10 Ways To Teach Children Respect For Commitment

"I want to quit!" is becoming as prevalent as the droning chant, "Are we there yet?"

"I want to quit!" is becoming as prevalent as the droning chant, "Are we there yet?"

As parents, it exasperates us and as educators, it is like nails across a chalkboard. But perhaps what is most frustrating is that we find that children are losing respect for commitment. Whose fault is that?

While we do not want to point fingers and place blame, it is important to reflect on the question of responsibility. Teaching respect for commitment is somebody’s job. It is often left to the parents to teach these lessons. But nobody can teach these lessons alone.

Perhaps, where we all go wrong in teaching respect for commitment to children is that we talk about it when commitment is already an issue. This is a common mistake.

Well-intentioned adults are often guilty of talking about being strong in character once a weakness in character is detected. For example, we talk about respect when a child is being disrespectful and we talk about fairness when a child is being unfair. The secret is — and perhaps we should all listen closely — that we need to teach strength in character when the child is exhibiting strong character. Recognize it, point it out and praise it.

Commitment 101

1. Teach it before it becomes an issue.

Respect for commitment and hard work should be part of the daily lexicon of any parent. Small praise phrases such as "I appreciate your hard work and commitment to this team," or "It is clear that your hard work and commitment are paying off" can assist in bringing the notion of dedication to the forefront. A good character development program for parents will give you the powerful structure for talking about commitment with your children as well.

2. Reach out for assistance.

If you as a parent do not have the time or know-how to have consistent, meaningful conversations with your child about character and commitment, there are a few things you can do. First, purchase a systemized, easy-to-use character curriculum that can be delivered in small increments at home and without the need of a great deal of training. In addition, enlist the assistance of a powerful martial arts or religious program that already has a systemized character education piece in place to help teach these important concepts to your children. You can also enlist the help of a success coach for you or your children. These programs and coaches can become your partners in success!

3. Do your homework.

Find out if the program is suitable to your child and to your family. Just because everyone is playing soccer or T-ball does not mean that it is right for your child. Does your child like playing on a team or would an individual activity like martial arts or horseback riding be more suitable? Does it meet at a time when the child is energized or grouchy? Does it meet at a time when you are available or stressing in traffic? What is the coach or instructor like? I once met an 8-year-old student who was scared of his militant martial arts teacher and decided not to continue. He shyly entered a new martial arts school across town and met the upbeat instructor and found a perfect fit.

4. Explain commitment each time the child commits.

When a parent is getting ready to enroll a child in a program, a discussion should ensue. The child should be made aware of the time commitment, as well as the commitment to effort that he must give throughout the time that he is part of the program. Parents should discuss the benefits of joining the program with the child as well as what the child will have to give up while he is in the program. This way, there are no surprises.

5. Explain it in their terms.

When explaining the commitment to a younger child, I encourage parents to explain it in terms that a child can understand. Avoid abstract explanations such as, "Johnny, when you commit, you will need to commit fully to the process." A child will not be able to grasp that kind of rationalization. One good example of a concrete explanation of commitment is, "Johnny, you know how it is really warm outside and we are wearing shorts? When you commit to being part of this class, you will be in it until it gets really cold out and we are wearing winter coats."

6. Put it in writing.

I have often had parents and children put the commitment down in writing, sign it in front of the instructor and then hang it in a prevalent place where they can see it each day. The commitment should be read out loud at the time of signing so that the child understands that commitment is taken seriously.

7. Investigate the issue.

If your child tells you that he wants to quit, don’t ignore it. Find out why. The issue could be as serious as the child feels threatened by someone or as minor as the child wants to play with one of his friends during practice instead. Sometimes you may find that a child will always find something wrong. Nip this in the bud. Part of making commitments is keeping them! Not everything can always go the child’s way. I remember one parent telling me that she asked her child one day, "Who is the boss in this house?" to which the child replied, "I am the boss." The problem was dually noted, don’t you think?

8. Make sure you are not the problem.

Putting a lot of pressure on your child to succeed in extra-curricular activities can have a lasting and negative effect. Encouragement and support are advantageous but constant harping and hairpin corrections can be detrimental. Revisit the reason why your child is in the activity — is it for self-esteem building and fun or for training for the Olympics? In nearly all cases, let the instructor be the coach and let the parent be the parent.

9. Don’t over-schedule.

Children need downtime. They need cuddle-time. They need decompression time. Don’t you? If your child points out that they like four different activities, have them choose which one they would like to participate in at this time. After all, everyone gets crabby while running from place to place. Summer time, or vacation time, can always be used to schedule extra activities.

10. Make sure that they follow through.

When it comes down to it, barring any threatening or harmful situations, a child must learn to follow through when they commit to something. As a parent, you know best. The child is looking to you for guidance. If you teach them to commit, they will learn about hard work and perseverance. If you teach them that it is OK to quit, they will learn that if they complain long enough, hard work and perseverance are not necessary.