Helping children become responsible

The idea of teaching responsibility to children in our society and culture has changed.  But some of the basics remain from generation to generation. The dictionary defines responsible as “personal accountability or the ability to act without guidance or higher authority.” Obedience is “submitting to or complying with the restraints or commands of others.”

Most parents want their children to become responsible. This characteristic develops over time with continued parental guidance. Children are taught responsibility when they help with necessary normal work and activities in the home. They learn to do things they may have to do even when a parent is not present.

Benefits of children's increased responsibility

Helping children become responsible offers benefits to both children and their parents.

Children benefit by:

  • Developing a sense of belonging to the family — they feel they are "needed."
  • Learning to become independent.
  • Gaining organizational skills needed to get a task completed.
  • Working with others.
  • Learning a new skill or improving an existing skill.
  • Getting prepared for adulthood.

Parents benefit from teaching responsibility by:

  • Sharing the workload given to children.
  • Serving as a role model.
  • Balancing work and time for the entire family.

Making the transition

Parents and adults are very important role models for children. Our attitude toward responsibility may be learned quickly by our children without ever discussing it with them. We want children to become confident in their skills and abilities as they grow and mature. It is always a challenge for parents to know when to involve a child. The easiest way is to watch for signs of development in the child. For example, the child may do some physical lifting, climbing, or fixing of a toy that looks similar to what a task requires.

Ensure successful added responsibility

What to ensure your children will be successful with the added responsibility?  Ask these three questions about any new task or chore:

  • Does the child understand the task?
  • Does the child accept the task?
  • Does the child have the ability to motivate him or herself to do the task?

If you answered "Yes" to the above questions, take things slowly with the new assigned task or chore. Stand by the first time a child does a chore to answer questions, offer encouragement or reassurance, and just to know the child can handle it. Encourage a child to assist you with the task to compare the child’s capabilities with the task. Parents and children can work together as a team in getting work completed and contribute their share in an age-appropriate manner.

H. Rita Straub, Extension family living agent in Marathon County, University of Wisconsin

Revised 2008 by Kathleen A. Olson, Extension educator in family relations. Reviewed 2016 by Lori Hendrickson, Extension educator in family resiliency.

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