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November 2, 2009
Times Observer

How do we help children become responsible learners? Better yet, how do we help children become responsible? First and foremost, children must possess the ability to regulate their own behavior. Think about when you were a child and you parents told you to sit quietly when you went to visit your grandparents. For the most part, you could do it. Why do today’s children have such difficulty sitting still?

First, it has to do with the input they receive. Children of yesteryear played long and hard with make believe. They would spend hours in a dirt pile with their trucks or hours with their baby dolls playing house. They had to find things that would make the play real like sticks to make roadways, or would make the front porch different rooms of the house. Today’s children get everything all together. Dollhouses have multiple rooms and lots of furniture. Trucks come in sets complete with roadways and bridges. There is no longer the need to invent. Therefore, children bore quickly of such games. The ability to remain on task for a period of time is the initial foundation of self regulation.

Today’s children sit for hours without gross motor activity playing video games or watching TV. They are entertained rather than developing the ability to entertain themselves. Further as we have discussed in the past, such activities are comparable to sleeping. Very little cognitive activity occurs in the brain during these activities. There is no thinking happening in their brains when they are engaged in these activities.

So, how do you work with your children to develop a sense of self regulation and responsibility. First, model the behavior. Children will value responsibility if you value responsibility. They require guidance in the act of responsibility through loving discipline and follow through. Key concepts include teaching compassion for others, honesty, courage, self control and self respect. All can be addressed in your child’s daily life. Consider, for instance, making a get well card with your child for an ailing neighbor or making some cookies to take to the nursing home. Over time, your child will begin to see your values in being compassionate and will begin to mirror the behavior. The same holds true for each of the concepts. If you do it and do it consistently, your children will begin to do it. And don’t forget using books that teach these lessons. Your discussions with your child as you read the story can help bring the point home.

Just remember that children need lots of practice with new concepts and you will have to work on these over time and in a variety of ways. But before long, your child will begin to demonstrate the signs of responsibility. And, as they continue to grow, will learn to regulate their own behavior through demonstrating responsible behavior.

Mary Rockey, Ph.D., BCBA is the Director of Pupil Service at Randolph Central School.

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