Instill Purpose, Establish Initiative


by Dr. Patricia M. McCormack, IHM

Initiative is an inner sense of motivation, being a self- starter, assuming personal responsibility, being energized by a challenge rather than paralyzed by the fear of making a mistake, and taking pleasure in finishing a task.


Initiative is an inner sense of motivation, being a self- starter, assuming personal responsibility, being energized by a challenge rather than paralyzed by the fear of making a mistake, and taking pleasure in finishing a task. The following parent practices cultivate a culture of initiative.

Build a culture of initiative.
Acknowledge the creativity, ingenuity, usefulness, timeliness, or forethought that a child gives to an idea. Remark about the elements of process that are visible in the child’s idea, such as planning, organization, time management, teamwork, distribution of labor in a group project, etc.

Teach initiative through example.
Work side by side on a task with your child, e.g., raking leaves, cleaning dinner dishes, and folding laundry. Then coach the task, decrease active presence, and finally let your child assume full responsibility. Encourage each step with specific feedback. Create “to do” lists and help your child to organize a time schedule. Do not assume responsibility for your child’s tasks.

Make school your child’s responsibility.
Practice the skills needed for your child to assume responsibility for packing her book bag; getting required parent signatures; scheduling tasks; meeting deadlines; bringing lunch, supplies, and projects to school; returning permission slips and school communications on time; and assuming responsibility and accepting the consequences of action and inaction.

Let the encouraging word be overheard.
Let your child overhear you telling another adult how you admire him for starting things without needing to be told. Remark on examples of initiative face to face also.

Cultivate independence and leadership.
Let your child describe ideas for school reports, contests, and projects. Help him plan a timeline. Let the planning and accomplishment be his.

Prepare for report cards.
Explain that you want no surprises on report card day. It is her responsibility to provide ongoing information on school progress via dialogue, presenting graded work, tests, and teacher referrals to be signed or examined. Teach her how to question a teacher in a polite manner. Empower her to seek out a teacher’s help before her grade is affected negatively.

Create boundaries.
Model the practice: “You are responsible for getting your work done, but allow time for us to help if you need help.” If your child does not complete or hand in an assignment, allow him to accept the consequence the teacher determines. Do not write excuse notes for work not completed. Avoid the temptation to rescue your child from the unpleasant but natural consequences of irresponsibility. Do not assume the role of personal secretary.

Let mistakes be “teachable moments.”
Give children the freedom to be calculated risk-takers, to make mistakes, and the bear the consequences of their choices. Unless a choice is morally or mortally harmful, let experience be the best teacher.


Source: Today’s Catholic Teacher, November/December 2015
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