January 23, 2018

Three Steps to Teaching Responsibility

Kids are adverse to responsibility as north is to the south pole. They have learned from an early age that others will take care of them, feed them, bathe them, dress them. It is no big shock that responsibility is something we have to teach them because they are not born with it. So we must train and coach them in this arena.

It doesn’t help matters that responsibilities are normally B-O-R-I-N-G!! And we know that kids love to do exciting things. Cleaning their room or doing dishes are not stimulating for them, period. You could get creative in these activities and try to make them more interesting, however visions of broken dishes and clothes hanging from the ceiling fan do come to mind!

It usually is easier to just do it ourselves. Max Lucado, Christian author , says patience (or responsibility, if I may be so bold) means letting a child take 3 hours to do something that takes us 15 minutes to do. I don’t believe this is training them up to be successful adults. Groans, redirection, and complaints aside!

Let’s start here:

  1. Early – Yep , the sooner you can training them to responsible the better you (and they!) will fair later. I did not want to spend all day cleaning up so I had 2 simple rules; pickup what you are playing with before you move on to something else and final cleanup half an hour before dinner. At first, I modeled (see training and coaching section below), then I worked side by side where I would pick up a block and then they would pick up a block, and finally I let them run solo. Also in this category would fall alarm clocks. Let them be responsible for getting up in the morning. As my kids got older, I added other responsibilities with this. Such as come out dressed.
  2. Be an Example – Start using wording like “I am off to work. My job is my responsibility” or “Time to do laundry which is my responsibility”. Let them see you doing your responsibilities. Just as a side note, your word is vital in teaching so stay away from making promises you can’t keep. It will color all the rest of the important concepts you are using words to teach your children.
  3. Train and Coach – Share with the child what exactly responsibility is. Such as, they are things you have to do, things you have made a commitment to do, or things where other people are depending on you to get done. For younger children, it is putting away your blocks after playing. For older kids, it is picking up your towel and clothes after your shower.

The coaching part is pretty much that. I had a physical therapist tell me “don’t correct his walking stance while he is going from point A to point B. He is focused and it comes off as nagging.” That means don’t start harping on him to clean the bathroom in the middle of the video game. Let him know that when he is done with that game, level, whatever, you want to talk to him. Then take him in the bathroom and coach. For example, “you did a great job hanging up your towel. Work harder here on picking up your clothes.” Don’t do it for him, coaches don’t throw the football if the quarterback didn’t do it right! And here is a good reminder – catch them doing it right – your praise is their reward! And vital in your relationship.

Believe me, I get it when it feels like all we do is train and coach, and coach and coach. But trust me, if we don’t teach them responsibility before they leave, they will be hearing the same things from adults, like “why didn’t you get that project done by the deadline?” or “why were you speeding?” and the consequences are much more severe than be held accountable for picking their towel!

Could you use some parenting help?

One tool that we’ve used is Total Transformation by James Lehman. It’s given us a lot of solid, common sense ideas for parenting our challenging children.

About the author: By

Matt is the parent (along with his wife Julie) to five wonderful kids. He has been self-employed for 25+ years and is the owner of the Parenting Allies website.

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  1. I really love this post. I started teaching my children about being responsible as early as one year old. I started teaching them to pick up their toys after playing. Being responsible should start in an early age so that they carry it all the way when they get older.

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