Families On The Home Front Series: How To Raise A Child Of Character
Character Trait: Responsibility
Parents guide their children to independence by teaching responsibility.
“To whom much is given much is expected” – Anonymous
Summer is here, and my children are elated they have fewer responsibilities as students. I am elated because they have more time for household responsibilities!! The transition to summer this year coincides with my children’s developmental transition to adolescence. My husband and I agree this is a prime time to guide our children along the path from dependent young children who are waiting to be told what to do to independent young adults who just do it on their own. Frankly I am tired of being their task manager and tired of their dad asking “When do they start doing _____________ without being told?” Being independent is really about being responsible. It’s the basic seeds to adulthood.
Responsibility is a character trait that develops throughout our lifespan as we progress through different ages and stages. New ages and stages bring new roles and responsibilities. As a parent, I believe I have the responsibility to teach my children that their responsibilities are based on their current roles in life: friend, student, family member, and citizen. They also need to learn they have a lifelong responsibility to themselves – mind, body, and spirit.
I have spent a good amount of time as a school psychologist and as a parent analyzing responsible and irresponsible actions. I have concluded there are three critical elements when teaching responsibility: expectations, communication, and choices.
- Age-Appropriate Expectations: Is the responsibility you are teaching your child appropriate given their age? I have been a parent for 13 years, however with each new developmental stage my children reach, I feel like a new parent all over again. Each new stage brings a different set of responsibilities appropriate for their age.
- Ability Level: Does your child have the ability to accomplish the expected responsibility? If not then this is an opportunity to teach the skill or change the expectation.
- Good Enough vs. Perfect: Determine for yourself what a responsible choice looks like before you set the expectation for your child. Good enough may be all that is expected as a child learns the how, what, when, and whys of responsibility. Remember: If learning responsibility is the objective and teaching is the tool, patience is the key.
- Explain: Take the time to explain why being responsible is important. “Because I said so” may be a tactic parents take, however, when a child understands why they should be responsible they are moving toward making decisions based on “Because I am responsible.”
- Check For Understanding: You may think you told your child what to do and how to be responsible over, and over again. Did they hear you? Probably. Did they understand? Ask them. To check for understanding:
- Have child repeat back what the expectation is before they are to do something
- Give your child scenarios requiring a responsible response and see what they say
- Role-play social situations to determine if they know how to act responsibility
- Develop standard operating procedures (SOP) as a family for responsibilities
- Model: Communicate to your child how to act responsibly through your own actions. Teach them the skill you expect them to have by showing them.
- Get Creative: To maximize your child’s potential to learn their responsibilities change the way you communicate what those responsibilities are.
- Develop charts or a chore calendar to have kids track what they are responsible for during the day
- Have kids draw their own pictures of their responsibilities
- Have the kids make a map of their room or the house and section it off to track which areas they are responsible for
- Delegating house chores? Take a picture of what you want a room to look like, post it and have child refer to it when necessary.
- Post SOP where they are visible and applicable
- Write short sticky notes – and stick it to your kid’s head!
- Make the Connection. Teaching responsibility reinforces to your child that their choices have consequences. As a parent, it is your responsibility to teach your child they have more than one choice when they are making decisions and that each decision has a different consequence. To develop their responsibility toward the path of independence it is critical they learn how to make this connection.
This summer our goal as parents is to raise children of character. Making the effort to focus on developing a sense of responsibility in my children will build their confidence, strengthen their resiliency, teach them life skills, and instill in them a sense of pride. Plus, if their developing responsibility allows me to delegate a few household chores along the way, then it’s a win-win for the entire family.