With my friends, we often joke when our kids will be “of the payroll” – out of college and working on their own. However, the money and education part are just a part of the equation. Having our kids be able to cope well in situations and be responsible are key to their lifelong success.
Before we dig in to this – please keep the following in mind. Your kids are doing the best they can. They are not looking to be defiant or lazy. If they struggle with responsibility, they may have a skill deficit that you can help boost. Going at it at this angle will help you achieve results with them, instead of more arguments.
Top Tip One – Model and Live Responsibility
Children learn a ton from watching what you do. If they see you keeping your word, they will learn to model that. If they see you saying one thing and doing another, they will learn that too. If they observe that you will do things for them, they’ll also learn from that.
Yes, we may have to look in the mirror and realize that our adult behaviors are not always the most responsible. That’s okay. Take a breath, and pick something new. Maybe you agree to do something with your kids 3 times a week for 30 minutes each. There are two teaching moments here – one is keeping the agreement, no matter what comes up. The other is how to handle changing the agreement, if something major does come up. Both of these are teaching moments for your kid. In the off chance that you cannot keep or change the agreement, do acknowledge that and make a plan to get back on track. Just blowing it off will teach your kids they can do the same.
Top Tip Two – Be Creative and Start Small
Sometimes, our children respond better to drawings or hands-on activities than verbal queues. Due to their learning modality, it is more difficult for them to translate your verbal commands to actions. In this case, you may want to be creative to get results. Often, having a visual checklist of what you want them to do can help. The visual can be a picture and/or text, and can more easily support them being accountable.
Start with something small to begin with – even if it seems trivial. You are teaching the pattern not necessarily a large outcome. Make sure that you teach your kiddo how to do the task and answer any questions they may have.
Some ideas to start with can be to dust a room, sweep an area, bring their dirty clothes basket to the laundry room, and the like. Some ideas to avoid starting with are taking care of a pet or cleaning a bathroom by themselves. They’ll get there – but don’t start there.
Top Tip Three – Avoid Punishment/Reward
While counter-intuitive, and not likely the way you were brought up, avoid punishment/reward for your kids, whenever possible. Over fifty years of brain science shows that this is not the most effective way, and can backfire in certain situations.
Stay with us here for just a moment – we know it’s know for most of our readers. If your child misses on a responsibility, you want to go after the reason behind it – not the behavior. Check-in with your kiddo, make sure they know they aren’t in trouble, and ask them about it – “hey honey, I noticed your chore list seemed hard for you – what’s up?”
As hard is it may be right now for a busy, active, tired parent – listen. This is time for empathy. Making sure your kids feel heard and understood will have better long-term effects than you realize. After they feel heard, express your adult concern. Make this short Something like “hey my concern is that we had an agreement you would dust your room, and that didn’t happen – does that make sense?”
At this point, you may need to turn the empathy up again, depending where they are at. “But Dad, I had a movie I wanted to see and we were late getting home from school.” Again, just hear them out and be understanding. It’s worth the work.
Once they feel heard and you are sure they understand your concern (remember, keep it small and direct) – then ask them to brainstorm ideas. Yes, your kids do the problem-solving. Have them come up with ideas to get back on track. Just acknowledge each idea without judgement as best you can. If a few seem especially agreeable to you, talk those through and how you will do it.
What’s the difference here? You have taught your kid a pattern of expressing their feelings respectfully, listening to yours, and trouble-shooting the situation. That pattern is a much more useful gift than a piece of candy and the process is much more pleasant than fussing at your kids all the time. There’s also a good chance they will learn responsibility and repeat the undesired behaviors less.
When in doubt, crank up the empathy and investigate what’s behind the behavior. As the award-winning Think:Kids program says, “Kids Do Well If They Can.” If they don’t, something is in their way.
You’ve got this!
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Chris has worked in tech for 30 years, and healthcare tech for 8 of those. He's on the advisory board of Harvard-Based Think:Kids, and runs Rad Dad Rules. He is the proud Dad of two awesome kids, and lives in the Pacific Northwest.
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