Teaching Kids Personal Responsibility

by Susan Yates

I love when unexpected moments offer a great "Ah-ha!"

It happened after I'd been doing laundry all day and still wasn't finished. With five children, my dirty-clothes pile multiplied daily. As I began to sort my teenage son's T-shirts, I realized with growing alarm that I'd inadvertently washed his sister's red skirt with his clothes. Indeed, his shirts had a soft pink glow. Maybe he won't even notice, I desperately hoped.

No such luck.

"Mom!" he wailed when he saw his pile. "I can't wear these — they're pink! Please don't ever touch any of my clothes again!"

Ah-ha!

"What a splendid idea!" I responded. "From now on, you can do your own laundry."

The very next day, the teenagers began to wash their own clothes. They weren't neatly folded or ironed, but they were clean. Through trial and error, they quickly learned how to sort, what to wash on hot, what to dry and what to hang. For me, it was an unexpected lesson in handing over responsibility. And the bonus? It built their life skills and made their transition to college easier.

Every parent longs to raise kids who are secure. We want our young children to become confident teens and eventually mature adults. Teaching our kids personal responsibility builds their confidence as they learn to do things for themselves.

Here are some helpful tips that will equip you as you help your children learn responsibility:

Start now. Training begins at an early age and is gradual. "But wait," you may say. "My child is only 3 years old!" That's right, you need to start now. If he reaches 18 without having been trained in small steps along the way, he won't be prepared for the freedom he seeks.

A 3-year-old can clear his dish from the table. A 5-year-old can make her bed. It might not look like it would if you made it, but she's learning responsibility. Show her how to do it. Do it with her several times. Then let her do it by herself and praise her like crazy. It won't be perfect. That's not what matters. What matters is that she did it.

Preschool play dates can wreak havoc on the host home. Take 10 minutes before you leave and have your child help put away the toys. Encourage him to clean up after himself any time he visits someone else's home.

I've never made a school lunch. When our kids started going to school, they began to make their own lunches. Of course I watched what went into them, but they did the work.

My neighbor Lisa has two young sons. Early in the morning they run to our elderly neighbor's home, pick up her newspaper from the street and stick it in her door. Not only is Lisa training them in responsibility, but she's also teaching them to be thoughtful. Keep an eye out for similar opportunities.

As they grow, gradually increase responsibility. A wonderful tool in teaching responsibility is often overlooked — chores.

Create a list of chores and who is responsible for them. Post the assignments where everyone can see them. It helps to rotate the chores weekly and permit trading between the siblings.

My friend Will is teaching his 8-year-old son to mow the lawn. His son doesn't do it perfectly, and Will spends a lot of time and energy supervising, but the child is learning the value of hard work as his dad coaches him.

In addition to household chores, teens should be responsible for keeping curfews and letting their parents know where they are, whom they are with and when they'll be home. Once they start driving, they should be expected to keep the car clean and full of gas.

Use humor and affirmation . Responsibility isn't always fun, so it helps if you can add a touch of humor to the process. Put the timer on and have a race to pick up the toys. Plan a family trip for ice cream as a reward after a special chore day. Make up silly songs or rhymes as you do housework. Laugh at yourself whenever you can. And praise your kids: "I'm so proud of you for picking up the mess in your room." "I appreciate your getting in before curfew." "Every day, I see you becoming more responsible!"

Keep the long-range goal in view. Our primary job is not to make sure our child is always happy. Instead, it is to raise a responsible adult who will fulfill the plan God has prepared for him or her. Our small kids may pitch a fit and our teens may roll their eyes at parental instruction, but remember that what our children think of us now is not nearly as important as what they will think of us 20 years from now. We will make many mistakes. We will become discouraged. But we have to realize we are making small deposits in the lives of our children, who will one day reap big dividends.


Susan Yates is the author of many books about parenting and has five adult children.

Copyright © 2011 by Susan Yates. Used by permission. ThrivingFamily.com.


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