Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Hamsterbilities: Preparing Kids for Responsibilty

My daughter Hannah is 8 years old and wants a hamster, bad-like. I've posted before about Bargaining on the Front End. This is about a specific version of that.

There are few areas around the house that need some improvement before we're ready to add a hamster to the mix. A couple of them involve taking care of the dog we already have. Another is Hannah cleaning up after herself when grabbing a snack or doing an art project. One other example is eating what she decides to from dinner without complaining about what is served.

We could go ahead and get the hamster, and ask her to promise to improve these areas, and then just hope she does. She's on the cusp of being ready. But if we did we'd rob Hannah of an opportunity to demonstrate that she's capable of taking care of her responsibilities. We'd also be modeling that in life you get the things you want first, and then work out the responsibilities later—that's certainly not how we will be doing things with driving. So why not be consistent and start now.

If we did get her the hamster and just hoped it went well, and it turned out not to, we'd likely feel some resentment. Another option I can think of would be to get tough and say, "If you don't start taking care of your responsibilities around here, you're not getting a hamster!" But phrasing it that way verges on an embedded You're Not Capable Message.

What can we do instead? We phrase it along the lines of "We're looking forward to seeing you enjoy having your own hamster as soon as you've shown us you're ready...and you're getting pretty close. " We collaboratively came up with a list of the responsibilities around the house that will demonstrate that she's ready for having her own pet to take care of, which together we decided to call Hamsterbilities. A term I don't think I'll ever be able to forget.

Now when she says, "How long until I get my hamster?" We can say, "Let's check out your Hamsterbilities chart and see how it's going." We then get out the chart and look at each of the agreed upon areas. We decided to rate them from 0 to 3. Zero being not taking care of a responsibility at all on up to three where she's really got it down. We decided together that she's going to need twos or above. Now she's getting accurate feedback on how she's doing. And the decision for when she gets the hamster becomes less arbitrary, and more associated with how she's handling her responsibilities around the house. Also by looking at a chart together side by side, it doesn't feel to her like it is us "just deciding". Kids tend to view things like this Hamsterbilities chart as a relatively objective, third party source of information. I can guarantee that is not how she'd view it if we just told her why we thought she wasn't there yet. There's some magic in that side by side evaluating of something together.

How's it going? Well she's closing in on her fuzzy little prize. And when she makes it, which looks to be soon, she's going to experience a real sense of accomplishment and she'll definitely be set for the ups and downs of hamster ownership. And the downs as well as the ups are all part of the learning and are part of what make a child taking responsibility for a pet meaningful.

If you enjoyed this article please vote for it on Digg, above, or Netscape or one of the other options below. You can also bookmark the site to the right. I appreciate your support.

blog comments powered by Disqus