When asked what traits parents would like their children to have now and as adults, one of the most common responses is “to be responsible.”
This is a broad term which means many different things, including: being dependable so people know they can count on you, keeping one’s word and agreements, meeting one’s commitments, and being a contributing member of one’s family, community and society.
Being responsible is a key to children’s success both in school and in the larger world when they grow up.
Most parents want children to accept ownership for a task or chore — the children do it because it needs to be done and accept that it is their obligation to do it. Over time, they may even initiate doing a task “because it needs to be done” — not because they are being told to do it. This attitude would be called responsibility.
“Ingraining responsibility in children is not a trick but is simply teaching them life skills,” says psychiatrist Karen Ruskin, author of “The 9 Key Techniques for Raising Respectful Children Who Make Responsible Choices.” “Kids who do not have responsibilities feel entitled and think the world will always do for them.”
Teaching responsibility is not a fixed event but a process over time and it should begin early. Giving younger children simple tasks to complete is a way to begin to help them feel a sense of accomplishment. As these techniques continue, a child gains more self-esteem and fosters a desire to continue to please their parents.
Be sure to model the behavior in completing the task. Children will see and better understand how the task should be completed. Over time, children will develop a sense of ownership for any repeated action. Allowing a child to “do it his way” will encourage a feeling of pride in accomplishment and foster a sense of responsibility.
It is important for parents to abandon their desire for tasks to be completed perfectly. Your child may not finish a task in the timeframe you would like or in the manner you would want but the important point to remember is that they complete it. When you ask a 5-year-old to make her bed, it may still be lopsided. Don’t criticize her. Instead, recognize a job well done. The next time you make your own bed, show her how you do it.
Give praise for the job done first and add any other suggestions for improvement sparingly. As the child continues to perform that task on multiple occasions, their technique will improve as well. Praise is the most important motivator for children.
Avoid rewards, at least at first. There’s a time and place for rewards and allowances, but experts agree that being responsible isn’t it. Save rewards for tasks that go above and beyond what you expect to be your child’s normal household responsibilities.
Learning to take care of his things also helps a child develop a sense of responsibility for his actions. To get your son to clean up after an art project, inform him that he won’t be able to play with his crayons and scissors until the next day if he leaves a messy table. Then you need to follow through and take away his supplies if he shirks his responsibility. The more you enforce the rules, the more likely he is to clean up without being asked, or at least without whining about it too much. Consistency is key.
Raising responsible kids won’t happen overnight, but if you are consistent in guiding them, they will become the responsible adults you hope for.