When you look around, do you notice what you need to notice? Have you ever wondered why there are some people who can see things that other people just don’t see? It seems like some people just have this knack for looking around and noticing things others don’t. Maybe they notice there are three crooked pictures on the wall or three people wearing orange shirts. Sometimes they might even notice a job to be done—like a spilled glass of soda or an overflowing trashcan.
Many kids are great at noticing what’s going on around them. Think about all the times this past week when you heard something like:
“Dad, the trash is overflowing… again. Someone should take it out.”
“Mom! My uniform is still in the wash. I need it for today’s game!”
“Ugh! The lawn is FILLED with DOG POO!”
They are quick to tell us something needs to be done, then go about doing something else—as if it were an expectation our job is to take care of the situation.
It’s not that our kids are ungrateful or lazy. It’s not even they don’t want to help. Maybe they’ve just never been invited to help or don’t understand they can take initiative and do it themselves.
What if our kids could grasp what my old pastor Jeff Manion used to say, “They is you”?
They is you.
On the surface, it might not make sense but here’s the gist: We see things that need to be done all the time… But often, we figure it’s someone else’s job and think, “they should really do something about that.”
Well, what if “they” should actually be “you”?
I wonder this is where we start when we teach our kids about initiative:
They = you
Someone = you
I’ll be honest, this is often easier said than done. Remember the time I let my son help take out the trash? Letting kids take initiative and do the work themselves takes time and effort. It’s easier to do the work ourselves and get on with our day, but that’s doesn’t help our kids in the long-term. If our goal is to raise adults, we need to put in the hard work now so our kids will thrive later.
But when you break it down, it doesn’t have to be so hard. Here are four ways to make “they is you” part of the way your kids see the world around them:
1. Model It
We probably don’t go around announcing that we see the trash overflowing then tell everyone we’re going to take it out to the trash bin. That might be ridiculous. But when it comes to kids, they often need help making connections between what they see and what they can do about it. When we talk about the ways we’re taking initiative, our kids see it in action and can learn how to take initiative in their own life.
2. Let Them Do It
Kids can do more than we expect. It’s often easier or faster to do the job ourselves, but why not give your kids a chance to put initiative into practice. If they come to you with a problem, help them think through how they could follow through and solve the problem. Then, let them do it. It might not be perfect, but at least they’re learning what it means to see something and do something about it. Empower your kids to know they have what it takes to get the job done. If they feel like they’re able to show initiative, chances are they will.
3. Be Prepared
My wife had the brilliant idea of setting up the house so our kids can do a job when they see it needs to be done. There are cleaning kits in each of the bathrooms in our house. The washers/driers are front-loaders and the laundry detergent is at kid level. Each of the kids has their own laundry basket. We put games and books for the kids on the bottom shelves. Chargers for technology are accessible. Everything in our house is thought through to give our kids a chance to help. They know if they need something they have access to what it takes to complete the job. Sure they might need help sometimes, but they’re empowered to begin the job on their own. They’re able to take part in making our home run smoothly.
4. Praise The Effort Not The Result
Just because they’re doing the job doesn’t mean they’re always going to get it perfect. If we get mad or frustrated at them for how they do the job, they may not want to risk taking initiative another time. Celebrate them for taking a moment to try and do something they saw needed to be done. When it comes to initiative, starting and finishing the job is what matters; their skills to accomplish the job with excellence will develop over as they continue to practice.
Research proves that kids who demonstrate initiative are more successful in the long run. They get better grades, find themselves in less trouble, and show increased resilience when faced with difficulty. The more we can help our kids learn the valuable lessons of initiative while they are young, the more prepared they’ll be to face the world when they grow up.