How Can I Teach My Child To Be Responsible?
By Barbara Desmarais
Most of us when asked what we want our children to become, we
include "responsible" among other things such as happy, fulfilled
and caring. We want our children to learn to make wise choices, be
responsible for their actions and live responsibly.
Do we teach children to become responsible by simply giving them
chores to do? That's part of it for sure but only part of it. What
about learning to be responsible for their actions? What kind of
messages do we give out that either encourage or discourage a child
to become responsible? How are we at taking responsibility for our
Expecting children to participate in the running of the household
can begin as soon as they learn to walk. It simply makes a statement
that they are a valued member of the household and are capable of
making a contribution. We can start by providing hooks at their
level so they can hang up their coats, by providing large plastic
bins so toys can be easily accessed and put away, and by providing
plastic dinnerware so they can clear their own dishes away. The
older children become, responsibilities can be added according to
what you're comfortable with and what is appropriate for their age.
If we get into the habit of always doing things for them that they
can do for themselves, we give them the message that they're not
When we discipline through natural and logical consequences we
teach children to become responsible for their behavior. Physical
punishment, nagging and lecturing seldom works in teaching a child
to act responsibly. They instead learn to fear us and the result is
a parent/child relationship that is not based around mutual trust
and respect. Our job as parents is to help make children accountable
for their behavior.
Offering choices provides many opportunities for children to
learn responsibility. Life is all about choices and we can begin
offering a choice of 2 or 3 things to toddlers. They learn to live
with the consequences of their choices and it says to them that they
are capable of making a choice which in turn encourages mutual
respect and a healthy sense of self-worth.
How often do we as parents take on the problems of our children
when in fact it's they who own the problem? We become overly anxious
around homework not completed, an argument with a friend, or any
number of things that truly have nothing to do with us. When we
allow our children to take ownership of their own problems and learn
to detach ourselves, we teach them to become responsible for their
actions. We also give them the message that we know they are capable
of handling the problem. We can instead offer guidance with
questions such as: "What would you do differently next time?"
do you think will happen if you don't finish this?" We can still
guide and support without fixing.
How are we at assuming responsibility for our own actions? Are we
quick to blame others for things that go wrong or do we take
ownership for our part in a problem? If we constantly blame others
for things that go wrong in our lives, we teach our children to
become victims. They don't learn that the only person that can fully
take charge of what happens to us, is ourselves. People who live
responsibly take action to change rather than react and blame
Recommended reading: "
Raising a Responsible Child" by Dr. Don Dinkmeyer and Dr. Gary McKay.
Barbara Desmarais is a Parenting and Life Coach. She works with parents both privately and in
groups helping them to find solutions to their parenting challenges. She has worked with parents for over 16 years.