Part I of this series called “Teaching Responsibility to Children” addresses the broad parenting issues that impact children becoming responsible. This section will cover some specific things parents can do to encourage this trait.
- Modeling – How Responsible Are You?
- How Much Should You Help?
- Break Down Larger Tasks
- Give Opportunities to Have Choices and Make Decisions
- Use the Language of Responsibility
- Use Rules
- Set Consequences
- Use Problem Exploration
- Homework, Chores and Teaching Responsibility
- Create a Home Environment that Promotes Responsibility
What Parents Can Do
The old adage “Do as I say, not as I do” unfortunately does not work. One of the most powerful ways that parents can influence the development of their children is by behaving in the way they want their children to behave.
There is good news and bad news here. The good news is that by behaving in a positive way, your children are likely to do the same. The bad news is that the power of modeling puts pressure on you to act as you want your children to act.
So consider the following:
- Do you clean up after yourself, hang up your coat, keep your belongings neat?
- Do you meet your obligations, pay your bills on time, follow through with commitments?
- Do you admit when you make a mistake?
You get the picture . . . you can help your children to be responsible by being responsible yourself.
This question can often best be answered by considering how mature a child is to complete a particular task. Maturity consists of how capable and how willing a child is to do a particular task.
There are three levels of maturity, and a parent’s level of involvement is determined by the child’s maturity:
- a child does not have motivation or ability
- a child has ability or motivation but not both
- a child has both motivation and ability
For example, a child might be interested in being potty trained but not have the physiological capability that such control requires. Conversely, another child might be physiologically ready but not be motivated at the moment to master that skill. Neither of these children would be considered mature in terms of potty training.
Parent needs to be the teacher
When a child does not have motivation or ability, he needs the parent to be a “teacher” who can help with the task: he needs moral support, demonstrations and his parent’s presence to encourage and guide him.
For example, a child who is supposed to clean up her bedroom each week needs constant help to avoid being distracted. (She does not have the skills to keep herself on tract and not get distracted.) She also complains about having to do this task since her 2-year old sister does not have to clean up. (She is not motivated to do this task.)
Parent can be a coach
When a child has ability or motivation but not both, he needs his parent to act as a “coach” to provide reminders and supervision, but he needs less involvement from his parent than when he is neither motivated nor able.
For example, Sarah has volunteered to do her own laundry but she needs her mother to tell her how to do it. (Sarah is motivated but needs her pointers from her mother on how to do the job.)
Parent can be a delegator
When a child has both motivation and ability, he has reached maturity related to that particular task. In this case, the parent is a “delegator”. The child does the activity independently.
For example, a teenage boy has kept his room clean and neat without being asked or reminded and now he gets to re-arrange the furniture to his liking.
Breaking down larger tasks into smaller steps helps children to not be overwhelmed by a huge task. It is a skill they can use to tackle many projects and tasks as they grow. Be sure to acknowledge the accomplishments of the steps along the way toward completing the larger task.
Children are more likely to go along with plans and be responsible when they have had a say in making the plans and decisions. They will have a chance to see how they gain more independence and feel a sense of pride as they show more responsible behavior. Conversely, you will see how giving children increased independence can lead to their being more responsible.
Praise and encouragement will foster a positive relationship with your children and promote responsibility.
Telling them you believe in them, that you think they can accomplish a task, that you believe they can follow your rules and meet your expectations and their obligations goes a long way toward helping them to believe in themselves. Your belief in them can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Focus on what they did well rather than on what they didn’t do. Highlight the positive by ‘catching them being good.’ Find little pieces of responsible behavior to comment on and praise.
Be sure to celebrate progress and efforts as well as achievements. You don’t always have to reward progress with something tangible; giving recognition is a huge motivator for children.
You can remind your children of past successes to motivate them to persist and follow through with something.
Remember: Children need praise when they succeed and encouragement when they fall short. “Yay, you did this!!” or “I know you will be able to do this next time.”
