How Can I Teach My Child To Be Responsible?

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 actions?

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 capable.

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?" "What 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 others.

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.

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