Sunday, August 12, 2012

How Do You Encourage Responsible Children?

A child jumping
A child jumping (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As parents and educators we probably use the word responsible and responsibility several times a day.  We tell children they need to be more responsible.  We say,  “That’s your responsibility, not mine.”  We tell them they are responsible for homework or chores or a younger brother or sister. 

One of the key habits for success that is promoted at the school where I work is:  I am responsible.  We define being responsible in this way:  I take charge of my own actions, attitude and moods. I do not blame others for my wrong actions.  I do the right thing without being asked, even when no one is looking.  As you can tell from this definition, being responsible is more than being obedient.  Being obedient means doing what one is told and this is important. It is the first step toward being responsible.  Responsibility however, involves both personal decision and motivation.  Being responsible involves evaluating a situation and doing the right thing for that circumstance.  Being responsible means anticipating what needs to be done and following through on commitments.  As you can see, being responsible is a skill that children are always improving and learning rather than a destination to be arrived at.

What are some of the considerations for being responsible?

The first thing to consider is if the child understands what is involved in completing a task they are asked to do.  For instance, “clean your room” may mean a very different thing to a parent and a child.  For a child it may mean tossing all the toys in a pile in the corner.  For the parent, it may mean putting everything in its assigned place.   Whenever you give instructions to a child, make sure you are communicating clearly the expectations and you will get better results.

The second thing to consider is the child’s acceptance of the task.  Many times adults say, “Will you pick up your toys for me?”   This implies a choice when there is probably not one.  If there is no choice involved we should state the task differently.  “I need you to pick up the toys and put them on the shelf, please.”  This is a clearer direction when there is no choice involved.  Otherwise, the child may say in so many words, “Thanks but no thanks, I’ll just continue playing.”  And then we’ve set ourselves up for a disagreement.

The third thing to consider is the child’s motivation for the task.  Most children begin life by being motivated by external factors.  They will complete chores for an allowance or finish eating dinner so they can have dessert.  They will complete the assigned task so they get to play or watch tv or visit with a friend.  Hopefully, however, the older the child becomes the more they are motivated internally rather than externally.  So they finish their homework because they understand that it helps them learn and progress through school to the career they want.  They help clean up the kitchen after dinner because they know that when the family cooperates and works together, then everyone feels better and there is time for the family to play together afterward.  This shift comes with age and experience.  We as parents can help this happen by offering encouragement and praise while modeling and discussing the why behind the task. 

There are different levels of responsibility and I will address this in my next blog.  In the meantime, I’m curious if you have questions or examples of how you encourage responsibility in your children or students.  I’d love to hear from you!

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  1. As my children were growing up, I always incorporated the word 'responsibility' in our daily routine, teaching them as they grew. Now that they are teenagers, I emphasize not only responsibility, but being accountable for their actions. To me, this is just as important as in today's world, it's not enough to just be responsible. You have to accept the consequences of your actions and be held accountable for your choices. Thank you for a great post! And thank you for your visit to my site ☺ Time hasn't allowed me to travel around to other's blogs as I used to. Now, it is a 'hit or miss'. Hopefully, winter time will allow more time.

  2. Very interesting, Lynne...

    Before responding I decided to look up the word 'Responsibility' to make sure we're on the same page:

    The state or fact of having a duty to deal with something.
    The state or fact of being accountable or to blame for something.

    I was particularly intrigued by this statement: "As parents and educators we probably use the word responsible and responsibility several times a day."

    I'm pretty sure I've never used the word 'responsible' directed at either of my offspring or any of my students to discuss something they were supposed to do. The only context I can think of using it in conversation with a child would be to say something like, "Don't worry about that, it's my responsibility as the adult."

    My own kids did all their homework and got excellent grades at any rate. They have grown into successful, independent adults. I rarely, if ever have issues with my students' behavior.

    I always believed that a kid's #1 responsibility is to be a kid -- that's what I expect of them and they never disappoint me ;-)