How do you help your kids grow up to be successful adults? Here’s what you need to do to teach kids responsibility.
My girls (ages 3 and 5) and I were taking a walk in the wooded park near our place. We started walking over a small bridge crossing a little brook and then saw a huge pile of trash in the water.
My 5 year old was astonished!
She kept asking how could people do that and why didn’t they clean up their mess.
We chatted about how people should pick up after themselves and keep things neat for the next person.
I even said we could come back with gloves and bags and clean it up and she was happy about that.
I was sad that my kids had to see that and that we had to have that discussion.
But, seriously, who irresponsibly dumped a pile of garbage in the little brook?
What is responsibility?
As I’m sure that you have seen yourself, many adults don’t even understand what responsibility is or dare to take responsibility for themselves.
So, what exactly is responsibility?
The dictionary states that responsibility is:
In other words, responsibility can mean:
- dependability (people can count on you)
- keeping your word
- fulfilling your commitments
- holding yourself accountable for your own behavior and actions
- admitting mistakes and working on them
What are the benefits of teaching responsibility?
Helping your children learn how to be responsible, can help them:
- develop self esteem/self-confidence
- have a sense of family pride
- have a strong work ethic
- learn self-sufficiency
- contribute to family life to make it smooth and easier
- fight against entitlement
Success in life is highly linked to responsibility. After all, if you aren’t dependable and don’t fulfill your commitments, people won’t want to be with you (hire you, work with you, trust you, etc.).
When kids are really little they need a lot of prompting and reminding and don’t often take responsibility on their own. This is something they need to learn.
Over time, kids need to learn how to take on responsibility themselves – being the ones to take care of a task because it needs to be done and not because they are being told to do it.
A simple way to start is to think about what abilities and characteristics you want your kids to have when they become adults. Now, think about their current ages and what you can do to start nudging them in that direction.
Teach kids responsibility
What are some specific things that you, as a parent, can do to help teach kids responsibility?
1. Be clear about your responsibilities and theirs
First, helping your kids understand the difference between their own responsibilities and yours is important.
Make sure you give your kids (even small ones) freedom to do things on their own.
For example, I let my kids get their own snacks and sometimes my 5 year old will set up snacks or make a simple lunch for herself and her 3 year old sister.
I expect both of my girls to clean up after themselves (particularly putting away toys and after meals). Even though we struggle with this one (they’re still young!), I do talk about how it’s important to “make things ready for the next person” and keep things clean so that I have more time to play with them and do fun activities.
I always try to pitch in and help them and have them help me. We clean up, bring in groceries, put away toys, and clean up after meals together. It’s not perfect, but they are learning how to take responsibility.
I also talk to them about the responsibilities I have (work, taking care of them, etc.) and their own responsibilities (clean up toys, get dressed, etc.).
2. Be positive, uplifting and encouraging
No one likes a grumpy nag! Kids aren’t motivated by hearing things like “You’re lazy” or “Don’t be irresponsible”.
If they are struggling, try to find ways to help them maybe using things like:
- gentle reminders
- chore charts
- activity calendars
3. Make chores and family responsibilities a part of your daily routine
Certain family chores (responsibilities) should be a part of your daily routine.
For example, as I said before, together we clean up after playing with our toys and eating meals. This is simply an expectation of being a part of our family.
I don’t actually use the word chore, I talk about how we all have responsibilities as being a part of a family and we need to pitch in to have everything run smoothly and have more time for fun!
If we want to have family game night, we all need to help clean up the kitchen table after dinner!
Related: Chores for kids: How to get started
4. Model responsibility
Let your kids observe and help you when you are doing anything: cooking, doing laundry, cleaning. My 5 year old loves to help stir ingredients, pour laundry soap in the washing machine, water plants, etc. I always let her watch and help.
Model being a good citizen, an honest and hard-working employee, and a kind and caring friend.
If you show responsibility and how to keep yourself accountable, then your kids will learn from your example.
5. Let them make mistakes and find solutions to those mistakes
Don’t always bail your kids out! In order to learn how to be responsible, kids need to make mistakes and learn how to fix them.
Give them help when needed, but let them find their own solutions sometimes.
My kids are quite little, but as they get older I’ll need to let them take more responsibility and let them learn from their own mistakes. Even now, when my 5 year old asks me what to do or how to fix something, I often ask her what she thinks should be done first.
6. Encourage and praise responsible behavior
Kids LOVE when we notice them doing the right thing!
Be grateful and thankful when they are making responsible choices and make sure to tell them!
7. Be confident in them
When I was a kid, my dad used to be very critical, especially if something wasn’t done just right.
While you don’t want to do everything for your kids, you also don’t want to criticize their work or re-do things they have already done.
Take time to teach them how to do something and then let them do it (even if it’s imperfect!).
Let them know you are confident in their abilities.
If you do everything for your kids and give them everything, then they will grow up to be entitled rather than responsible.
Just a reminder:
- Model and actively teach your kids how to do something.
- Don’t expect perfection (especially at first).
- Remember that they will improve with practice.
8. Let your kids help and do it themselves
This can be terribly painful when they are toddlers as you have to wait very patiently for them to do some simple task (like put socks on, which seems to take forever!). But, it is SO important in letting them start building independence and responsibility.
As often as you can, let them do things by themselves, it is the best way for them to learn.
9. Have them work for money
Whether you give them special jobs at home to do for pay or you help them find ways to make money outside of the home, help your kids make money.
But, nothing teaches responsibility like having a job outside the home to earn money.
Related: Ways to make money as a kid
Finally, as I often say, whatever you want your kids to do, you need to model it first!
If you don’t keep your word, why do you expect your kids to keep theirs?
My kids are 3 and 5, but I let them do far more than I imagined I would before I became a parent.
My 5 year old wants to help me all the time. If I fix something or have a particular task, she wants to help.
I have to often fight my own impatience to just get it done, in order to let her help and try (and not do it perfectly either!). But she’ll never learn if I don’t let her try, and I also don’t want to quelch her curiosity either.
There are so many things that we need to teach our kids, but responsibility is one of the most important. You can teach kids responsibility with these simple tips and help them grow up to become responsible, independent, self-sufficient adults! I’d love to hear what things you are doing to help your kids learn responsibility!