13 Ways to Teach Responsibility (Part 2)

encouraging independence in children

This week on the LizzyLife blog we’re talking about ways we can help our kids develop responsibility. There are so many simple things we can do at home to plant seeds of responsibility in their hearts and in their habits. Over time, those seeds will grow, helping our kids to develop integrity, independence, and a strong work ethic. And you wanna know the best part about these 13 things? They make our life as parents easier! They take work off of us! Initially, it may take some thought and effort as we teach kids about taking responsibility for their own toys or chores or homework, but in the end it all adds up to less work for us! Can I get an “amen”?!

Missed the first seven ways to teach kids responsibility? Click here to catch up!

The Bible has so much to say about the joy of hard work, and the importance of having integrity and a strong work ethic. In Genesis 1, we even find God setting an example for us, taking joy in the work of creation. When all his hard work is done, he experiences the satisfaction of a job well done, and gives himself a rest: “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good” (Genesis 1:31).

8. Start early. 

Toddlers love to feel independent and “big.” Their confidence and happiness soar when we allow them to take responsibility for small things. Oh, how my two-year-old loves it when I give her little jobs to do. Off she toddles down the hall, little curls bobbing proudly, a girl on a mission. She especially loves putting her toys and socks and shoes away, and choosing her socks and shoes for the day. When she’s driving me nuts just before dinner time, begging me to hold her when I need both hands free to cook, I ask her to set the table for me. I hand her a bunch of forks and spoons and napkins, and she is thrilled with the job. Yeah, the table looks messy, but it gets my hands free for five minutes! She also loves to help load wet laundry into the dryer—she even puts in the dryer sheet and pushes the start button.

Plant seeds of responsibility in little hearts by encouraging toddlers to take responsibility for their toys. Crawlers and early walkers love “clean-up” games. (Clean-up-game ideas coming in next month’s LizzyLife newsletter—you can sign up in the left sidebar!) Whenever we move our kids from one room to another, we can remind them to clean up the mess they just made. Or whenever we finish doing one activity and move on to another, let’s remind them to clean up the first activity. This habit makes a huge difference once kids hit the age of three and four, if we don’t want our home to become buried under a mound of toys and crayons. And remember this: If we do all the cleaning for our kids when they’re young, but then suddenly start expecting them to clean up after themselves when they’re older, our kids may resist the change. By not expecting anything of them in their early years, we may have accidentally set ourselves up for a battle of wills. Keep this in mind: If toy clean-up is always a regular part of children’s days, then over time, cleaning up after themselves becomes part of who they are and what they do.

teaching toddlers to be helpers

9. Whenever your family has company coming over, recruit the whole family to help get the house ready.

Our kids are all involved in preparing the house when company comes over. We all made the mess, so we all clean the mess. We will all enjoy having our friends over, so we all get the house ready for our friends. This teaches kids to take ownership of their house, to be good hosts for family friends, and to take pride in doing their part to help the household run.

chores children can do

10. Simple routines help kids to remember and learn.

I’ve learned a lot by watching my kids’ teachers and how they manage their classrooms. Teachers spend a lot of time in the first few weeks of school establishing the rhythm and routine of the day, reinforcing simple steps like: Arrive in class, put your bag away, empty your homework folder, do your morning work at your desk. . . . The students quickly catch on, and the classroom runs smoothly. This has great applications for our home life as well! Routines help kids know what to do when, without constant reminders (translation: nagging) from us. For example, when my kids get home from school, they are supposed to wash the school-bus germs off their hands, hang up their book bags, empty the trash from their lunch bags, then put away their lunch bags. This takes about two minutes of their time, and then they can eat a snack or go play or whatever they want to do. Honestly, my girls still need a reminder about this routine most days, but my son has it down pat. I figure the longer we stick with the routine, the sooner they’ll all start remembering on their own!

mud room idea for kids

11. Ask older siblings to help with younger kids from time to time.

Sometimes when I’m frantically trying to get dressed to leave the house (please tell me I’m not the only one who has trouble finding five free minutes to get out of my pajamas!), I ask one of the older kids to entertain the two-year-old for a few minutes so I can shut the door and enjoy a tiny moment of that magical experience I haven’t really had for nine years: privacy. I say, “Blake, you are totally in charge of Sawyer for the next five minutes. I need you to make sure she doesn’t get into trouble, and if she’s not happy playing by herself, I need you to play or read with her so she will give me a few minutes alone.” I was nervous the first few times I asked my kids for help like this, but I pretended I wasn’t and acted like, “Sure, you can totally keep a two-year-old happy for five minutes!”—and you know what? The big kids surprised me—and themselves—by doing a wonderful job! I listened from the other room, and even peeked in on them, and it was all giggles and sweetness. You know what this does? It encourages sibling closeness by getting an older sibling to pay special attention to a little one. It encourages responsibility and a healthy sense of I-am-the-older-kid-so-I-should-look-out-for-the-little-ones. And as a fantastic bonus, it allows moms to not leave the house in their pajamas. (Obviously, you’ll have to evaluate your kids’ ages and levels of responsibility before you try this in your home!) Other ways to try this out: Ask an older sibling to help a little one find a jacket before the family heads out the door; ask an older sibling to help a younger one read out loud; ask a big kid to help a little one hunt for a lost toy. You don’t want the littles to constantly depend on older siblings, of course (see all the other points in this post, ha!), but there is a place for siblings helping one another.

