Every parent wants to know how to teach their kids to be responsible people. The key is knowing that there’s a difference between responsibility and obedience. If you tell your kid to do something, and they do it, they’re following orders -- being obedient. If the kid knows something needs to be done and does it on their own -- that is responsibility! It’s a goal all parents have but it’s not always the easiest to achieve. You can ask many sources and they will all have different tips and techniques to offer you -- but clever tricks won’t get you the results you’re looking for. Instead, here are some ways you can reframe your approach to make it more effective.
Model Responsible Behavior and Integrity
Most of how children learn to behave comes from simply observing and copying. Teach your kids responsibility by showing them what it looks like and feels like to act with integrity. If you say you’re going to do something -- DO IT! Kids will follow your lead. After all, as adults making decisions we don’t ask ourselves what our parents would have told us to do -- we ask what they would have done!
Give Choices As Early As Possible
Offering children choices as early in life as possible is a fundamental step to building responsibility. They don’t have to be monumental decisions. It can be small things like asking, “Do you want the blue cup or the red cup?” Making good choices is a muscle that can be built up over time. The process of learning to make judgments develops through experience -- often through having bad ones! Plus, studies have shown that children given choices early in life make better decisions on their own later when compared to children whose parents had always decided for them.
Problem Solve Instead of Blaming and Punishing
Blaming and punishing when your child doesn’t do what you’ve asked them to is disempowering. Not only does a child learn to lie, deflect, and blame their mistakes on others -- it also makes the child feel as though they are the problem, when really it’s their behavior that needs to be dealt with. Instead try framing the situation as an issue that can be collaboratively handled. Ask, “What can we do about this dilemma?” Work together so that they can participate in finding a solution. This way, children learn that all people make mistakes but they can always work to make things better -- empowering them instead of making them feel like a bad person. Cooperative solutions give kids the confidence to know they can master their behavior and don’t have to do it alone!
Set Clear Expectations and Defined Boundaries with Empathy
Defining boundaries can be difficult. You want to strike a good balance between being permissive and being authoritarian, without sparking a teenage rebellion! The key to being able to set big expectations for your kids is to prop up those expectations with an equal level of support for them. This means honoring your child’s unique experience of the world while still upholding the rules you set in place for them. For example, you can allow your child to be angry at their sibling and encourage them to express their feelings while also insisting they do not break their sibling’s toys. It takes practice and consistency but tools can help!
Use Tools to Support Your Goals
Using tools like a Reward Chart based system can be an effective way to set clear expectations for your children. You can collaboratively determine what chores fall within their wheelhouse and set rewards to incentivize them. A tool like this can also allow kids the freedom to step up to the plate of responsibility and tackle tasks on their own!
Whatever system you put in place for your children, we hope these basic principles have given you something to think about next time your kids neglect their duties. Remember -- set clear expectations and boundaries, find collaborative solutions to problems, give them the freedom to learn to make good choices, and most importantly show them what responsibility looks like in the way you present yourself. You’ll be sure to teach your kids to live with integrity!
For more resources, check out Cadily.org!