There is a common belief that responsibility is inborn. This belief is false. Some children are naturally responsible, but these children are rare. Learning to be responsible rarely happens by itself. It must be taught, practiced, and learned, but teaching responsibility at home is possible.
So now we know that children can be taught to be more responsible, but how exactly can we as parents go about it? In this article, we’ll look at simple strategies you can use every day to make your child more responsible for his or her actions.
Science tells us that responsibility is essential to success. Responsible students have greater academic success, responsible employees are more motivated and perform better, and even responsible athletes have more victories.
Is teaching responsibility really important?
Teaching responsibility is about helping kids take responsibility for their behavior. It is about teaching them to make choices and accept the consequences of those choices. It is about teaching them that their actions affect everyone around them, even in the years beyond childhood.
Studies show that children who are given responsibility in the early years, as early as age 3 or 4, develop important skills that determine their success in later years.
Marty Rossman, professor of family education, says that involving children in household chores increases their sense of responsibility and competence, self-reliance, and self-worth, and that this stays with them throughout their lives.
Children who have learned to be responsible are more dependable, take responsibility for their actions and decisions, and are more likely to learn from their mistakes and make amends.
But teaching responsibility is hard because responsibility is not fun. If you look at it from your child’s point of view, responsibility is really a very boring thing that takes you away from all the more interesting things you would rather be doing – chores, tidying up, cleaning, homework, and so on… boring. It’s no wonder that your child will try to resist most responsibilities.
That’s why it takes a lot of practice (and a lot of patience on your part) for kids to learn that they are responsible for their responsibilities.
The good news is that there are simple things you can do today to help your child grow into a responsible teen and adult.
Here’s how to get started.
5 Simple Strategies for Teaching Responsibility
1) Teach your child to be responsible for his or her actions
Encouraging your child to take responsibility for his or her actions is the first step in teaching responsibility. What this really means is that you need to explain to them what you mean by responsibility – what do you expect them to do? Why and how can they participate in family responsibilities? What kind of behavior is responsible?
Setting clear expectations is a key aspect of teaching responsibility. Setting clear expectations also means making it clear what the limits are. Numerous studies have shown that high expectations (but not too high!) make it more likely that those expectations will be met.
When teaching accountability, remember that you are a guide, not a critic. Encourage open communication and listen to your child. Make sure they understand what is expected of them. This might include:
– Picking up toys when they’re finished with them
– Making their bed
– Tidying up when they finish their snack
– Doing age-appropriate chores
– Cleaning up after themselves
If your child spills water on the table, letting him clean it up will teach him that spills are normal, but it’s also normal to clean up after yourself. Even the youngest children can be taught to be responsible by taking part in the process of getting the rug to clean up the mess.
Letting your child clean up after himself also teaches that mistakes and errors happen to everyone, but they can be fixed. It teaches them about repairing damage and making amends for their actions, for example, by apologizing and helping to fix the situation.
Teaching responsibility also involves talking about one’s own responsibilities:
“There are many things I have to do every day. I take you to school, I go to work, I go to meetings, I go shopping, I cook, and I clean. Sometimes there are other things I would rather do, but I have to fulfill my responsibilities. If I didn’t fulfill my responsibilities, a lot of people would be negatively affected, we wouldn’t have the life we have now. That’s why I have to fulfill my responsibilities, and you have to fulfill yours“.
By being responsible, you set an example for your child to follow.
The earlier you start teaching responsibility, the better
A post I wrote a few years ago about children’s participation in household chores got quite a bit of feedback. I remember one parent writing in and saying that it was unrealistic to expect three-year-olds to help set the table because “they would break everything”.
My view is that children get used to what you get them used to. If you let them practice, they get better and better. If you don’t, they don’t.
Children, like everyone else, learn by doing. And encouraging them to participate in chores is an easy way to teach them responsibility.
Even young children can be taught to pick up their toys or help with simple tasks around the house.
The trick is to choose age-appropriate chores to avoid asking too much or too little of your child. If you need ideas about the types of chores your child can do based on his or her age, here are age-appropriate chore cards.
2) Provide Consequences for Negative Behavior
Setting expectations goes hand-in-hand with consequences: this is what will happen if you don’t meet your responsibilities.
At best, not holding your child accountable will confuse them: “They didn’t say anything yesterday, so maybe they’ve changed their mind.”
At worst, it makes them more irresponsible and teach them to rely on excuses and lies to get out of their responsibilities, and this behavior can follow them into adulthood. In other words, consequences work if you are consistent.
Also, consequences will only work if they are worse than the task your child was supposed to do in the first place. In other words, if your child thinks the consequences are better than the tasks he’s responsible for, he’ll continue to avoid those tasks.
3) Offer Support and Guidance
As I mentioned earlier, teaching responsibility is about coaching your child, guiding him. It is not about criticism. It is about teaching your child important skills that they can use throughout their lives.
Therefore, it is important to provide support and guidance. Giving feedback is an easy way to provide this support, but this feedback needs to focus on your child’s specific behavior: “I like the way you took out the trash without being asked.”
The more you identify the responsible behavior, the more your child will understand what is expected of him or her.
Positive reinforcement is one of the most effective strategies for helping young children take responsibility for their actions. Science has proven that the more you focus on your child’s positive behavior, the more likely it is to be repeated.
But positive reinforcement is often used inappropriately, and many parents end up bribing their children and making their behavior worse.
One of the great things about positive reinforcement is that it can be applied to just about any type of behavior that you would like to change in your child. This guide will walk you through everything you need to know about this strategy, as well as the pitfalls to avoid.
4) Strengthen your child’s problem-solving skills
Part of teaching responsibility is helping your child practice making the right choices.
An easy way to strengthen your child’s problem-solving skills is to help him or her develop a growth mindset.
This means teaching them to identify problems, think about different solutions, and choose the one that feels best for the situation. You can help your child practice this every day by encouraging them to reflect on their actions:
– What do you think?
– What would you do (or do differently)?
– What will you do next time?
– What did you learn from the situation?
Remember that emotions drive behavior, so it is important to help your child strengthen his or her emotion regulation skills.
Final Thoughts on Teaching Responsibility
Teaching responsibility helps your child learn that things have to be earned. And that both you and society will hold them accountable for their actions. The earlier you start, the better chance they have of growing up to be responsible adults.
Some parents worry that it’s too late for their children to accept chores or other responsibilities. But the thing is, if you’re determined and willing to do what it takes, it’s never too late to start. The Positive Behavior Kit will give you the tools you need to get your child on the right track.