Starting at an early age is the key to helping young children understand the difference between rights and privileges. Parents should revisit this discussion several times over the course of a child's development, as their needs and understanding will change with time and experience. Addressing the topic in a positive way can provide a great learning opportunity for other topics as well, such as allowance, chores and responsibilities.
Understanding for Younger Children
Starting with young children, a simple discussion can be enough to help your child begin thinking about the difference between rights and privileges. Although at this age, the words you use might be a little different. Most children between five and ten would be able to understand a discussion about the difference between wants and needs. Help your child identify things in his own room or in your home that fit into each category. You may even have them draw a picture of some things that are wants on one side of a piece of paper, with needs on the opposite side to reinforce understanding, according to educator Jerilyn Brown. Help them to know how the two things are different and why.
Older children, ten to twelve, begin to understand that they can earn privileges. This is a good time to introduce the concept of allowance. Assign your child a few age-appropriate chores that relate to him personally, such as folding and putting away clean clothes, cleaning the bathroom that he uses or making his bed. Then give him a short list of other chores to complete in exchange for allowance. These could include doing dishes, sweeping floors or helping in the yard. By tying the allowance to an additional chore, you teach your child that he has personal responsibilities for which he is not paid and that he must earn the privilege of an allowance, according to the Healthy Children.org website.
Children older than twelve can understand some less concrete examples and can learn about earning privileges in a conceptual way. You can have a discussion with your child about what some of his age appropriate privileges might be, such as visiting a friend's house or going to the mall with a friend and parents, and how to earn those privileges with good behavior and by meeting family expectations. Children at this age are also old enough to understand that they have certain rights and that certain rights need to be earned by being a responsible citizen and family member. For example, you have the right to live in a safe environment, and you have the responsibility to follow the safety rules of the house.
Rights and Privileges for Teens
When a child reaches the teenage years, basic rights are something they will have studied in school. This is another good time to revisit the topic of rights and responsibilities. Ask them what they have learned about rights and help them understand their rights on a more global scale. Help them understand that their privileges expand as they learn to exercise their rights in ways that benefit the family and community, and their privileges can also diminish when they misuse their rights and make poor choices. Having this discussion early and often can help to head off some of the negative aspects of parenting teenagers that occur with lack of communication and mutual understanding states Mark Merrill, president of Family First.