Conscientious Parents, Conscientious Children

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A task completed with conscientiousness is a task completed carefully and in an orderly way. Being orderly means working with deliberation and organization. Being careful encompasses thoroughness with regard to details and vigilance with regard to progress.

Planning and Checking

Such a painstaking effort is not confined to the actual performance of the task, however. Doing something with conscientiousness involves bracketing the task with planning beforehand and checking afterward. Planning before the task assures orderliness, while checking after the task assures carefulness.  

Knowing the task to be bookended by planning and checking, the actual doing of the task is carried out differently than if those elements were absent. The act of planning beforehand sets performance expectations in one's mind. A task well planned is therefore a task done with attention to detail so that those performance expectations may be met. Knowing that the task will be checked afterward sets a status meter in operation in one's mind, allowing one to keep the progress on track. Checking afterward if the task is completed to expectations or above may then result in the expectations being raised for the next time the task is completed. If the checking step instead renders a verdict that the task has not been done to expectations, then the task is redone, making this an iterative process.

In business management, this process is called the control circle. The control circle is an iterative cycle comprising the four steps of plan, do, check, and act. Each of the four plan-do-check-act operations are intended to be explicitly implemented. For children, the two explicit steps of planning beforehand and checking afterward is enough to remember. The do and act parts are only implicit operations in this abbreviated form of the control circle, but are natural outgrowths of the planning and checking steps.

Even two steps can be complicated for a small child to remember. For this reason, the walk-before-run approach is recommended for instilling conscientiousness. Planning can be modeled in some situations, and checking can be modeled in others, before combining them in any given undertaking.

Setting the Environment

Let your child observe you using planning tools. Use them frequently and involve him when possible. When he asks you questions about what you are doing, take time to answer.

Keep calendars. Post a calendar in a common area like on the refrigerator or on a countertop. Mark an important date like a family vacation and count down the days together.

Make lists. Write down the things that need to be packed for the vacation. Allow your child to contribute items to the list. Take the list to the store and have him help you pick up the items that you do not already have. Cross off the items on the list together as you pack them.

Use maps. Trace out the vacation travel route on a road map. Show him how to use the map along the way to monitor progress, count miles, identify landmarks, find gas and food, and anticipate rest areas.

Organize schedules. Schedule a busy vacation day. Verbalize how the pieces of the day's activities fit together, including where the dependencies are, what drives the order of doing things, and how logistical decisions are made.

Make planning tools available to him. Blank paper, lined paper, and graph paper all have different functions. Keep copious stocks of these different kinds of paper. Replenish writing utensils as needed. Pencils, pens, crayons, and markers should all be kept available. Place them in the home, in the car, and in coat pockets. Have folders, binders, and calendars at his disposal. Make sure he has his own clock or watch. Some of these things may sit idle for long stretches. That's okay. When he is ready to use them and asks questions about any of these items, entertain those questions to his satisfaction.

Conscientious Parents

Let your child observe you checking your work after it has ostensibly been completed. When the result is unsatisfactory, let him see you redo the work. And let it be known when you are satisfied with your work product.

Scan the floor after you and your child have put a game away. If there is a stray game piece, then reopen the box, place the piece in its designated compartment, close the box, and put it away properly. Take a moment to admire the neatly stacked games.

Do a room-by-room inspection after vacuuming. Pick up large pieces of lint, crumbs, and scraps of paper that the vacuum may have missed. Offer commentary while you do it, and enlist your child's help. Express satisfaction when the floors are spotless, and that they will be at least as spotless next time.

After years of planning and checking activities performed separately in many scenarios by both parent and child, the child will perceive these operations as normal. Such a child can then be expected to use planning and checking together when it becomes developmentally appropriate for him to do so. At this point it will not be an overextension of his faculties, but a natural extension of behaviors he has already normalized.

So help him to put it together. Do things conscientiously, with planning beforehand and checking afterward. Be conscientious.

Show him how to deep clean his room. Start with a simple plan, such as taking everything out of the room, cleaning the empty room, and then restoring everything to its proper place. Then build out the finer points of the plan. Where will everything go when it is moved out of the room? In a hallway? In boxes? Do we have boxes? Or should the room be tackled piecemeal so the clutter can be shuffled to one quadrant of the room while another is being worked on? Will the room be reorganized? Furniture rearranged? Toys reassigned? Maybe lesser used items can be relegated to a basement or garage, or given away or sold. Piles may need to be created to classify the items while the work progresses. After the planning is completed, you can help with the actual work, or at least provide general oversight.

Check the quality once the job is complete. There may be small paper scraps in between furnishings and the wall that need to be removed. Make sure those scraps are cleared out. Some items may have been scuttled into the closet. See that those items are tended to by having the whole operation redone on the closet scale. The desk may be organized into neat stacks of papers, but the stacks themselves may be in disarray. Provide file folders so that it may be made right. Once he has been shown how to conscientiously clean a room, he can do it without help next time.

Conscientious Children

Without optimism and determination, there can not be conscientiousness. Conscientiousness is therefore an advanced skill. It is important that the lessons of conscientiousness are not expected to be absorbed too soon, and that the types of activities that can build conscientiousness are not thrust upon the child before he is ready.

The activities a child does are rarely themselves the point, anyway. The floor will get more crumbs on it. The clean room will become messy again. The cleaning was never important in and of itself, but for how the child uses these types of activities to make his character. From the cleaning, he may better himself, he may instill himself with conscientiousness. Once a child has developed conscientiousness, he may take it with him through life. He may apply it to the activities that actually are important, as determined by him. Unlike the clean floor and the organized room, the character he builds will not fade over time but strengthen.

Author's Note: This is the seventh and final post in the series about the example you set. Six different behaviors have been covered. Read about compassion here, honesty here, fairness here, optimism here, and determination here.

·       Which behaviors are important to you?

·       How will you cultivate those behaviors in your home, for your children to emulate?

·       What challenges will you face as you cultivate those behaviors in interactions with your children?

·       How will meeting those challenges make you a better person, and help you improve other facets of your life?

Please share your comments below.

How to Properly Cite this Article: Brian Vondruska, “Conscientious Parents, Conscientious Children”, The Kind of Parent You Are, accessed [date],