How Much Is Too Much Responsibility For Kids to Handle?
We must differentiate between two kinds of responsibility: the personal kind and the social kind.
Personal responsibility entails everything that has to do with one’s self – what we wear, eat, where we go, who we spend time with, how we feel and whether we change circumstances in order to feel better etc. and social responsibility is how we act toward each other – we care for each other and cooperate together, respecting the needs of others.
When children live in a healthy social community, they imitate the behavior that is modelled to them and are aware of social responsibility – they meet the needs of others and cooperate in order to uphold a healthy, happy living situation. Children grow into their social responsibility and assist their companions in day-to-day jobs, imitate the appropriate mannerisms at their own pace and see that established rules (which they had a say in) are upheld.
Children also grow into their personal responsibility, if they are allowed to without intervention. The Autonomy Phase is the time where they wish to do things by themselves and decide things that immediately concern and impact them. (Check out my Article on the Autonomy Phase.) The mainstream paradigm teaches us that children cannot cope with this kind of responsibility and must be treated with consistency and have boundaries set by their parents. This could not be further from the truth; children are very well apt to pin point their needs and wishes and see that they are met. Respecting their wishes and needs is something that isn’t seen in mainstream parenting; here the parent always gives permission, which robs children of their personal responsibility. When personal responsibility is externally controlled by an adult, children often answer with defiance. They defy their own needs and wishes, not realizing them, as the parents don’t either, and defy also the authoritarian controlling figures, just so that they feel some autonomy.
Children will communicate to you when your help and assistance are required in coping with their personal responsibility, and they count on your hearing them. This communication could very well be silence, as an answer to your list of options, or crying when they are overwhelmed. Choosing which trousers they wish to wear is usually a breeze but can sometimes lead to quite the meltdown. The reasons behind this could be anything from tiredness to dread of the place you are going – every person, situation and perception is individual and must be dealt with as such, instead of implementing a one-size-fits-all solution by saying “That’s enough!” and forcing a boundary. Assisting children, hearing what they have to say, facilitating needs, validating emotions and connecting with them are practices we as human beings use when we interact with friends, and children certainly respond well to friendliness.
The kind of responsibility children cannot handle is when an adult overwhelms them with THEIR personal responsibility and makes them responsible for what they feel and how they act: “I’m very disappointed in you” “You have made Mummy very sad” “You are hurting me!” “Mummy loves you, why are you being mean?” “We had to leave because of how you were acting!” etc.
When we make children responsible for how we are feeling, they are overwhelmed by their ability to shake us to the core. Parents are supposed to be sturdy beings that can carry anything a child cannot, especially responsibility, and make sense of emotions and generally guide children, relieving them of any unwanted responsibility. This is parenting, right?
The ability to shake us to the core gives children power over us they certainly do not want or wish for. The emotional exasperation often embodies itself as aggression toward the parent or toward themselves. In this case children are communicating “this is too much! I can’t take the power and responsibility! Help!”
Making children responsible for negative situations is equally harmful, such as when you must leave a gathering, because of something the child did or how he or she was acting. This encourages the act of blaming and is a punishment.
Responsibility will be carried when the child is strong enough and sufficiently developed in order to register and manage it. Such processes cannot be forced or taught; the foundations must be laid in order to support such structures. The foundation for healthy development has been proven time and again in studies and research to be strong attachments, households in which children’s needs are met and the will to cooperate with children is in place. These things allow children to develop a healthy self-esteem and also take their place in a social system where everyone carries their own personal responsibility.
I invite you to take your liberty and join the revolution!