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.

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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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Prevent parenting burn-out, step 4: Encourage independence and responsibility.


Chores kids can do

I have a simple theory that keeps me from losing my mind with four young kids in the house: If my kids CAN do it for themselves, then most of the time, they SHOULD do it for themselves.

For example, when they say, “Mommy, can I have some water?” I say, “Sure! Help yourself!” (I’ve got the kid cups stored in a cabinet low to the ground, so they can get the cups themselves and head to the little dispenser in the fridge.) My three big kids (now ages 6, 8 and 9) are responsible for a lot of small household tasks that add up to huge time savings for me: They put away their own laundry; they make their own beds; they clear their plates after meals; they put their homework folders and lunches into their book bags themselves each morning; they clean up after themselves whenever they get toys out; they take turns with basic chores like vacuuming, cleaning windows (oh how they LOVE spraying cleaner on the windows!), emptying the non-breakable stuff from the dishwasher, carrying clothes from the hamper to the laundry room, and wiping down the table.

All in all, they probably spend 5-10 minutes a day, and 15 minutes on Saturday mornings, carrying out their little responsibilities. I love watching them do their jobs around the house—I can tell they feel grown up, and it gives them a sense of pride, knowing they help keep our household running. Even my 6-year-old does a fantastic job helping, and she’s so proud to feel like an important, useful member of the family.

All of this keeps our house from descending into utter ruin, and keeps me from spiraling into overwhelmed exhaustion! You’d be surprised how much your kids can do for themselves…try expecting a little more, and then have fun watching them rise to the occasion (while you sit for two minutes with your feet up, sipping a cup of tea).

Here’s a helpful post about chores, and how they teach kids to embrace responsibility at home—I met Renee earlier this year at a writers’  conference, and I just love her blog!

Want to back-track and read more about preventing parenting burn-out? Click here to read about ways to carve out “Me time” as a mom; click here for thoughts on quieting your self-critical thoughts; read a post on nurturing your marriage after kids here.

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