Teaching Children To Be Responsible For Themselves

This day, Phoebie didn’t have to go to school and asked if she could go to MacDonalds for breakfast. I thought it would be a nice treat for her, so I agreed. Previously, she had spilled some of her food on the floor because she was careless, so I reminded her of the incident and told her that she had to be careful this time. She nodded and said that she would be careful.

The meal went well and we enjoyed each other’s company as we chatted and laughed. And then it happened, in a split second, because of her carelessness, she spilled her food on the floor. Phoebie knew I would be mad at her and looked at me with a worried look.

At that moment, I really wanted to tell her, “See? What did I tell you earlier? You see what happened now?” 

Instead, I took a deep breath and told her, “You make the mess, you clean it up.”

 I handed Phoebie some napkins and she got on all fours, cleaning up whatever she had spilled on the floor. No tantrums,no whining. She cleaned and picked up whatever she could. It didn’t take long for her to run out of napkins. I told her to go to the counter to ask for more. She had to do this a few times before she finally managed to clean up the mess.

One of the staff at the fast food restaurant watched as Phoebie quietly cleaned up the food on the floor. “Don’t worry, we can get a broom to clean that,” she offered. 

“It’s okay,” I told the staff, “She made the mess, so she has to clean it up.”

“Oh right,” the staffed answered, “That’s true,” and backed away. She came back to us with more napkins and handed them to Phoebie.

When Phoebie was finally done, she sat next to me.

“Do you know why Mama told you to clean the floor?” I asked her.

“Because I didn’t listen and I dropped my food on the floor,” Phoebie answered softly.

“That’s right. Because you made the mess, you have to clean it up. It wouldn’t be fair to the people who work here to clean up for you because you knocked your food down. This is called being responsible. You have to clean up the mess that you made. Will you be careful next time?” I asked Phoebie again.

She nodded.

“Now, even though you dropped your food on the floor, you didn’t whine when I asked you to clean up, and you did your best to pick up everything on the floor. That is a good job and I’m proud of you,” I told Phoebie.

Phoebie broke into a smile. She knew that even though she had failed to keep her food on the table, she was responsible for her mistake and cleaned up by herself. 

Children are more capable of taking responsibility for the things they do than what we think sometimes, and I’m glad I managed to hold back my anger, and got her to clean up instead. What a valuable lesson for both of us.   

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