12. Don’t do your kids’ homework with them.

I can hear some gasps of shock and horror, echoing across cyberspace. “But—but—but,” some are sputtering, “my kids’ teachers make it sound like I have to do my kids’ homework with them at home! If I don’t sit there and hold their hand the whole time, I’m a Bad Parent!” I disagree, and here’s why: Our kids’ homework is their homework, not ours. Our kids’ grades should be a reflection of their work, not ours. Most children are fully capable of sitting still and doing their own homework without much help, hovering, or hounding from their parents. (I totally get that there are some kids who have special needs in this area . . . hang with me and we’ll get there.)

There’s a big difference between engaging with our kids’ education by cultivating a home atmosphere of inquiry, exploration, and the love of learning (all good things!), versus doing our kids’ work for them (not a good thing). Should we encourage curiosity and learning? Of course. Should we stay aware of what our kids are studying at school? Absolutely! That’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about too much hand-holding in homework—an area that should be our kids’ responsibility.

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.

kid-friendly ways to store kids' dishes

This is the drawer where we keep the kids’ cups and bowls. Even the two-year-old can reach them!


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.

Chore charts for kids

Left: Rotating chores (so they don’t get bored!) Right: Chores they keep all the time.

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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While You’re Making Other Plans

When plans go wrong

“Life is what’s happening when you’re making other plans.”

The way we picture our morning going:

We’ll wake up early, feeling rested. In a dark, quiet house, we’ll savor a few peaceful moments alone with God. Once our happy cherubs awake, we’ll make a healthy organic all-whole-food breakfast. The children will eat every bite, smiling and saying, “Thank you, oh wonderful Mommy, for this delicious AND nutritious meal that looks and tastes even better than the Pinterest pin.” Then the kids will dress in adorable, spotless outfits (that coordinate but do not match) without one word of complaint; they’ll happily buckle themselves into their car seats, and we’ll all head to the park where we’ll laugh and romp and hold hands and take some Instagram-worthy pictures of familial bliss. We’ll come home, eat another healthy organic all-whole-food lunch, and everyone will nap at the same time, so Mommy can also get some rest.

What we pretend motherhood looks like

What we pretend motherhood looks like

The way our morning actually goes:

Real motherhood

What motherhood actually looks like most of the time

After a sleepless night when someone wets the bed and someone else has a nightmare and the baby cries periodically FOR NO REASON WHATSOEVER, we “wake up.” (But does it count as waking up if you never actually slept?) Before we stumble out of bed, we attempt a prayer, something along the lines of,  “Herlubalub,” which we hope God is able to translate as “Help.”

We inhale two cups of coffee just to be able to remember the kids’ names. We rally, summoning courage and motivation we didn’t know we had, and make oatmeal with fruit. No one eats it, including our husband. They cry, moan, and wail, begging for sugar-coated cereal. We offer the oatmeal to the dog; he snubs it, too; we try not to cry. We wrestle our children into clothes—when they see our choices, again they cry, moan and wail, and beg to put on their stained and holey favorites. We give in.

Just when we have finished wrestling all the hungry children into their car seats, someone screams that they have to go to the bathroom NOW. Frantically, we unbuckle the ticking-time-bomb child and race to the bathroom, but it’s too late. We cordon off the disaster zone and run back out to the car to unbuckle the other children, hoping the neighbors haven’t reported us for leaving kids in a car in the driveway for sixty seconds. Then we spend half an hour cleaning up the mess, biting our tongue so we don’t say something that gets us kicked out of heaven.

At last we get everyone back into the car, and they cry, moan and wail with hunger. Feeling like the World’s Worst Parent, we hand them snacks full of high fructose corn syrup, just to keep them quiet. High on sugar, they sing silly songs at the top of their lungs on the way to the park, and we laugh. It’s raining when we get there, so we sit in the car for half an hour, singing and playing “I Spy” and car-seat-dancing, giggling till we all get the hiccups.

As soon as the sun shows up and we get out of the car, someone else has to use the bathroom, and the baby has a diaper that smells like death. We sprint to the park bathroom—it hasn’t been cleaned since 1973—then hold a squirming child two feet above the toilet while she tinkles, change the baby’s diaper on a makeshift changing table made of paper towels spread out across the bathroom floor, resist the urge to bathe our children in bleach, and head for the swings.

