Focus on Self-initiated Responsibility
We can reinforce our child for getting his chores done, but we want him to want to do the right thing, not just do them because he gets something for it. How can the program help with that?
Since I share your goal for your son (and all children) to learn to take full responsibility for his own behavior, the issue is not with the intended outcome but with how to get there. Success with your long-range goal depends upon providing your child direct experience with the benefits of being responsible. Based on natural developmental factors, you can best provide that experience by coupling your son’s efforts with material and social reinforcement, continuing long enough that he internalizes the connection and no longer requires external reward. As you operate your program, you will assist your son in moving through three distinct phases of internal satisfaction:
1. At first the child feels good about completing a responsibility only because of the reward received, both material and social, and if this were the end point, your concerns would be well justified.
2. With success over time, the child begins to feel good about succeeding for its own sake, sometimes expressed aloud with comments such as:
Look, Mom, I got the trash out right when I got home from school, and it only took me two minutes so I can go with the guys to ball practice!
This developmentally more-advanced response reflects the child’s growing recognition that other benefits often accompany taking responsibility. This provides an alert parent an opportunity to acknowledge and reinforce the child’s gains:
Noah, that’s great! It makes me so proud when I see your work is done and I’m so happy to see that you have time with your friends.
3. With still more experience with success, the child moves beyond feeling good about getting a reward and even beyond feeling good about additional benefits from being efficient to feeling good about being a responsible person. A child may show this level with a comment like:
Dad, sorry I took so long getting out here, but I saw Mr. Brown was having trouble getting his big trash can to the street so I ran over and helped him. He offered me a dollar for helping him, but I told him I take our trash out all the time and I was happy to help.
A parent learning of a child progressing to this level can further reinforce what is clearly becoming internalized maturity. For example:
Alex, it is wonderful to see how responsible and caring you are becoming. Your pride in your own abilities is a sign that you are really maturing. I know Mr. Brown is impressed, too. You are becoming a very responsible guy and we really are glad for you.
Your home program provides you a direct way to support the very goal you value, but you must recognize it is a process that takes place over time.