How Children Learn Responsibility

Mom and Child PlantingWhat does it mean to be responsible? For both children and adults, responsibility involves making decisions and acting on them, being trusted, and answering for one’s behavior. All children are different, and they learn to be responsible at different rates and in a variety of ways. No matter what your child’s style, you can teach him or her to be responsible through specific, intentional parenting practices.  The best way to do this is by modeling responsible behavior yourself, and by giving your child the chance to practice responsible behavior themselves through age-appropriate chores. Ultimately, every child needs the opportunity to show that they are responsible for their actions, chores, schoolwork, and relationships. Here are some parenting strategies that can help:

Demonstrating Responsible Behavior for Your Child

  • Responsibility SkillsTalk to your child as day-to-day problems come up and responsible choices need to be made. Explain how and why you make those choices. For example, tell your child ‘I really don’t want to leave the park, but if we don’t get home and let the dog out he might have an accident. We better go home so that doesn’t happen.’
  • Focus on the cause and effect relationship of our choices and ask your child to identify how different actions will lead to positive or negative outcomes. For example, ‘What will happen if we leave the groceries in the car instead of bringing them in the house and putting them away?’
  • Frame responsible actions in terms of family values for your child. For example, ‘We believe in keeping promises so we can trust each other, and we said we would help shovel grandma’s walkway, so we’re going to keep our promise.’
  • Follow through with tasks and point out to your child how good it feels to accomplish something.
  • Highlight other positive outcomes that are associated with responsible actions, such as being able to find something because you put it away where it belongs, or knowing someone trusts you because they can always count on you to help them.

Helping Your Child Practice Responsible Behavior Through Chores:

  • Steps 1 2 3Offer chores as a chance to be responsible rather than as a punishment.
  • Be clear and detailed about what is expected, when chores should be completed, and consequences of not doing them.
  • Stay positive and provide specific feedback to your child. Focus on their behavior rather than your child as a person. For example, ‘Nice job feeding the dog and cleaning up the spill!’ rather than ‘Good girl!’. Likewise, express disapproval with their behavior (‘I’m disappointed you did not clean up after yourself’) rather than with your child (‘You’re irresponsible’).
  • Start with just a small number of simple chores and increase your child’s level of responsibility as he or she grows and matures.
  • Monitor your child’s completion of chores and praise them for a job well done, but also be open to changing the expectations if necessary. The goal is for your child to be successful, not overwhelmed.
  • Involve your child in choosing chores and setting the expectations and consequences for not completing chores.

Most importantly, remember to have fun and celebrate all the mini-milestones that show progress is happening! Stay positive with yourself as well as with your child!!!



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