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 3: Make time for US.


Keep dating your spouse after baby

When we start having kids, the first thing to go is Me Time. The second thing to go is Us Time. How quickly we forget that we used to do other things together besides buying diapers, changing diapers, and debating who has to take the next bag of dirty diapers out to the trash can! I say this NOT as a guilt trip, but as an Emancipation Proclamation, Setting You Free to Enjoy Your Post-Baby Life Without Guilt: Keep dating your spouse after you have kids. Every penny you pay a babysitter will be worth it. Every tearful “Don’t leeeeave me Mommyyyyy” moment will be worth it. (Two seconds after you leave, they’ll probably be running around the house laughing anyway.) At first, just try driving half a mile away for half an hour of baby-free coffee. Then work your way up to dinner. If you’re blessed with a spouse, giving your kids the gift of happily married parents is a priceless inheritance, one they will treasure for a lifetime. And hey—after a while, your kids may do what mine do: They BEG me to get babysitters, because babysitters are more fun than I am. Which only hurts my feelings a tiny bit.

Want some great insights about keeping the romantic fires burning in your marriage after babies come? I’m a huge fan of Sheila Wray Gregoire’s blog, and this post in particular: Sex After Kids: 17 Ways to Make It Happen. I posted more ideas for keeping your marriage healthy here.

Missed the other posts on preventing parenting burn-out? Click here to check out step one, the importance of making time for yourself. (I hear you laughing out there in cyberspace . . . but you can do it!) And click here for step two, about quieting the insidious, NOT-TRUE voice of our inner critic that insists we’re not good enough.

Photo credit: Sara Engel Photography.  

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Prevent parenting burn-out, step 1: Carve out some “Me Time”


Finding time for yourself as a mom

One of the simplest things we have to do as parents is protect a little time for ourselves every day. (I can hear you howling with laughter out there in cyberspace: “I haven’t been to the BATHROOM by myself in three years! How in the world am I supposed to find any time alone?!” But see . . . my friend, you are talking and laughing all alone AT YOUR COMPUTER, which proves my point: If you don’t reserve a little time to yourself every now and again, you might go insane!)

Here are two strategies to try:

Me Time Strategy #1:

Deliberately teach your kids to give you a little break every day. Of course, nap time works great for this, but I also suggest having kids give you a short break at some other point in the day. When kids are really young, try setting a timer for 5-10 minutes and telling them that they can’t ask you for anything until the timer goes off. They will fail miserably at first, but by the time they are four or five, you should be able to claim a good half hour of semi-quiet for yourself every day.

I’m totally serious.

You can do this.

Your kids can do this.

And . . . TAKING THIS TIME FOR YOURSELF IS NOT SELFISH.

Giving yourself a few minutes to recharge—to have a quiet time with God, or read a book, or take a nap, or just sit and stare into space—will make you a better, happier, more patient parent. You will like yourself more, and like your children more, when this time is up. So really, your kids are doing themselves a favor by giving you this time.

It also teaches them several crucial life lessons: It teaches them not to be selfish, and it prepares them to have the self-control and patience they will need at school when it’s time to play quietly and work independently.

Me Time Strategy #2:

When our first baby settled into a nap routine . . . (Oh, the wondrous glory of predictable naps! If you can coax your baby into a routine, I highly recommend it. Your sanity will thank you.)

Let me start again:

When our first baby settled into a nap routine, my husband (whose work schedule is definitely more flexible than most) offered to babysit one day a week during her morning nap, plus a bonus hour or so afterwards, so I could . . . DO WHATEVER I WANTED. Surprise, surprise . . . I used it as writing time, and yes, Starbucks mochas were involved. This brief respite quickly became a highlight of my week. As much as I was enjoying my baby, I hadn’t realized how much I needed that little break. It was indescribably liberating to know that I would be able to leave the house ALL BY MYSELF once a week. It made the diaper explosions, sleepless nights, and laundry disasters all feel a little less overwhelming.

We all love our babies, but—as you know—those baby days can wear you out and leave you feeling a bit nostalgic for the Free Woman you used to be. If you can find a way to arrange a time for yourself—maybe once a week, even once every other week or every few weeks, depending on your schedule—you will feel like a new woman.

I GET THAT THIS IS HARD TO DO.

Really, I do.

It takes creativity and commitment.

This suggestion isn’t meant to be a source of pressure or guilt—it’s just an idea, something that might help your life, if you can pull it off. If you can work something out with a spouse, a neighbor, a mother/mother-in-law, a babysitter—even if you can trade off babies/toddlers with a friend so you BOTH take turns getting breaks—you won’t believe the difference this will make in your happiness. Giving yourself a set Me Time that you can look forward to on a consistent basis will make you One Happy Mama.

Four kids later, Kevin still gives me breaks like this—and I still need them . . . four times more than I used to, ha! But four kids later, I still like being a mom. I still like each one of my kids. I still like having babies in the house (but no, there will not be any more after this one!). And thanks in no small part to his generous babysitting, I still like my husband of 15 years. I wish the same for you!