13 Ways to Teach Kids Responsibility (Part 1)
Sometimes in the day-to-day grind of laundry and dishes and diapers, we lose sight of the end goal of parenting. One of our biggest jobs is to parent ourselves out of a job. Parenting ourselves out of a job means raising responsible kids who mature into trustworthy, independent, self-sufficient adults. (My fellow hyper-sentimental parents who want our babies to stay forever cuddly in their footy pajamas can join me in a little they-grow-up-too-fast sniffle here. Okay. Let’s try to put aside our tissues and move on.)
To put it another way, our long-term responsibility as parents is to one day launch our grown children into the world as godly, responsible, independent adults!
So what does that look like in the real world? It means:
Children who are helpful at home and who make smart choices even when Mom and Dad aren’t watching, who grow into . . .
Teens who can be trusted with a car and cell phone minutes and a healthy measure of independence, who grow into . . .
College students who can date righteously and manage their time and their classes, and prepare themselves to get a job, who grow into . . .
Grown-ups who can make their way in the world confidently, competently, and with integrity.
When we teach our children to think and do for themselves, we are equipping them for life in the real world—life outside the happy, forgiving haven of our home. We are giving them a wonderful gift: the ability to make wise decisions and make their own way in the world.
So what can we do now to plant seeds of responsibility, integrity, and independence in our children’s characters?
Here are thirteen ways to start teaching children responsibility (seven today, and six in the next post):
1. When we’re teaching responsibility, let’s remember God.
Responsibility is not just an important character trait kids need to succeed in this world; it’s a godly attribute! Whenever we bring God into our teaching, kids remember it better, because now they’re not just trying to please us—they’re trying to please God. When you teach your kids what God has to say about responsibility, try using scriptures that highlight Bible words like discipline, disciplined, self-control, work, and even remember and don’t forget. A few scriptures to start with: Colossians 3:23–24, Proverbs 6:6–10, Proverbs 24:30–34, Proverbs 13:4.
2. Encourage children to do things for themselves.
I am constantly reminding myself of this parenting principle: If children can do something for themselves, then most of the time, they should do it for themselves. Just the other day, I caught myself “helping” my two-year-old climb up into her chair at the kitchen table. There she was, one chubby leg up, doing just fine, and I intervened because it was taking too long, and it looked like such hard work. (That smacking sound you just heard was me, smacking my palm to my forehead. I know. Not my greatest parenting moment.) Because the thing is, she is proud of herself when she gets up there all by herself! By picking her up, I took away a moment of independence and confidence-building, and robbed her of a chance to develop her muscles and improve her dexterity. If she asks me for help, will I help her? Sure. She’s little. Sometimes littles want their moms to coddle them, and I’m totally up for a little coddling. (I plan to enjoy it while it lasts. Sigh.) And as for older kids . . . well, my older kids ask me about eighteen questions every thirty-seven seconds—and sometimes it seems like half of those are unnecessary requests for help. Whenever possible, let’s encourage our kids to at least try challenging things for themselves. How else will we see the light of accomplishment in their eyes when they do something they didn’t think they could do?
3. Set your house up in such a way that kids can do things for themselves.
Simple changes make a big difference:
Put step stools in the bathroom to help kids reach the sink themselves.
Hang hooks for towels down low so children can hang up their own towels.
Don’t put a top sheet on kids’ beds (just use the bottom fitted sheet) so they can more easily “make” their own bed.
Try storing your kid-friendly cups and plates in a low drawer, so children can get their own water or snack bowl when you tell them they can have a snack.
Simple changes like this save you a lot of time, and encourage children to think and act independently.
For more on preserving your sanity by equipping kids to do things for themselves, click here.
Want to read a fantastic post on organizing kid stuff in easy, kid-friendly ways? Check out my friend Julie’s fantastic post here. (Fair warning: Reading her fun Neat & Pretty blog will fill you with the urge to dash to Target and buy every cute hook and storage bin in sight, and you’ll go home dancing and singing with the joy of impending organization.)
4. Rock a Chore Chart.
We started a chore chart with our three older kids last year (at the time they were 5, 7, and 8), and let me tell you: it has changed our family, and changed my life. Our kids have grown tremendously in their responsibility and attitudes. After a year of using this chart, they all do a fantastic job on their responsibilities. And I’m kind of shocked to say this, but complaints are rare! They have come to embrace the fact that chores are a part of life in our home. The kids only spend five or ten minutes a day on their chores, and about fifteen minutes on Saturday mornings. That’s it! But the little things they do make a big difference in helping our household to run smoothly.
5. Implement rule strategies that encourage kids to monitor themselves.
I have a theory when it comes to the rules we implement at our house: Rules and strategies are there first to shape my kids’ characters, and second to make life easier for the parents, not more stressful. For example, after much drama and discussion over how to handle iPad games with our children (detailed posts on technology dilemmas coming soon—sign up for the blog posts via email in the left sidebar, so you don’t miss them!), we finally came up with a system that allows our kids extremely limited time each week. Here’s my favorite part about the strategy we chose: The burden for tracking their game time is on the kids—not on me and Kevin. When the kids want to play, they tell us they are going to use some of their time, then they set a timer, and when they are done, they write down their time on a calendar on the fridge so we can see it. When their time is up for the week, it’s up. This gives them a lot of choice in when they play, encourages integrity and accountability, teaches time management, and keeps me from turning into Mean Nagging Mommy who is always barking, “Did you write down your time? Get off those dumb games!” I call that a win-win for kids and parents!
6. Use kid-friendly clocks, and give children opportunities to manage their own time.
We spend a lot of time reminding kids, “It’s time to get dressed/clean up/wash hands/brush teeth/go to bed.” But kids love feeling like the master of their own schedule. One way to give them this experience is to put them to bed a little early, then allow them to read in bed until a certain time. When that time comes, they turn out their own light and go to sleep. This gives children a sense of independence, and the confidence that comes from feeling trusted—“Mommy trusts me to turn out my own light at the right time!” (Plus, it encourages a lifelong reading habit.) Our kids love the clock pictured below, the Teach Me Time Talking Alarm Clock and Nightlight. We bought it in a moment of desperation, when they were three, two, and one, and they kept waking each other up and getting out of bed at it’s-way-too-early-for-me-to-be-a-nice-and-holy-Mommy o’clock. It’s an investment (about $38 USD), but it’s worth it. My favorite feature: You can set it to glow green when it’s okay to get up in the morning (or from naps), which is a wonderful way to help kids who can’t tell time yet.
7. Don’t be afraid to let children make mistakes.
Here’s the kicker: If we want to teach our kids independence, then we have to dial down our OCD for a few years. (My fellow clean-freaks feel my pain here.) If kids put their laundry in the wrong drawers, or the folded shirts get rumpled, that’s okay. At least they are learning to take charge of their own clothes. If kids do their homework the wrong way one day, even though they tried . . . that’s okay. They won’t get shut out of college when they’re eighteen because of a few homework mishaps in the third grade. And if they forget to do their homework one day because they were irresponsible, they will learn a hard lesson about hard work, responsibility, and consequences. (More on homework in the next post, 13 Ways to Teach Responsibility, Part 2 . . . why we shouldn’t do homework with our kids!)
I’ll send out more tips like this in the monthly LizzyLife parenting newsletter. You can sign up for the newsletter in the left sidebar. See you back here on Wednesday with six more ways to raise responsible kids!
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Elizabeth works from home as a writer, editor, diaper changer, baby snuggler, laundry slayer, not-so-gourmet chef, kid chauffeur, floor mopper, dog groomer, and tantrum tamer. She is always tired, but it's mostly the good kind.