As a parent or nanny, it can be exhausting to wrestle with your child’s unwillingness to take responsibility. If strewn socks on the floor, unmade beds and crumbs left on the kitchen counter are any indication that your child is not taking responsibility for his or her messes, it may be time to incorporate lessons about how to respect others by learning about responsibility.
Fortunately, responsibility is a skill that can be learned. You can teach your child tips with fun, everyday activities to impress the need to be accountable for actions in life.
So many times, children become accustomed to getting what they want, when they want it. If you have concerns that your child feels entitled when it comes to privileges that cost money, institute a weekly allowance tied to responsibilities. Karen Weldon, Colorado-based mother of four and president of The Hire Connection, says she raised four successful adult daughters by tying their allowance to household chores. “When the girls were little, they were given chores and a small allowance when work was completed,” says Weldon. “They were taught to work hard and that nothing was given to them just because they wanted it.”
As a result, Weldon says her children learned to earn items or privileges they wanted and were less likely to expect toys and opportunities on a daily basis. “They had to earn that coveted toy and they were also held accountable for their actions and were not given empty threats,” says Weldon. “When they didn’t follow through, there were consequences for those actions.”
What Weldon deems as “tough love” led to her daughters knowing upfront that she was not a wishy washy parent. “As they grew into teenagers, there was a lot of ‘tough love,’ but they always knew where we stood as parents,” she says. “Through this, they learned that if you wanted to be the best, it takes a lot of hard work and effort and that nothing is handed to you.”
One of the best ways to teach your children responsibility is to provide them with opportunities. Assign or delegate a task each week that your child is responsible for completing, such as taking out the trash, retrieving the mail or walking the dog. It is important to first discuss your child’s preferences, allow him or her to choose one preferable task, and then assign another.
In return, your child may eagerly jump into the role because you have shown trust in her to succeed with the task.
C. Lee Reed, founder of the Helicopter Mom and Just Plane Dad website, recommends allowing your children the opportunity to care for pets to learn responsibility. “We started with a few fish, moved to a hamster and guinea pigs and finally graduated to a dog,” says Reed. “Children learn compassion, caring, unconditional love and become responsible while loving another species.”
In addition to delegating responsibilities for your child, provide the tools and resources she needs to succeed. If she’ll be caring for pets, create a plan or chart to outline how to feed, bed and provide stimulation for the animal. Teach your child how important it is to love and care for another being, suggests Reed. “We worked on my daughter’s emotional side by letting her know what could happen to her pet if she failed to take care of it responsibly,” she says. “She learned that pets get bored, hungry and can die if not loved.”
Praise Positive Actions
Many times, children are unaware of how to define responsibility. If you point out the positives in their behavior, they will soon learn how to identify responsible actions. “If you want your child to act responsibly, you need to acknowledge them and praise them when they act responsibly,” says Maggie Steele, life coach for teens and young adults. “If, for example, your teen has a curfew at 11 p.m. on a Friday night and shows up at home at 10:58 p.m., let them know how cool that is. Say something along the lines of ‘Thank you for keeping your word and acting responsibly tonight.’”
Even though it may take your child time to identify responsible actions, continue working toward the idea of earning trust being accountable, says Steele. “If your teen wants to borrow your car one night but you don’t trust him, tell him that he must earn the right to use your car,” she says. “Give him little tasks to do for the next week and make it a point to acknowledge him every single time a task is completed.”
In addition, let your child know that you are proud of him and respect him for keeping his word, suggests Steele. “Once you establish a relationship with your child in which you respect him and trust him, he will feel a deep desire to keep that trust and respect,” she says.