Initiative is a trait that most parents want to see in their children. We know that initiative will help our kids be in the front of the pack, that they will be recognized and sought after by employees. Initiative helps overcome boredom and problem solving in general. It is a skill found in leaders and go-getters. It is a valuable trait.
Character Core defines Initiative as: recognizing and doing what needs to be done before I am asked.
Let’s define it further:
- Initiative is a heart matter that goes beyond responsibility. E.g. Say it is a child’s responsibility to do the breakfast dishes. They can show initiative by doing it early, or going the extra mile (doing an extra task that they saw needed to be done), Initiative is the act of making a decision on your own.
- But it is also closely connected with skill. If a child decides to take initiative and cook mum breakfast in bed, before she has the skill to do so we can only imagine the mess and possibly the danger that their “showing initiative” will bring. This isn’t true initiative.
- Initiative is not just doing what you want to do when you want to do it. Initiative combines responsibility and skill with the heart to make a difference.
But how do we teach it to our children? The very nature of telling our children to do something, takes away the opportunity for them to show initiative – so it seems (on the surface) a tricky thing to teach.
There are four steps:
Our children need to understand that there are certain spheres in their life that are their responsibility. These spheres increase with age and maturity. Our children also need to see that when they take on a responsibility (or are given it) they are accountable for that to happen, and they receive the consequences when it doesn’t happen. Since initiative is a step on from responsibility our kids must understand responsibility first.
We cannot simply tell our children that their bedroom is their responsibility without giving them the skills to carry out that task. We need to teach them the steps to master that responsibility. It is the same with any issue we want them to be responsible with – chores, possessions, time, study, money, relationships.
Encourage a serving heart
We need to open our children’s eyes to the possibilities of initiative. We want to appreciate their responsibility (that they have done what we have expected of them) and their skill (that they have done it well) but we can open a whole new world by showing them that they can take it further – the skills they have will enable them to go the extra mile, to see what needs to be done ahead of time, to make decisions on their own, to serve others. That is, to show initiative. Initiative can be highly regarded in our home but we need to remember that it is a heart response to others and to our responsibilities.
Let them make choices and decisions
We need to give our children the environment in which they can show initiative. Unfortunately we often hold the reigns so tightly it is hard for the children to be anything other than obedient. When we make all the decisions, and they are different each day, our children have very little scope to do anything other than to wait for instructions.
When we give our children a clear picture of what is expected of them – what chores they need to do, what lessons they have ahead of them, what activities they need to complete before they have free time, then we are empowering them to show initiative. We are setting the scene for them to work in. They have some scope from which to make some decisions themselves and show their heart to serve.
At no time does this remove the responsibility from our shoulders to ensure that things are happening when they need to – it simply gives a framework for the children to begin to show initiative.
Set the scene so your kids can show Initiative
Here are some things that have helped raise the levels of initiative in our home:
By having a chore roster the children know ahead of time what chores are expected to be done on a daily or weekly basis (their responsibility). They can make the decision to work fast and get it done quickly, sometimes they can make a decision to do tomorrow’s chores today. They can even make a decision to do more than is on the list or to do something on someone else’s list. This is taking initiative. Their chore charts are comprehensive so there is never the threat of finishing early and being dumped with a pile more to do – how unmotivating is that! (Of course there are the occasions that I ask for extra help but it isn’t the norm, everyday happening.)
This looks different for the different ages we have in our home. The older ones have a study schedule covering 4-6 weeks. They are responsible for getting the study done by the end of the study period. It is their choices that will manage their responsibilities; they have a framework in which to show initiative in their studies. The younger ones have a daily list which they are responsible for completing before they have free time. Knowing what needs to be done gives them the opportunity to start early and manage their time and work load – and when they do so, they are showing initiative.
Talking about possibilities
When we go into a new situation I have the opportunity to remind my children of the heart to bless others. I ask them, “How will you be able to bless so and so today?” I have no control over the decision – will the child do so or not? It is simply exposing them to possibilities and prompting their heart to think about it. Then it is about confirming them when they make a good decision. We so often only remind our children about their responsibilities (to do the right thing) rather than heart choices. We need to do both. Initiative is a heart choice to go beyond their responsibilities.
Sometimes we just don’t see things. But it needn’t stay that way. We can show our children opportunities for initiative all around them, day in and day out. When I see something that could be done, something that I wish my child saw I call them to me and we stand still and I say, “Can you see something that could be done?” or “Can you see something that you could do that would bless someone?” or “Could you have gone the extra mile here?” There is a big hint that whatever mum is talking about is in this room somewhere and when they see it you ask them to do it and remind them of the habit going the extra mile, serving others, or showing initiative. This creates an appetite for initiative, it develops a habit – that they will start to see these things for themselves.
Do you see Initiative in your kids?
I encourage you to think over your daily routine – Do your children have the opportunity to show initiative or are they only being obedient and responsible? You can set the scene and by doing so encourage them to grow in initiative.
10 things that lead to irresponsibility – Though we want to teach our children responsibility sometimes its the subtle things we do that will keep irresponsibility at bay.
Obedience requires communication – Communication, both ways, is important if obedience is going to be a part of your family value system includes a bonus for parents with teens.
Do you Really want Independent Kids? – Raising independent kids seems to be a good goal, but when we look at the heart of independence we actually want something else.
How Responsible are your Kids? – We teach our children to be responsible but if we never test them, we never know how responsible they really are.