Teaching your child how to be responsible not only equips your child with skills they need for a variety of life situations. It also helps your child develop an understanding of their unique talents and the importance of using their talents to contribute to their family, friends and larger community.
1. Work on cause and effect with your child. Help your child understand how their actions and decisions affect themselves and others. An understanding of cause and effect will help your child recognize and accept logical consequences. Not being able to visit a friend until after their room is clean, for example, isn’t a “punishment”, but a logical consequence of a choice they made. Next time, they are free to make a different choice that leads to a different consequence. Also, understanding how their actions affect others can teach children how to help others. Children naturally have big hearts. They will usually be enthusiastic about contributing to their family and helping others if they understand the importance of it.
2. Let them make their own decisions – and accept the consequences for them. Whenever possible, let your children choose what they do or how they do things. One of the best ways for them to learn how to be responsible is by making learning how to make responsible choices. If you, as the parent, make the choice for them, you are responsible for that choice. If your child makes the choice, they are responsible for it. The more opportunities they have to exercise responsible decision making, the better.
3. Give your child age appropriate tasks around the house that they are responsible for. Begin when they’re very young, in toddlerhood. Even toddlers are old enough to contribute something simple to the family (picking up toys, learning how to dress themselves independently, etc.). Let your child do as much on their own as you can. If they don’t know how to do something that they are capable of but have never done before, you can model the action for them, but then let them take it over and try, even if it takes them several tries and the task isn’t done perfectly. The skills your child is learning is more important than the perfection of the task.
4. Teach priorities. Give your child a list of multiple tasks they have to complete, and ask them to prioritize them. It’s OK if your child establishes a different order than you would personally (a person’s priorities will often be influenced by their temperament and interests), as long as they learn that some tasks MUST be done, while others are optional. They need to prioritize in a way that all the “MUST be done” tasks actually get completed and aren’t neglected for other fun, but less important tasks. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they need to complete all the “MUST be done” tasks first, although that’s often a good idea, but that they take responsibility for actually getting them done.
5. Remind your child of their responsibilities in multiple ways to help them develop responsible habits. Your child isn’t going to develop responsibilities overnight. They will often forget different responsibilities they’ve been entrusted with. Be patient with them, and remind them to help them make their responsibilities a habit. Instead of always just saying “remember to do x”, you can find creative ways to remind them, like leaving notes “dust me, please” around or choosing a signal (a tune or quote) that tells your child they are forgetting something (they then need to try to remember what it is they haven’t done).
6. Mistakes are OK. They will happen. Turn them into learning opportunities instead of treating them like a failure.
7. Phrase things positively. If your child hasn’t completed a responsibility, avoid saying “you can’t do “x” because you haven’t done “y”.” Phrasing things negatively can cause your child to feel resentful toward having responsibilities. You can convey the same message positively, by saying “Yes, you may to “x” after you finish “y”.” This focuses your child on the benefits of completing their responsibilities instead of the negative consequences of ignoring them.
8. Positive reinforcement when your child succeeds. Praise your child and point out their successes. As they succeed at small responsibilities, start gradually increasing their responsibilities to larger ones so they recognize the scope of their accomplishment and feel their own growth.
9. Encourage your child to look for help. This doesn’t mean looking for someone else to do their work for them. It means making sure they are equipped with the support they need to succeed at their responsibilities. This might be feeling free to ask their parents for help or advice, but it also involves teaching them problem-solving skills and research skills so they know how to look for information and solutions.