Helping or Hurting? How to Teach Your Child Responsibility

No parent wants to see their children struggle or fail. In fact, if there is one goal of parenting, it’s to ensure that children are as successful in their endeavors as possible. But when your child forgets his homework for the fifth day this week and you have to call the teacher, again, to explain, are you really helping your child?

A 2014 study published in the Journal of Child and Family Studies was one of the first to examine the effects of so-called helicopter parenting on grown children. The study authors interviewed college students and compared the well-being scores of those who had overbearing parents to those whose parents had a more hands-off approach. Interestingly, the students whose parents took more control reported higher levels of anxiety and depression. The study authors theorized that helicopter parenting violates a child’s need for autonomy and competence.

Of course, there’s a delicate balance between providing support and allowing room for failure and responsibility. Middle school is the ideal time to allow your kids to face the consequences of their educational choices without serious repercussions.

If you want to increase your child’s educational responsibility in middle school, here are a few tips that can help.

Set Boundaries

If your child is used to having you step in, he or she may chafe at sudden responsibility. Discuss changes with your children ahead of time and set a few trial challenges. For instance, a child who doesn’t take responsibility for keeping a clean room can miss summer outings. This can ease the way for more challenges at school.

Start with Homework

Homework is often not a huge part of a child’s final grade, which makes it a good, low-impact area for learning responsibility. Tell your middle schooler he or she is now responsible for completing all homework and bringing it to school.

Make it clear that you will not remind them to do homework or ask if they have it ready in the morning. Above all, do not complete your children’s homework. If they have a question, they can ask you or look up how to complete the problem online.

Allow Classroom Failures

It can be difficult for parents to allow their children to take control of all study and test preparation. Tests, after all, show how well a student has mastered a topic. However, students must learn how to study and take tests to succeed in high school and college.

Middle school is the perfect time to start stressing the importance of test preparation. Rather than studying with your child for every test, try giving reminders of an upcoming test and allow your child to decide how long to study. When children see their actions are directly tied to their performance in school, they are more likely to study harder next time if they perform poorly.

When to Step In

Your role as parent is to step in and help when your middle schooler is truly struggling. If you see your child completing homework, working on assignments, trying hard, and still not performing well in school, it’s time to step in. You can offer assistance by setting up additional study time for a particular subject, enrolling your child in an online class to catch up, or hiring a tutor to coach the student through problem areas. Computer programs like LearnBop for math may also be helpful. This kind of help does not take away from the child’s efforts—instead it provides resources that will help your child succeed. If the school environment is a problem, you may even want to look into school alternatives.

One of the hardest parts of parenting is knowing when to let go. Middle school students are old enough to start taking control of their lives one area at a time. Allowing them to take responsibility for their actions can be a good way to foster a sense of autonomy and competence.

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