As parents, you probably want to raise your children to be responsible, but you may be unsure just what that looks like or how to do it. First, it helps to know what responsibility really means.
What Does It Mean to Be Responsible?
In a nutshell, being responsible means taking a personal interest in and doing something about your own well-being as well as the welfare of your family and community. Being responsible means not waiting for someone else to do something for you that you can do for yourself. When you are responsible, you know when to take the blame for something and admit when you’re wrong.
Responsibility means taking the initiative and subsequent steps to do something about a problem – your own, your community’s, your family’s, etc. – and not waiting for someone else to do it.
How Do You Teach Kids to Be Responsible?
You begin with yourself – your expectations, attitude, and determination. Then, you include a plan for child in the process. Here are some things to consider when teaching responsibility to children. Be sure to take into account and make modifications for your kids’ ages and temperaments as needed.
1. Be prepared for resistance.
It’s tempting to think that your primary job is to make sure your kids are happy all the time. But being able to cope with your kids’ resistance and negative feelings is key to teaching them responsibility. Why? Because your kids may be annoyed, upset, angry, resentful, or otherwise unhappy about having to take responsibility.
Young children may cry or yell or stomp their feet when you ask them to put away their toys, but if you are prepared for this and understand that these feelings are part of the process, you will be less likely to focus on this distraction tactic and give up. You must be more determined to stay the course than your child is to get his or her own way.
2. Say what you mean and mean what you say.
One of the most important things you can do is to say what you mean and mean what you say. In other words, you must follow through. Children will quickly gauge when you “mean” it and when you don’t. When you make a statement such as, “if you don’t stop that I won’t take you to the park today”, you are reminding them of the consequences of their actions. You must be prepared to follow through on what you say in the event that your child does not stop. In other words, you have to make a believer out of your child.
It’s easier to let a few things go here and there, especially if you are tired and the kids are wearing you down. Unfortunately if you let things slide, your child is likely to interpret it as – “I can get away with this because my mom or dad won’t really go through with the consequences.” It’s really important to follow through each and every time. That is not to say that there should never be any compromise. However, compromising on the fly is not a good idea because then the kids will constantly try to compromise their way out of being held accountable.
This reminds me of the lyrics “You have to stand for something or you’ll fall for anything.” Once you set or state a consequence, you should stick with it. If for some reason, you need to make a change, it should be done at later time when you review your written plan so you can look at things objectively.
3. Give kids the experience and practice they need.
In order to teach your child to be responsible, they must be held accountable for actions and choices. At first, they are accountable to you but as they get older, they should hold themselves accountable for certain things. Teaching your children to take responsibility for tasks and chores during their childhood is an important step toward taking responsibility as an adult. If you need help getting started, consider making a chart with a checklist of chores, privileges, and consequences. Each chore can be worth a certain amount of “points” and each privilege can “cost” a certain number of points. For instance, your lists might look like this:
- Putting toys away throughout the house: 10 points
- Clearing dishes off the table: 5 points
- Helping prepare dinner: 5 points
- Feeding the pet: 0 points
You may also want to include some chores which are not associated with points. Depending on how you structure things, this may help to teach that the completion of something may be is its own reward.
- Half an hour of TV: 10 points
- Playing video games for half an hour: 15 points
- Playing with toys: 5 points
- Going to a movie: 250 points
Note that with this method, the big consequence to the child is not getting new points or having existing points deducted (when someone else has to do the job); however, there are practical consequences that you may want to list as well. Some examples are listed below.
- Not putting toys away: People could get hurt if they fall or step on the toys. Toys could get broken.
- Not clearing dishes from table: Dishes can’t be washed and put away. You can’t eat without clean dishes.
- Not helping prepare dinner: Dinner takes longer which means less time to do fun things.
- Not feeding the pet: The pet will be hungry and may tear up something or make a mess trying to get to the food.
When children have chores, they learn several things including how to take responsibility, weigh options, make choices, and anticipate the consequences of their decisions or actions.
As you work with your child, keep these parenting strategies to raise responsible kids in mind and implement them as much as possible. The more practice you and the kids get, the quicker it will become second-nature to you and to the kids.