Be aware of “trip words”
These are phrases people use to deny responsibility for their behavior. Don’t let your children get away with using them. Here are some examples of trip words and how you can respond:
What Not to Say
What to Say
|I forgot||Well, okay. But don’t let it happen again.||I’m sorry you forgot; call someone to find out what your assignment is.|
|It wasn’t my fault. The teacher didn’t tell us it was going to be on the test.||How could you have known to study that?”||It is your responsibility to know all of the material covered, even if the teacher didn’t tell you it would be on the test.|
|I didn’t mean to hurt her feelings. I was just talking to Jenn about what happened over the weekend.||I know. That’s okay.||You need to find a way to help her feel better, to let her know you are sorry. It is never okay to hurt someone’s feelings.|
Apply Discipline Techniques to Encourage Responsibility
Rules set standards that we expect our children to meet. They let our children know what we expect of them, and they hold the children accountable for their behavior. To be most effective, rules should be stated clearly and simply. The two types of rules are:
These are rules we absolutely insist upon, and often have to do with safety.
For a toddler:
“You must hold Mommy’s hand when we cross the street.”
For a school-aged child:
“You must wear your helmet when you ride your bike.”
For a teenager:
“No driving and drinking.”
The expectation is that our children will obey these non-negotiable rules.
These are rules that we can work with our children to establish. Remember that by giving children decision-making opportunities, you will be helping them to accept responsibility for their choices.
Negotiable rules teach children how to think and how to advocate for themselves, as well as encourage children to be responsible for following the rule they were involved in establishing.
Once determined, rules must be enforced if children are to learn responsibility. Consequences for non-compliance can be determined in advance if possible.
Knowing that you will follow through with a consequence for a broken rule gives guidance to children, is a way to hold them accountable for their behavior and to teach them that they are responsible for what they do.
This is one of the most helpful approaches to resolving conflicts and discipline issues with your children and to promote responsibility. Involve them in a discussion of what the problem is, how it effects them and you, and brainstorm ideas about solutions.
Making children part of the solution to a problem rather than part of the problem itself goes a long way toward increasing a sense of responsibility in children, and in helping them to feel capable – “I can deal with problems or challenges that arise and can figure out a way to cope with them.”
Many parents view these aspects of life as a pain to supervise and as getting in the way of their children’s fun and other activities. But they do have very important benefits in terms of building responsibility in children:
- time management
- organizational skills
- following instructions and directions
When struggling with getting your children to do their homework and complete their chores, it can be helpful to remember that you are working towards a greater purpose of promoting responsibility.
- giving back
- feeling part of family
- feeling capable
- being responsible
- time management
- a sense of appreciation
With chores, you can give your children some say in what they do and when they do it, try to match their interests and temperament with the chores they take on and be sure they realize that what they are doing is appreciated and truly needed to help the household function.
When Children Resist Doing Homework and Chores
When children are not complying in completing their tasks, we can do all the things we can do to promote responsibility:
Think about which role your child needs you to take on: teacher, coach or delegator
Break down larger tasks into smaller ones
Allow your child to have a say in when and how he does it
Use praise and encouragement
Do not allow the use of ‘trip words’ to avoid their responsibility
Use rules to express your expectations
Have consequences for non-compliance and follow through with them
Use problem exploration to come up with solutions that satisfy everyone
Model the behavior you want to see in your children.
Share your own experiences about school and responsibility, in moderation.
Teach and show your child how to be organized and how to manage time.
Create a structure and schedules for homework, chores, morning and evening routines that take into account your child’s temperament, learning style and biological clock. A successful morning begins the night before.
Use conversation starters at mealtimes, car rides, or while doing chores together to connect to your children. And then LISTEN! without judgment or criticism:
- On a scale of 1 – 10, how was your day? What made it that way?
- What was the best (high point)/worst part (low point) of your day?
- What did you do today to help someone else?
- What is the favorite thing you learned today?
- What’s a thought or feeling you had today?
- What happened today that you did not expect?
- What’s something you’ve done recently that you are proud of?
- What’s on your mind these days?
- What are you looking forward to these days?
Encourage your children to find a place where they can and want to give their all – classes, sports, clubs, music, arts, volunteer activities etc. so they can experience that success is more about persistence and less about talent, and they can experience the satisfaction that comes from taking responsibility.
Try not to worry too much – if we do the worrying, it leaves less responsibility and ownership for the child.
Learning to be responsible takes time, and just like learning how to walk or ride a bike, a child may need your help. Picture your child as being responsible and capable of changing and growing – your children will live up or down to your expectations of them.
For more information about fostering responsibility in children, check out the following books. Purchasing from Amazon.com through our website supports the work we do to help parents do the best job they can to raise their children.
If you found this article helpful, click here to make a donation to The Center for Parenting Education. Your support will enable us to continue to provide quality information free of charge.