The swings are full. More crying, moaning and wailing. We head for the slides and enjoy ten gloriously happy minutes. We post one picture to Instagram of a smiling child with the hashtag #mysweetangel, even though our “sweet angel” was only smiling because he was about to throw mulch in his sister’s face. Mulch flies. The crying, moaning and wailing resumes at fever pitch. We give up and drive home.

On the way home, we sing, clap and shout, trying to keep the baby awake, knowing that if she sleeps for even one minute in the car, it will ruin her nap.

The baby falls asleep.

There will be no nap for Mommy, unless . . .

We head for the McDonald’s drive-through. The baby snoozes, looking like a cherub with her sun-flushed cheeks, her head tipped sideways in the car seat; the kids watch a movie in the car, happily munching on Happy Meals while we pull into a parking space and doze with our head on the steering wheel.

Here’s to enjoying the life we do have—junk food, sleepless nights, steering-wheel naps and all. There is no “perfect day” with children. It will never go according to plan. It’s messy, unpredictable, chaotic, loud, and inconvenient . . . and somehow, it’s the best kind of wonderful. As Psalm 118:24 (sort of) puts it, “This is the day—the dirty, disorganized, never-a-dull-moment, teetering-on-the-edge-of-disaster-but-somehow-still-delightful, perfectly imperfect day—that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

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What real motherhood looks like

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How Southerners Do Snow Days

How Southerners do snow days

People say Southerners don’t know what to do with snow.

They couldn’t be more wrong.

Maybe we Southerners don’t know how to plow snow or drive on ice, but we do know how to turn even the tiniest snowfall into a lifetime memory. An epic experience. An endless photo stream that leaves all of our blizzard-weary Northern friends scratching their heads and saying, “What’s the big deal? It’s just a measly inch of slush! We get that much snow every single minute.”

No, our Yankee friends don’t always see snow the same way we do. It’s not their fault. When your house is buried up to the eaves in dirty snow all winter long (bless your hearts), snow eventually becomes a messy inconvenience—but for Southerners who see snow only a few magical days a year, it’s different. We have made a pact here in the South, almost as sacred as sweet tea and Sunday suppers: Together we will uphold the Southern Snow Ethic, and teach our children to do the same. What’s the Southern Snow Ethic, you ask?

Not a single snowflake shall be wasted. Not on our watch.

Every flake that falls on Southern soil shall be played in, sledded on, and pounded into service as a slushy snowman. Every flurry-fall, however small, provides an opportunity for skipping school and work. Every sleet pellet shall be used to celebrate with childlike abandon alongside family, friends, and random neighbors we meet while pulling makeshift sleds down the street behind trucks, ATVs, and the occasional family pet.

Want more of Elizabeth’s work? Click here to order her new book,

When God Says “Wait”: Navigating Life’s Detours and Delays Without Losing Your Faith, Your Friends, or Your Mind!

Because of the Southern Snow Ethic, we can take two inches of ice and turn them into a glorious four-day extravaganza of sled-crafting, hill-hunting, and casserole-sharing.

With the Southern Snow Ethic, there are no excuses:

Not enough snow to make a full-sized snowman? Sure there is. You either borrow your neighbors’ snow, or you decorate the hood of your pickup with a snow-baby.

No snow boots? No problem. We can transform plastic grocery bags into waterproof snow boots. (And gloves and hats, if absolutely necessary.) We look ridiculous, but we don’t care. Our usual impeccable Southern fashion sense does not apply to Southern Snow Days.

No sleds? Think again. We can make sleds out of anything. And we do mean anything: cardboard, greased cookie sheets, garbage can lids, Styrofoam packaging, laundry baskets, garbage bags, even our beloved tailgate coolers.

No snow tires? Who cares? We don’t need chains on our tires to get us home from work in a snowstorm; we have our own frostbitten feet to walk us home for miles along the gridlocked highway, thank you very much.

sleds made out of cardboard

No sled? No problem! Cardboard boxes work just fine.

Because it comes so rarely, we Southerners have the luxury of celebrating snow as the most beautiful of winter’s gifts. For us, it’s not a mess. Not a delay. Not an inconvenience.

We see snow as the essence of childhood, innocence, and freedom. Something white, pure, and beautiful. Something fun. Something surprising. Something no one—not the weatherman, not the government, not the superintendent—can control. It shows up, it takes over, and we just let it fall where it wills, for as long as it wants.

When it melts, we’ll get back to school, to work, to real life. But today—and maybe tomorrow, if the freeze holds—God himself has declared a Southern snow day, and that means a day off for everyone, no matter how rich or poor, blue collar or white collar or redneck under the collar. So grab your plastic bags and your laundry baskets, and have yourself a Southern snow day.IMG_2614

See? It works!

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Southern snow days

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