by Stacey Schifferdecker
Your garage sale is advertised to open at 7:00 and customers are lined up outside, but Lisa hasn’t arrived with the cash box full of change. Your grant proposal has to be in the mail today but the financials haven’t arrived yet. Your son’s church group couldn’t go to the concert they had planned to attend because two of the adult drivers/chaperones didn’t show up.
Irresponsible people are just plain irritating! Those of us who are responsible are left shaking our heads, cleaning up the mess, and saying to each other, “How can people behave like that?” One thing is for sure—we don’t want our children to grow up like this! We want them to be people we can count on—people who do what they say they’re going to do; who meet their family, work, social, and volunteer obligations; and who show up on time and prepared. And by teaching them to be responsible from a young age, we can help ensure they will grow to be responsible adults.
Teaching children responsibility can be a parenting challenge. It starts out with teaching your children how to do small tasks and chores around the house. Two-year-olds can do simple jobs like getting the newspaper from the driveway, taking their breakfast bowl to the sink, and putting clean socks in a drawer. And at this age, it’s delightful to have children help because they are so happy and eager to be of use! As children get older, you can increase their responsibilities. Older children can load and unload the dishwasher, take out the trash, make their beds, and put dirty clothes in the hamper. And teenagers ought to be able to do a load of laundry and make a simple meal.
Unfortunately, your two-year-old’s eagerness to help will soon dissolve into whines and attempts at procrastinations. It will help if you can work together on chores and rotate the “nasty” chores so no one is stuck with them all the time. Your kids may also respond to chore games or sticker charts as motivation.
Would it be faster and easier for you to do these jobs yourself? Of course! And they would probably be done better too. But then you would lose out on the opportunity to develop your children’s sense of responsibility and to teach them valuable survival skills.
Helping out around the house is only one aspect of responsibility children need to learn. They also need to learn to be responsible for themselves. Encourage young children to dress themselves as soon as they old enough to do so. When your children start going to school, expect them to be responsible for their own homework—both doing it and turning it in. Is it okay to occasionally take a forgotten math assignment to school? Sure—I have forgotten papers I needed before and my husband gallantly rescues me. Is it okay to do it every day? Absolutely not! That is a signal of irresponsibility and you need to work with your child to find out what the problem is and how to solve it.
Finally, you need to help your children learn to be responsible in dealing with other people. If they join a sports team and later want to quit it, remind them that they have an obligation to the rest of the team to finish out the season. If they have a group project at school, ensure they complete their part of the project. Help them learn to budget their time so they don’t take on responsibilities they can’t finish.
Don’t expect that your children will automatically know how to do all the tasks you give them. You will need to teach and reteach them how to sort laundry and pack their backpacks each night. You will have to give them gentle reminders to practice the piano or study for their math test. Be patient and confident that your lessons are sinking in, whether it seems that way or not. Your payback will come in a few years in the shape of a responsible adult.
By the way, as you work on teaching responsibility to your children, you better check out your own behavior too (isn’t that always the way?). No matter how much you talk about responsibility to your children, if they see you behaving irresponsibly, that is the message they will absorb. So, ask yourself the following questions:
- Do I do tasks in a timely way?
- Am I usually on time?
- Do I keep my word?
- Do I give projects my best effort?
If you can’t answer “yes” to these questions, then work on improving your own behavior so you will be a better role model for your children.
Stacey Schifferdecker is the happy but harried mother of three school-aged children—two boys and a girl. She is also a freelance writer, a Children’s Minister, a PTA volunteer, and a Scout leader. Stacey has a Bachelor’s degree in Communications and French and a Master’s degree in English. She has written extensively about parenting and education as well as business, technology, travel, and hobbies.
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