I keep hearing from different parents how their children are not responsible. Usually, these parents follow up the statement about their child’s lack of responsibility with a complaint about how they ( the parents) have to do so much for said child, because “well, he is just immature and irresponsible.”
Certainly, some children are naturally more responsible than others. However, responsibility can be and should be taught. The following are Eight Ways to Teach Your Children Responsibility, which I have compiled based on teaching my own children and based on watching other people’s children:
1. You call your child irresponsible and the child will be irresponsible. There is nothing for him or her to aspire to. You just labeled him and haven’t provided him with any room to grow. Use better words. Inspire your child with your words. “I know how hard it is for you to do all of your assigned work, but I see how hard you’ve been trying. You are becoming a very organized and responsible young man (woman.) When the child hears these words, the child has to live up to the potential you see in him/her.
2. If you want responsible children, give them responsibility! I have a seven year old who is a pretty great cook. I also have a nine year old who can clean the house by himself. I have a three year old who always puts his toys away and his plate in the sink. These children are very different, but they all became responsible because we allowed them to have responsibilities around the house early. Someone I know doesn’t let their child pack their own bag for swim practice. “He will forget the goggles!” So? Maybe he will forget the goggles, but he’d never forget the lesson in responsibility when he is unable to see in the pool for two hours. Another person I know likes to sit by their child as they do homework, because “otherwise they just won’t do it.” So? If they don’t do their homework, they will learn the consequences of being irresponsible very fast. If you don’t allow your child to clean their room, to do their homework, to work in the garden, to load the dishwasher, etc, you are not teaching them responsibility.
3. Allow them to make mistakes. At first, they will mess up. Your kitchen will look dirty after their cooking. The homework will be half-done and the teacher won’t like it. The bed will be badly made. The clothes will be washed on the wrong setting. You must allow all of this, as this is how your child learns to be responsible. First they make mistakes, then you correct them and then they become better. They will mess it up. You also mess a lot of things up and it’s ok. When my eldest son baked his first batch of cookies, the kitchen looked like a complete disaster. I told him how the kitchen needs to be cleaned after cooking. A week ago, I came home to the perfectly clean kitchen ( he washed every utensil he had used) and a batch of homemade cookies. The kid is nine. They learn, you know?
4. Model responsible behavior. Keep your appointments, don’t forget about your responsibilities, do a good job at whatever it is you are doing, as children are always watching you. Always stress how you do your part as far as being responsible and hard-working, and therefore, so should they.
5. Try to give them more responsibility than you think they are capable of handling, and they will probably surprise you. In this culture of helicoptering, very little is expected of children, yet parents are expected to constantly serve the younger generation. I once looked my most naturally irresponsible child in the eye and said that I give him the responsibility of cleaning all the main floor windows, because “you are big, responsible and can handle it.” Guess what? First he beamed with pride because I entrusted him with such a big job and then he did a great job cleaning! If you think they are not yet ready to watch their calendar and get ready to go to their activities on time, try it for a few days and most likely, the child will pleasantly surprise you. Ask them to make you lunch tomorrow! Even a five year old should be able to make a simple sandwich, and the sense of accomplishment they would get from that sandwich would be priceless. We are trained by media and by other parents today to expect a lot less of our kids as far as responsibility, than what the kids are actually capable of.
6. Let go of the idea of needing to feel needed. Being needed is not always a sign of being loved. A lot of times, the parents baby their children, because “independent children don’t need you as much.” That’s right, they don’t. But they love, cherish and respect you for making them strong, independent and responsible little people.
7. Let them experience consequences. If you don’t do it now, they will experience more painful consequences of their mistakes when they grow up. The more you impose the rules and the consequences for breaking them, the less likely is the child to break the rules. Let them forget their backpack at home. Let them forget their gear for sports practice. Let them have no sweets for two months because they devoured all the sweets in the house in one setting. Let them feel what being irresponsible really means.
8. Provide a strong routine and a set structure. Even small children go through a set of responsibilities each morning: they dress, they brush teeth, they eat what they are served, they take their plate to the sink or wash it, they get out of the house on time. Establishing a routine early in life allows the child to see responsibility as something natural and normal, so when they get older, life doesn’t change: you just add more responsibilities to their list.