Updated: Feb 3
Just like walking and talking, responsibility is gradually learned over time as a child keeps evolving and growing through different stages of life. As a parent, there are endless things you might want to teach your child, like how to be caring and thoughtful, how to be innovative and creative, how to be honest and trustworthy, how to be a good listener and much more. But one trait that is high up on the list is how to be a responsible individual.
Being responsible includes learning how to take care of others, including oneself, as well as managing personal belongings, a school life, then a home and eventually a job. Learning responsibility does not happen overnight or in a few months but slowly builds up as the child progresses.
What is Responsibility?
When asked what traits parents would like their children to have as adults, the most common responses were ‘to be responsible’. Responsibility is a big umbrella which includes many different things:
being dependable so other people can count on you;
keeping one’s word, promise and agreements;
doing something to the best of your ability;
being accountable for your behaviour or words;
accepting credit when you have done something right, and acknowledging your mistakes; and
being a responsible and contributing member of your family, community and society.
Being responsible is key to a child’s success both in school and in the world when they grow up.
Obedience vs. Responsibility
It has been observed that most parents often confuse obedience with responsibility. Most parents would love for their children to do what they’ve been asked to do, follow directions and not question their authority. This is an important goal when raising children. However, this behaviour is not termed as responsibility, it’s classified as obedience.
Over time most parents want their child to accept ownership for a task or activity. The child needs to take the initiative in doing a task because it needs to be done, not because they are being ‘told to do so’. This attitude or behaviour is called responsibility. In other words, the child has to do the task and accept that it is their obligation to perform it.
Parents might also have to make a few changes for a child to move from obedience to responsibility. Allowing a child to ‘do it their way’ will automatically foster a sense of responsibility and encourage a feeling of pride in accomplishing the task.
Ways to Teach Your Child Responsibility
Here are five great tips to help teach children how to take on more responsibility and grow up to be more confident:
1. Model Responsible Behaviour
Teach them by example. As a parent, you are the perfect person to model what responsible behaviour your children need to develop. You need to show your kids that you are responsible in carrying out your daily activities. Parents have many responsibilities that they can demonstrate on a regular basis. For instance, if you’ve promised to take your child shopping during the weekend, positively plan a trip to the mall this weekend instead of pushing it off for the next weekend.
In reality, it’s very difficult to teach your children responsibility if you’re not practicing it in your own life. It is much simpler and more effective to encourage your kid to make their bed if you practice the same when you wake up. And when you notice your child's earnest efforts to mimic you and act responsibly, don’t forget to appreciate and acknowledge that they’re taking their tasks so seriously.
2. Assign Responsibility Gradually
Children learn responsibility in a gradual manner, quite similar to the way they learn to walk and talk. This gradual release of responsibility might occur over a day, a week, a month, or a year and it is through this process of gradually assigning more and more responsibility to children, that helps them become more responsible individuals. A granting of responsibility from teachers and parents should include collaborative learning, guided instruction and independent experiences, which help to develop this trait in a child.
As children get older, they can be expected to do many things that an adult would do. Let your child actively participate in planning activities they will be responsible for, make a schedule that is simple for them to follow and then stick to it. It’s easier for your child to be responsible if the job or task at hand is defined.
3. Let Kids Take On The Evening Routine
As parents, you are responsible for so many home and family-related activities that often go unnoticed. If you want to give your school-age and teen children a real eye-opener, choose an evening and pause all of your parental responsibilities for a couple of hours.
This simply means that you are physically present in your home but you're not performing your regular activities. Sit back and don’t coordinate the flow of your household. For your kids, this means that they need to do everything on their own, be it homework, chores, school projects, cooking meals and anything else that you usually handle.
At the end of this exercise, sit down together and analyze how everyone felt without parental guidance. This exercise will also give your children the opportunity to decide what they can handle on their own and what they cannot.
4. Don’t Rush to Bail Your Child Out
Never try to bail your kids out of a difficult or awkward situation. But always be available for problem-solving, helping them work through their feelings and fears, and to ensure that they don't just sidestep the difficulty at hand. Let your children handle the problem themselves, whether it requires offering an apology or making amends in a more concrete way.
These situations are crucial in a child’s life for many reasons, it gives them repeated opportunities to manage themselves through a series of these uninviting situations. As a parent, you should understand that your constant rescuing is not really teaching them about responsibility. It will take a few instances to make your kid realize their mistakes; once they learn to reflect and realize, it could help them make better decisions as they age.
The bottom line is that children will be responsible to the degree that adults who support them allow them to be. These everyday strategies are guaranteed to increase your kids’ responsibility, plus a list of age-appropriate responsibilities.
Teaching children about responsibility isn't easy. It can take several years and lots of practice. But if you follow these tips, you have a better chance of raising a responsible kid who grows into a responsible adult.