Raising helpful kids who know how to make themselves a snack is not a fantasy! We asked our experts for easy ways to incorporate responsibility into your child’s life.
“Ingraining responsibility in children is not a trick, but is simply teaching them life skills,” says Karen Ruskin, Psy.D. “Kids who do not have responsibilities feel entitled and think the world will always do for them.”
Your guidance is crucial when you want to raise a responsible child who becomes a responsible adult. However, it needs to be done in a nurturing way that encourages them to participate and actually gets them excited about contributing. Otherwise, your child starts to see responsibilities as something they are getting in trouble for instead of something that is actually rewarding.
Pick your battles and remember, raising a responsible child is a long-term goal that will not be completed overnight.
Every child is unique and different. Before you can help your child, understand what works for your child as an individual. Is your child passive? Give prompts and hints. Wilful? Avoid giving orders, try phrasing your words in a different manner. Easily overwhelmed? Always give very clear instructions.
High Self-Esteem Leads to Responsibility
The Center for Parenting Education explains that it has been shown that children with high self-esteem tend to be more responsible. They have more clarity about their strengths and weaknesses and also find it easier to:
- believe that with persistence and practice they can reach a goal
- believe that they can solve problems they encounter
- acknowledge their mistakes and learn from them
- stick to a task
- willing to ask for help
- take risks and try new things
How can parents instill a high sense of self-esteem in their children? One way is by providing messages that build each of the two essential components of self-esteem, feeling lovable and feeling capable.
Children feel lovable when they have a sense of worth, when they feel appreciated and loved for who they are, regarding themselves as important and worthy of being loved. So, tell your children that you love them unconditionally on a regular basis.
For example: “I will always love you.”“I am so glad you are my son/daughter.”“I love spending time with you.”“Welcome Home!”
Children feel capable when they believe that they can handle challenges and that they are able to make a contribution to their environment. Also, when they feel pride in accomplishment.
When children feel capable, they are more likely to meet their obligations, sign on for new tasks, try their hardest and feel good about what they do. All of these things will increase a child’s responsibility.
You can increase your child’s sense of responsibility by helping them to feel that they are capable by giving them verbal encouragement. These refer to all the things your children can do, their special areas of talent, and also to their potential and their growth.
For example, you can tell your child:
“You were so thorough in doing your research paper, you did a great job of planning in advance how you were going to tackle the project”
“You are practicing your backhand so persistently. I bet you will really improve by the class next week.”
“I really appreciate that you took out the trash without my having to ask you. That is what I call being responsible.”
“I can see that you really are concerned about Grandma, you sent her the get-well card and even called her yesterday. I am sure that made her feel better.”
Strategies for Raising Responsible Kids
1) Perception: You begin by perceiving responsibility as something joyful for your child, instead of a burden.
It is a subtle shift, however, it makes all the difference in the world. If you, as the parent, thinks that your child will not like chores because they are not fun, that is exactly the reaction you will get from them! So, change your perception.
Remember, kids love to feel like they are doing something helpful and that they can do things that adults do. They love learning. They do not have the same (most of the time negative) programming about responsibility, chores or housework as we adults do!
2) Model Responsibility and Accountability – Start Early
It is important to model responsibility and accountability as early as possible. Be verbal and explicit about the responsible choices you are making:
“We are about to cross the road, so we will wait till the man turns green letting us know we can go, however, we still need look both ways before we cross to make sure no cars are coming.”
“I know it is a long way to carry our trash to the car, however, I do not see a trashcan and we never litter.”
Also, keep your promises to your child. If you do not follow through on your promises, they will start to learn that it is not important to keep their word.
3) Show Kids the Way – Without Handholding
Initially, teach them by being the example. Children learn a lot by watching you. Explain to them what you are doing. “Today is Sunday and the trashcans need to go out. Emily would you like to help me?”
Play to a child’s skill level. First, you can demonstrate how to complete small tasks. If your child wants a snack, show him where the apples are and how to wash one off.
4) Eliminate Blame
“Your dirty footprints are all over the floor again, why do you always do that?”
Generally, we all automatically want to blame someone else when things do not go the way we would like. It is as if pointing the finger might prevent the situation from reoccurring, or absolve us of responsibility.
Worse yet, when we blame kids, they will find all kinds of reasons it was not really their fault–even if only in their own minds—so they are less likely to take responsibility and the incident is more likely to happen over and over. This is also the number one reason kid’s lie.
If, on the other hand, you would like your children to take responsibility for their words and actions, and learn to solve their own problems, then attempt this total responsibility plan developed By Derold “De” Bates, author of “Three Steps to Success in Parenting and in Life:”
As you meet with each child, you should get on the same eye level and move within three feet of the child. Then ask, the first question “What did you do that helped get the fight started?” you will likely get a blaming statement from the child. If you do, you cannot accept it without promoting blaming. Instead you could say, “I understand that he did that, but I am not going to hold you accountable for what he did. Who should you be responsible for?” “Me” will usually be the reply.
Then repeat the first question until an honest answer is given. An honest answer means the child states something he actually did that you believe could have contributed to starting the fight.
After the child’s action is identified that contributed to the fight, you ask the second question. “Did you like the way it turned out?” Kids rarely do.
Once that answer is given, you ask the third question, “What could you do differently next time, so it will turn out better for you?”
The child plans a better action; a solution to his problem, HIS solution. He may need some time to think about it. As his parent, you encourage him to try his plan and see if it does work out better. Notice who’s solving his problem?
You should have this discussion with each child. Each one will need to make his own plan to correct his behavior that did not work well, and replace it with a better behavior.
This teaches children to solve their own problems without blaming. As children do this, they become responsible for their actions and for themselves.
5) Provide Routines and Structure
Children need structure and routine to thrive. Knowing what to expect helps kids make the connection between action and result. For example, they know that at 7:30pm, it is time to take a bath, brush teeth and get pajamas on if they want time to watch a little TV (or story time) with Mom or Dad before bedtime.
- Morning Routine:
- Brush teeth
- Get dressed
- Dirty clothes
- Book sack
- Bedtime Routine:
- Dirty clothes
- Brush teeth
- Hugs and kisses
Kids thrive on order. Instead of offering rewards to get them to meet responsibilities, set up a morning routine with a positive end result. Your son must brush his teeth, eat breakfast and get dressed before playing. Notice playing is not being offered as a reward–it is the end result of finishing the routine. He should also be able to complete the routine in any order that works for him.