Teaching Responsibility

Question

We love our 10-year-old daughter but her irresponsibility is driving us crazy.  How can we teach her to be more responsible?

 Answer

The bad news is that you’ve already lost some great years for teaching her to be more responsible but the good news is there are a lot of things you can still do to help her.

At the outset remember that a lot depends on the age of the child and where they are developmentally.  Be sure to give her age-appropriate tasks so that they don’t feel overwhelmed and get discouraged. Talking with your pediatrician and with other parents can help you figure that one out.

Start when the child is young.  If a child can walk and go get a toy out of their bedroom then they are capable of walking back to their room and putting it away.  Let them know that the next time they leave a toy laying around that you’ll have to put it away and they won’t be able to play with it for a week.  Let them know that will be very sad for you and for them but that in a family every person has to do their part.

Don’t be a “helicopter parent” who hovers over their kids, over-protects and over-parents them.  They’re the ones who tell their kids that if they forget their lunch (or homework or coat or whatever) one more time they’ll have to go without and then makes a special trip to the school for the 48th time to take their lunch to them.  It’s impossible to teach your kids how to be responsible if you don’t let them experience the logical consequences of their irresponsibility.  It just isn’t going to happen!

Tell them what needs to happen, make sure they understand the task and let it go.  Don’t nag.  Someone said that nagging is like being nibbled to death by a duck.  It is irritating and demeaning.  Don’t remind them 500 times.  That sends the message that you don’t think they are capable of remembering or following through and that actually leads to greater dependence and incompetence.

Some other things that many parents have found helpful include giving a lot of praise and encouragement.  Make sure you are setting a good example by not laying your stuff around.  Follow through on any promise you make to them—you can teach them to be a promise keeper by keeping the promises you make to them, including your promise to discipline them.

Take your child’s temperament or personality type into account.  Give ample amounts of praise and encouragement when they get something right.  Help your child when they ask for it.  Don’t try to teach them a life-lesson when they are hungry or tired or at the end of the day.   Assume the best—they probably aren’t being irresponsible just to irritate you.

One of the most practical books that I know of for raising responsible kids is Parenting With Love and Logic by Foster Cline and Jim Fay.  It’s a gold mine of valuable tips and practical illustrations that has saved many marriages and helped many parents raise healthier and more responsible kids.

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