Teaching our kids responsibility is one of our jobs as parents. And it’s an important one. We all know adults today who don’t handle responsibility well – maybe it’s finances, maybe it’s holding down a job or maybe it’s simply childish behaviour. Irresponsibility can cause problems don’t the track and most of us don’t want that for our kids.
But sometimes teaching responsibility can be difficult – particularly when our kids are young and struggling to be responsible. We want our children to be children! We want them to run and play after school, not do dishes. We want them to ride their bikes and go to the beach on the weekends, not work in the yard. Having responsibilities helps them learn about being accountable and teaches them the value of hard work. And research shows it is good for them – for their happiness and overall wellbeing.
So, how can we raise responsible children?
To raise responsible kids, give them responsibility!
Teaching kids responsibility doesn’t have to be tricky or overly complicated. At its core, we are teaching our kids that they can do something, by teaching them how to do that thing. Giving them the mindset (can-do attitude) plus the abilities (life skills) leads to responsibility.
Here are some ways you can start:
Let them help
Yes, it will take twice as long to do the dishes if your four-year-old is ‘helping’ but a little investment now goes a long way in the future. Teaching your child how to do the dishes by doing them together, prepares him for when he can do them on his own. Plus, when your child is allowed to help you, he feels valued. Those good feelings make him feel more connected at home and with you. In fact, research shows that kids who help at home don’t find this work at all stressful, and actually feel higher levels of happiness.
Build on age-appropriate tasks
When your kids are young, they won’t be able to make their own lunches, or work at the stove preparing dinner with you. But they can start learning the steps to build up to those tasks. Start small. As they learn, add more advanced responsibility.
When your child wants a snack, instead of cutting him up an apple, show him where the apples are and how to wash one. When he’s a little bit older, you can help him learn to use a knife safely. And when he’s capable, let him cut up apples for his younger siblings.
Take the time to show them the way when they are young, so they can build on that as they grow. Helping at home makes kids feel good, grown-up and important!
Keep up the positive energy by recognising and appreciating them. ‘Thank you for emptying the dishwasher – it was such a big help!’ Focus on what you are grateful for rather than how good they are. Emphasising competence and effort is more important than a focus on performance and outcome. When they are engaged, they will continue to strive and eventually succeed. The resulting sense of achievement is a wonderful reward.
Allow for independence
For our kids to really learn responsibility, they have to learn to rely on themselves. Once you have provided guidance about a task, give them the space to do it on their own. Start with little things – such as packing their schoolbag. Teach them how to do it, and then let them do them on their own. When you show confidence in your child’s abilities, he will feel confident as well.
Allow natural consequences
Of course, once kids are given the freedom to make their own decisions, and do their tasks on their own, they are going to make mistakes. Facing the consequences of those mistakes, though upsetting, will teach your child responsibility. Learning and growth comes from making mistakes.
It is important to understand that by consequence I do not mean punishment. The “consequences” of behaving in challenging ways should not typically hurt. They should, instead, revolve around teaching and learning to be better next time.
When your child makes a mistake, allow the natural consequence. If he forgets to do his homework the night before it’s due, let him get the bad mark, or face the disappointment of his teacher. These lessons will be more memorable to him and teach greater responsibility, than if you had intervened and forced him to finish his homework on time.
Responsibility leads to success
It’s no surprise that responsibility leads to success in later life. In fact, one study found that having chores from a young age was the best predictor of adult success in areas such as education, career, IQ, relationships with family and friends, and even making good choices about drug use. And getting children to take an active role in maintaining the household helps them learn values and empathy, as well as responsibility.
Teaching your child responsibility will take time and energy, but it certainly is not impossible. And children have been given a chance to contribute at home, and to have experiences that have taught them that their decisions have consequences, stand a much better chance of growing into responsible adults.
And once the jobs are done, go outside and play!