There’s no doubt that many kids today feel entitled to consequence-free decisions and actions. Concerned parents share the common goal of raising kids to accept responsibility in a world that rewards minimal effort with zero consequences. How can parents make a stand and raise morally conscious and responsible kids? Here are 7 simple ways to teach your child responsibility.
1. Lead by Example
Remember that your child is your biggest fan. That means that from an early age, they will mimic your behaviors and patterns. Stay consistent when modeling the actions you want your child to take. These repeatable actions include simple things, like always clearing the table and sink after meals, as well as more complicated concepts, such as telling the truth in all circumstances.
The more your child sees you taking personal responsibility, the more open they are to follow your example. Explain the simple consequences of not taking responsibility, for instance:
- If I leave dirty dishes in the sink, they will be harder to clean later.
- If I don’t tell my boss the truth, it will be harder for him to trust me.
- If I buy things I don’t need, I won’t be able to buy the things I do need.
- If I own up to my mistakes, I can learn from them and earn the trust and respect of my coworkers.
- If I don’t do the laundry every week, we run out of clothes to wear.
- If I don’t feed the dog, he will be hungry and sad.
2. Reward Responsibility
Teaching kids to be responsible starts with encouragement and reward for a job well done. You may not personally think that your child putting away his toys is cause for a celebration, but for your child, it is!
Set age-appropriate rewards, such as a favorite dessert or time spent playing with you for your younger kids and an allowance or increased screen time for older children. Rewarding responsible behavior provides an extra incentive for your child and encourages them to find new responsibilities.
Don’t lose patience! Remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day. You will need to provide plenty of encouragement and reminders along the way.
3. Let Your Kids Do it Their Way
If your child has completed a chore independently, chances are pretty good that you are tempted to go back and do it “the right way.” Unless it really matters, such as a chore that’s potentially dangerous if not completed properly, reward the effort and let your child enjoy their contribution. Never detract from what they’ve already accomplished,
The next time the child starts the chore, suggest trying it differently and show them the correct way.
4. Let Your Kids Find Their Way Out of Bad Situations
It’s hardwired into every parent’s DNA to rush in and bail our kids out of a messy or difficult situation. On the surface, you’re helping your child. On a deeper level, however, you are teaching your kids to sidestep the consequences of their actions.
The world is full of kids who have no idea of how to untangle the messes they’ve made. This leads to increasingly difficult situations and very bad decisions based on the knowledge that “someone will help me out.”
Talk to your child about the problem they are facing and help them reach the right solution on their own. Offer guidance, but don’t offer to bail them out completely until they first try to fix the issue themselves. Guidance can include questions and statements, such as:
- How do you think that made your friend feel?
- What would you want your friend to do to make things better if he did this to you?
- I can help you write an apology letter to your friend.
- I will go with you when you tell the neighbor you broke her window.
- How can you make sure this never happens again?
If a situation requires financial compensation (such as the neighbor’s broken window), take it out of the child’s allowance or exchange payment for chores. When the child sees the consequences of an action, they will be less likely to repeat it.
5. Encourage Communication
Always encourage your child to communicate with you, regardless of their actions. This shows your child that you support them and ensures they will be open and truthful with you in the future. Don’t let them be afraid to tell you about failing grades, damaged property, lost or broken toys, or even lying.
If punishment is necessary, you can allow the child to choose the punishment. Believe it or not, kids are harder on themselves when choosing their punishments than their parents are! Choosing their consequences is an added layer of responsibility for the child.
6. Create a Schedule
Whether it’s a bedtime routine or sports practice, let your child create a schedule for each week that includes school and homework, lessons and practices, household chores, and special projects. They can assign the time as they see fit, as long as the schedule doesn’t interfere with bedtime, meals, existing plans, or family time.
Creating these schedules helps lower the stress felt by today’s busy kids and helps them learn to manage their time and commitments. Make sure to encourage your kids to add some free time to the schedule, too!
7. Avoid Labels
It’s frustrating when your child loses their shoes or forgets to put away their toys…again. It’s easy to call them “lazy” or “irresponsible” in the heat of the moment, but remember that labels stick. Labels can, in fact, become a self-fulfilling prophecy and cause permanent damage to your child’s developing sense of self-worth.
Rather than losing patience, work with your child to find ways to fulfill their responsibilities.
- Set an alarm to remind your child it’s time to do chores
- Make a list of things your child needs to keep track of throughout the day, like notebooks and backpacks
- Encourage your child to make a game out of their chores
- Make sure the child’s responsibilities are fully understood
- Praise your child’s effort rather than focusing on what wasn’t completed
When Should I Start Teaching Responsibility?
These valuable life lessons should be taught in an age-appropriate way as soon as possible. Start with easy chores, such as letting them help choose items at the store or showing them ways to help around the house.
As your child becomes more independent, start adding more responsibilities that add an element of individual problem solving, such as making simple meals, creating the shopping list, choosing their outfits for the day, and sorting laundry.
As your child continues to develop, add more responsibility such as managing an allowance and independently completing household chores.