We all aim to help children learn to be responsible, to have a conscience, and to have respect for others. This is a process that starts at home and continues as children enter school. The responsibility is then shared with their teachers, who model responsible behaviors and hold children accountable.
When speaking philosophically, it’s easy to go on about how children should learn these skills and how parents are so often guilty of being indulgent or too permissive. It isn’t until we turn our glance inward that the reality of the matter is understood.
As parents, giving children the opportunity to learn responsibility and consequences is easier said than done. If you are a parent, you know what I mean. You don't want your child to experience the discomfort of a consequence, so you bring his forgotten lunch to school or the homework papers he left in the car, or clean up his room for him, or pay his library fine, and so on and so on. Then, there are times you can see he is about to fall flat on his face and you struggle with yourself to stand back and let it happen... and believe me, it takes a lot of struggle to do that, because of how much you love your child.
But, if you really love your child, you need to let these consequences happen, regardless of how much it hurts. Your child will not always have you to pick up the pieces. Then, when he's on his own and has to rely on himself, he will fall harder because he's not had any practice.
I can tell you I have been guilty of this with my first son, especially. It was a natural thing for me to step in and smooth things out. I was thinking with my heart and not my head, apparently. I remember talking with my son the night before he left for college.
I asked him what he would change about anything I'd done as his mother. (I was the one who asked, so I guess I should have been prepared for the answer!) He said there was only one thing... and that was I should have let him hit bottom once in a while so he would know better what to do. He asked me to be sure to do this with his two younger brothers. This certainly stung, but I appreciated his honest advice and promised to do what he asked, and I did.
As early educators, we are all "parents" to our children in many ways. As such, we are tempted to step in to smooth things for them, prevent their discomfort, and think with our hearts instead of our heads. We have to resist this at all cost and let them learn from their mistakes and develop a strong inner locus of control early on.
This is truly respecting young children.