A huge part of being a parent is teaching our children to live and act responsibility.  Most adults know the difference between what is right and wrong, and have made a determination on how they will act based on those ideals.  It is a different ballgame for children; they are learning the rules as they go, and they have plenty of people (whether it is family members, family(124839)Credit: morguefile.comfriends, teachers or the media) giving them advice and insight.  As a parent, we need to realize that we are not the only ones pouring into our children – but we should be the main source.

Teaching responsibility to our children now will help them contribute to society both now and into adulthood.  Responsibility is taking ownership of what you, being dependable and being accountable for your actions.  As children develop a healthy understanding of these concepts, it will help them to mature and it will show them that they are valuable to the first society they know – their family.

Teaching responsibility can be done in a few ways, depending on the age of your child.  As a father of four children ranging from 7 to 15 years old, I have made enough mistakes to see what works and what doesn’t!  And the great news is – I’m still learning how to effectively communicate to my children (especially my teenage daughters…but that’s a whole other topic).  Here are a few ideas to teach responsibility to young children that my wife and I have used through the years:

Ages 3 - 5

At this age, your child becomes more cognizant of right and wrong.  When they do something right, praise is heaped upon them; when something is done wrong, discipline is given.  This foundation will help your child develop the basic understanding of taking responsibility for their actions and what belongs to them.  Some ideas to help build this foundation are:

  • When a child does something wrong, tell them what it was and WHY it was wrong.
  • Teach your child to say “I’m sorry for…” when they do something wrong.  The reason it is worded this way is because some children don’t know what they are sorry for.  Have them articulate what they are apologizing for.  Have them look the person in the eye that they are apologizing to.
  • Assign basic daily chores.  Making their bed and cleaning up their plate after dinner are two simple things they could do each day.   
  • Before they play with something new, have them clean up whatever it was they were playing with before.  I know, I know – that is easier said than done!  Sit with them and help them clean up.

Ages 6 - 10

Now that your children are in school, they have been exposed to new rules and family structures.  Some of their friends will boast that they can do whatever they want at home and will sow those seeds of rebellion into those who allow it.  As a parent, it is vital that we hold the line in what is expected of our children even if their friends do things that they think are cool (but we know are unacceptable).  Some ideas:

  • Diligently enforce the house rules by keeping your child focused on personal responsibility.  Increase the amount of daily chores, especially tasks that help the entire family.  Basic housecleaning projects such as dusting, sweeping or taking out the trash are great places to start.
  • Consider assigning incentives (allowances, special treats, friends coming over, etc…) for doing what has been asked of them. 
  • This is the time when many children experiment with lying, cheating and questioning authority.  When they step out of line at home, make sure the discipline applied teaches the child an actual lesson (more on this in a later post).
  • When your child steps out of line at school, good teachers have strong disciplinary measures in place.  Back up the teacher’s plan and make sure your child knows that you fully behind it.
  • Continue to emphasize morality and taking ownership of their decisions.  As children get older, they will see good and bad examples of decision making from their friends and family members.  Talk WITH your child about this – lecturing your child isn’t as effective as helping them engage in a conversation about making right decisions. 

If you feel overwhelmed or ill-equipped as a parent, find someone that you believe is doing a great job in raising their children and ask for input and advice.  Ask questions and present scenarios that you are dealing with.  Asking for help is not a sign of weakness.  Raising responsible children is a difficult task, but teaching responsibility to younger children will pay huge dividends in their future.