The benefits of raising a responsible child go far beyond having help with household chores and enduring fewer conflicts about boundaries. When kids are inspired to behave responsibly, they develop better problem-solving skills, greater impulse control, and improved self-confidence. Taken together, these qualities allow them to adjust to change, overcome grief and setbacks, and stay motivated to achieve their goals. Put simply, a responsible child is a resilient child.
Defining Responsibility in Kids
The lives of responsible children aren’t governed by overly restrictive rules or harsh punishments, but these kids do live in a world where freedom is earned. They know that privileges are granted as a reward for good behaviour, and they know that rights can be taken away if they aren’t handled appropriately.
Responsible kids understand that their actions have consequences – both good and bad – which helps them take accountability when they make a mistake. This understanding of cause and effect also confers a sense of achievement and ownership any time the child earns a new privilege or reaches a milestone.
When kids lack responsibility, on the other hand, they receive privileges automatically. As a result, they have no way of learning how their actions impact the people around them or contribute to their own success. Not only does this create an attitude of entitlement, it robs kids of a sense of accomplishment, autonomy, and personal power. Irresponsible kids therefore feel helpless and overwhelmed when they’re confronted with adversity.
4 Ways to Help Your Child Become More Responsible
When a child is accustomed to almost unlimited freedom, adjusting to a life of responsibility feels jarring and unfair at first. You may not be able to change that, but you can make the transition less stressful by sitting down with your child and having an honest conversation about what you intend to change. Apologize to your child for robbing him (or her) of the opportunity to feel competent and learn valuable lessons in the past, then explain why and how you’ll be stepping back from your current role. Clearly outline the new expectations you have for your child and let him ask questions.
If your child is cooperative, making a gradual plan for change together may be better than altering his lifestyle all at once. For example, if you’ve been doing your child’s homework for him, you might offer to sit with him and help out for a few weeks. Then, when he feels confident working on his own, let him know you’ll still be available for help if he needs it – but you won’t be actively monitoring his progress.
Some additional ways to foster responsibility in kids are outlined below:
1. Use specific praise to help kids recognize responsible behaviour.
When your child demonstrates responsible behaviour, let him know you appreciate what he’s done. Using praise in this manner will both help your child see cause and effect and motivate him to repeat positive actions. Make sure you mention exactly what your child did well and why it’s helpful; e.g., “Thank you for washing the dishes tonight. That saved me a lot of time, and I really appreciate it.” This way, your child will be able to mentally link responsible actions with favourable outcomes.
Remember that responsible behaviour extends beyond chores and homework, too. Children should also be praised when they prevent (or constructively resolve) conflict, show respect or consideration for others, take care of property, and demonstrate honesty.
2. To make praise especially effective, tap into your child’s learning style.
If your child is a verbal learner, descriptive verbal praise will be highly influential on its own. If he’s a visual learner, however, you may want to pair verbal praise with a visual reward system. For younger children, putting stickers on a chore calendar to signify a job well done is often effective. For older children, writing “thank you” notes can reinforce praise.
3. Let your child make age-appropriate mistakes.
By allowing your child to make low-risk mistakes, you let him learn about consequences in a healthy, natural way. Kids typically accept consequences more readily when they arise from their own actions (as opposed to being enforced by a parent).
To help your child understand cause and effect, refuse to “rescue” him when he neglects his responsibilities. If your child doesn’t complete his homework, for instance, step back and allow him to receive a poor grade. If he repeatedly leaves textbooks at home, don’t drop the books off at school for him.
Refusing to save your child from laziness, procrastination, or disorganization doesn’t mean you can’t be a supportive parent – it just means supporting your child in a way that encourages him to be proactive. Instead of rescuing him, offer to help him develop solutions for his bad habits, then write down a plan for change together. Building responsibility is all about working with your child rather than working for your child.
4. Discuss consequences ahead of time.
Kids can’t succeed unless they know precisely what they’re permitted to do and what will happen if they break the rules. Having clear consequences ahead of time prevents kids from confusing minor infractions with major missteps, and it makes discipline feel more just and predictable. As your child grows up, periodically revisit which privileges he’s allowed, what he has to do to keep them, and what the consequences are for irresponsible behaviour. Keep a list of these rules somewhere visible.
Writing down a list of consequences for unacceptable behaviour also gives parents a framework to adhere to in tense situations. This can help prevent the common parenting mistake of changing or escalating consequences in reaction to frustration, thereby making you look more consistent and reliable. Demonstrating self-control is a significant part of behaving responsibly, so it’s important to model this ability for your kids.
As a parent, it’s important to remember that kids don’t need someone to perform duties they can easily manage themselves. To become resilient adults, they require support, clear communication, encouragement, and problem-solving tools – not hand-outs.