help your child break a larger task into smaller, more manageable parts. Sometimes a job or assignment seems so overwhelming that a child feels defeated before he has even begun. But dividing the project into segments can make it more possible.

When our 11-year-old was confused and worried about his first newspaper delivery route, we showed him how to deliver the papers block by block, and he soon learned the system.

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If a homework assignment on the New England states seems too difficult, don't do it for your child -- but show him how to study just one state at a time. For a preschooler, ``setting the table'' might be translated into ``Put the spoons on the table. Now put the forks on the table,'' and so on. Doing a chore in pieces develops good organizational skills and increases self-confidence.

Suggest that your child tackle toughest projects first and then go on to easier duties. This ``business-before-pleasure'' approach really works, because it takes advantage of a child's energy level, which usually wanes as the day wears on. During summer, for example, parents can insist that chores be completed in the morning before recreational activities begin. During school time, homework should be a right-after-dinner routine before TV or telephone calls intrude.

An occasional youngster may be more productive in the morning and prefer to get up early to do homework. If so, you can adjust routines accordingly. But keep the ``hard-to-easy'' progression; it saves time and fuss and gives your child a sense of accomplishment.

Buy your child an alarm clock and a calendar and teach her how to use them. Even a young one can learn to take responsibility for getting up at a certain time or remembering that Brownie meetings are on Wednesdays. Once youngsters start to manage their own time, stop reminding them of every commitment. If a meeting is missed or your child is late for school, treat the matter lightly and assure her that she'll do better tomorrow. This method enables parents to move gradually out of the picture as children assume more control.

Teach your child to talk positively to himself when he feels pressed. Instead of ``I'll never finish this raking job,'' his thought might be, ``Only two more bags of leaves to fill.'' Instead of ``I can't learn this math'' have him try, ``I got a `C.' I can do even better next time.''

Without actually taking responsibility for a child's activities, parents can do much to set an encouraging tone where failure is overlooked and success noticed. When children hear mostly positive comments about themselves, they will often use these same remarks as motivators when times get tough. Most important, let your children know that you love them no matter what they can or cannot accomplish.

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