Kids have rights AND responsibilities. Yep, even the little ones.

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We do all we can to give our children the best, most comfortable lives we can – but the danger is that they take such life for granted. It becomes a problem when they develop an unearned sense of entitlement. When they start becoming stroppy and shirking age-appropriate responsibilities, or carelessly wasting resources, we parents draw our hair in desperation. What have we done wrong? we berate ourselves. How could they have turned out as these ungrateful, irresponsible little brats?

The answer may be surprisingly simple. We’re not doing anything wrong by providing our kids with food, shelter, clothing, good schooling, love and care. We’re performing our parental responsibilities, and just because not all children have access to these basic rights doesn’t mean ours shouldn’t. What we also need to provide for our kids are responsibilities to go with these rights.

Responsibilities go hand in hand with awareness. There’s a drought going on in our country. There are people starving within a ten-minute drive from most of our homes. Many children don’t have access to good schools. People treat each other with apathy and cruelty.

Young kids may not be able to solve many of these problems, but they need to be aware of them. Mindful citizens are bred from mindful children. They need to learn not to waste resources and to show appreciation for the opportunities that they have available to them.

Mindful citizens are bred from mindful children

After a particularly hair-pulling week with my ungrateful brats – er, I mean darling children – I decided to take action. I screamed them to bed without a story, slammed the door on them, and locked myself in my office to try to calm down. Then I opened my computer and began typing. I typed lists. Lots of them. I itemized the things my kids had a right to expect, and then wrote the responsibilities that go with them. Without standing up to their (age-appropriate) responsibilities, I decided, they lost their rights.

I stuck the lists in the form of posters all over the house: one about food in the kitchen; one about hygiene in the bathroom; one about education above the school bag hooks; etc. When the kids woke up in the morning, they were wide-eyed. The two literate ones read them out to their little sister, and they began discussing the ideas in hushed voices.

Things have changed somewhat in the Veggietot household. The posters are now looking a little dog-eared, but the principles have made their points. I now say things like, “If you don’t take care of your clothes and put them away nicely you will lose the right to have them” – and I get a perceptive response! At first I actually confiscated the items in question, including their beds when they started treating them as trampoline-rocket-launches at 10 pm one evening. The boys spent a night on the cold passage floor, but they got the point. Fast.

People have reacted to my approach variously with appall and applause. For the latter, here are the signs to print and plaster around your home:

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