Responsible kids. Sounds like an oxymoron! After all, aren’t children the definition of irresponsible? Well, let me clear up this commonly held misconception. Kids are born with the capacity to become responsible people — it’s all up to us.
Developing responsibility means becoming trustworthy or accountable for one’s actions. Encouraging your child to become responsible should start at an early age. It will take a lot of work and patience on your part, but it will be worth every minute of effort, both for you and for your developing child.
Pouring the Foundation
You can’t build a sturdy house without a firm foundation. The same is true when helping your child develop responsibly: If you don’t lay the groundwork early and consistently, it will be difficult for her to develop into a trustworthy adult. So when your child is young, take these steps to building a strong foundation:
- Establish rules and appropriate consequences. Help her understand that rules are to be followed and that there will be consequences if they are not. This will encourage her to become responsible for her actions.
- Help her develop concern for others. Teach her to share and to think of others’ feelings. Caring for pets and other living creatures is a good way to help kids develop empathy. Insist that she treat others in a kindly and mannerly fashion.
- Give her chores. From an early age, kids are capable of putting away their toys and helping with simple tasks. Completing chores will give her a feeling of accomplishment and self-sufficiency. It will also make her feel like a member of the home team!
- Allow her to make choices. This should be done in an age-appropriate way. For example, small children can choose a bedtime story, or make a choice from a selection of breakfast cereals.
Framing the House
As your child matures, she will have a steady foundation upon which to build a “house” of personal responsibility. As she frames her house, guide her in the following ways:
- Whenever possible, act as advisor, not as director, in her life. Give her increasing chances to make her own decisions while still under your roof. As a result, the world will seem a lot less threatening later on. And she will know how to exercise good judgment if she has lots of practice in this area.
- Continue to establish rules and follow through with consequences. Rules are not just for little kids. In fact, as your child heads toward the teen years, structure may become even more important. If kids become accustomed to following rules, they will be equipped to establish structure in both their internal and external worlds once they leave home.
- Encourage her to earn and manage money. Developing a good work ethic and learning to manage money is key to becoming a responsible adult. Give her opportunities to earn money while she is still young. When she becomes a teen, assist her in obtaining part-time work. Teach her to save a portion of her earnings. Help her start checking and savings accounts, and encourage her to begin putting money away for car insurance, clothes or college.
- Help her understand the importance of giving to others. Encourage her to participate in community service or volunteer work. Insist that she reach out to friends and family in need. Becoming a responsible person means looking out for others as well as oneself.
Without one final element, your child’s house of responsibility will crumble: You must model responsibility yourself. In fact, your own actions will have more of an impact on her development than anything else. The task of helping her to become a responsible person may seem daunting. But it’s doable, one building block at a time.