As parents, we have an enormous responsibility to raise children and train them into good citizens that give back to family and country. As there is no manual for parenting, many of us struggle with how to effectively train our kids. We teach our children to eat, to walk, to talk, and ultimately, to be independent. Part of this independence is learning how to be responsible. The list of things to teach our children is nearly endless—we are teaching concepts of being thoughtful, caring, creative, trustworthy, and honest.
Responsibility includes learning how to take care of yourself, how to take care of your belongings and, ultimately, how to help care for others. Believe it or not, responsibility is something that can be taught to someone as young as 2 or 3 years of age; starting with small things. Slowly giving them more opportunities to show this skill will help to increase self-confidence, too.
So, mamas and papas—are you ready to jump in with both feet and start to teach your toddler to put his/her shoes away? How about helping with the dishes? It might be a long road, but it’s well worth it. Here are some things you can do to encourage responsibility in your child:
1. Model responsible behavior yourself
You are not only the perfect model of responsibility for your child, but you are also the first one that they are exposed to when you start teaching this concept. Instead of telling your children to pick up their toys, why not get right down on the floor with them and start picking up all those little Lego pieces scattered over the carpet? When you pick up the kids from school, model responsibility by being on time. Paying bills in a responsible and positive manner in front of your children teaches them the value of money and dealing with it wisely. The more you model, the more they will emulate as they engage in the same behaviors that you are performing day in, day out.
2. Assign responsibility tasks gradually
The process of responsibility is a gradual process; you cannot expect someone who is not familiar with the concept to jump in willingly. Small children can learn simple skills like washing hands and brushing teeth. When these skills are mastered, it’s time to move on with some chores, such as putting toys away and helping set the table. Each chore performed will instill in your child a sense of self-confidence, making it more likely that they will tackle additional responsibilities as they grow.
3. Let them observe you in action
Parents are responsible for so many behind-the-scenes things, and often these go unnoticed by busy children and teens who are wrapped up in their own activities. Why not “lift” your parental responsibilities for the evening and delegate them to others? Activities like cooking, cleaning, washing clothes, and picking up toys should be pointed out and delegated to children, as long as it is safe to do so. This kick-in-the-pants type of responsibility will teach your children to appreciate the little things that you do, as well as give them a taste of what it is like to grow and take on additional work.
4. Play the responsibility game
This is a fun activity to do with the whole family if your children are still a bit too young to take on meatier household chores. Take a stack of about 20 index cards and write scenarios on them such as:
- I left my homework in my bedroom
- I forgot to make my lunch for school
- A stranger tried to talk to me in the playground today
- A friend did something bad and I witnessed it
- My room is a mess; there are toys and clothes scattered all over the floor
- There is a basket of unfolded laundry in the family room. What should I do?
For every scenario, have each family member come up with a solution that represents what they think should be done. The “cardholder” listens to each suggestion, then picks the most responsible answer. Scenarios can be age-appropriate, and this is a great way to get kids to think about responsibility, before jumping into household chores.
5. Teach about consequences
Life has consequences, and irresponsibility has consequences. We cannot save our children from all of their choices. Running to school to drop off forgotten lunches, gym clothes, and missing assignments is only teaching them one thing—-that someone will consistently bail them out. When you let them experience undesirable consequences every so often, they will be far less likely to continue a pattern of irresponsible choices and behaviors.
6. Praise their efforts
It feels good to be recognized and praised for hard work. What would happen in the workplace if we made it a culture of praise and compliments? People might just work harder! Your children function in the same way; they want to be loved and praised for their efforts, and they will try even harder when you recognize the good work that they are doing. Don’t go overboard, but recognize those behaviors that you want them to continue, and correct those that you don’t. You’ll be training them to be responsible, self-confident adults.
7. Let them help you
Sure, it’s exhausting to re-wash the dishes that your toddler helped wash after snack time, but you are teaching them some valuable skills by allowing them to “help” you. They are also learning that work is fun and enjoyable, and this perception will do wonders as they learn to take care of their own belongings. A helpful child is a happy child!
8. Refuse to quit
There are very few children that accept the concept and consequences of responsibility cheerfully. You are bound to experience a little push back as you let go of the reigns, teach them about consequences, and set higher and higher expectations for them. Refuse to quit, even when the going gets tough. Your children might not see it now, but you are setting them up for a lifetime of success and happiness that comes with knowing how to manage life. Enjoy the journey; you’ll delight in watching your children grow and flourish as they learn the true meaning of responsibility.