Children are amazing beings. Consider all of the traits that naturally unfold within their growth and development.
Some qualities, however, children don’t naturally develop on their own. Responsibility is one of these, and it’s a quality most parents would put at the top of their wish list. We all aim to raise children both willing and able to fulfill their responsibilities in our homes while young, and later, out in the world in their own families and communities.
While instilling responsibility may seem a daunting task, there is a major silver lining. Kids have an innate desire for purpose, contribution to the greater good, and making a positive impact on the world around them. We’ve all witnessed our children taking pride in seemingly small tasks, such as helping the baby with his pacifier or helping stir the soup at mealtime.
Children need human connection and long to feel valued by those they love. Responsibility allows children to find fulfillment in being helpful and productive on behalf of themselves and others. Parents can take a positive, supportive approach by fostering these three major components of responsibility.
When we feel capable, we are confident that we can complete a task or responsibility through our own skills or efforts. When our child feels this way, they engage in new tasks or skills without being held back by fear of failure.
Allow your child to follow through with tasks on their own and complete things in their own way. Constantly stepping in and doing things for your child reduces motivation and increases dependency. There is a time to teach, and there are times to allow children to prove they can do it on their own.
Ask questions that promote problem solving. When children approach you with a problem or conflict, it’s important to fight the urge to jump in with a solution right off the bat. Ask what ideas they’re considering to work on the issue. This demonstrates confidence in the child’s ability to navigate the problem independently.
Demonstrating respect for oneself and others is a large component of responsibility. Self respect can develop as children grow to learn their importance and value. When our children learn to respect themselves, they’re naturally motivated to engage in prosocial behaviors, such as sharing and cooperating. They’ll engage in relationships and situations in a way that demands dignity and respect.
How can you foster self respect in a child?
Show them unconditional love. This doesn’t mean they have no boundaries or limits, just that you reiterate your acceptance and love for them through discipline.
Teach your children that they have value. When parents affirm their children’s intrinsic worth as people – outside of achievements – they will begin to internalize this concept. Talking to them about their value in the family, and in the world, helps develop a healthy self identity, which in turn allows self-respect to flow naturally.
Teach accountability. When children make a mistake, help them understand that it’s up to them to make it better. Whether it be checking on a sibling or fixing something they broke, children will benefit from knowing that they have the ability to help and solve problems.
When our children learn to extend respect to others, they see the value in treating those around them the way they’d like to be treated themselves. Having respect for adults and authority figures increases the odds of following through with requests and meeting set expectations.
How can you teach your kids about respect?
Model respect for others on a daily basis. If children overhear their parents talking negatively about authority figures, they will follow suit.
Teach communication and problem-solving skills. Research shows children benefit from understanding basic etiquette and manners. It’s never too early to discuss how to be respectful with tone and language even when we’re upset. Follow this up with practice.
Show respect for your child. When parents talk to their child in a respectful tone and show them consideration by listening when they speak, the child learns to extend that same respect to others.
When our children have a strong work ethic, they can motivate and persevere through challenges. Research shows that when parents are engaged and proactive in guiding their child toward these qualities, a child’s competence will be higher. Children with a strong work ethic will not shy away from a challenge and are more likely to see the value of putting in a solid effort at school and at home.
How can you foster a strong work ethic in your kids?
Give your child age-appropriate personal and household responsibilities, as well as opportunities to earn income. They will often protest, but stick with it.
Find ways to make work fun. Kids are naturally wired for play, so finding ways to incorporate music, games, or imagination into household work will go a long way.
Foster a growth mindset. This means turning mistakes into opportunities for growth and promoting the idea that effort is just as valued as outcome.
Praise properly. When parents praise hard work and effort over performance and outcome, they give their child room for improvement and increase their persistence.
Set goals. When children have goals (focused on effort and growth, not outcome), their motivation and perseverance increase.
We now have a solid framework for raising a responsible kid. We know that capability, respect, and work ethic help our children make connections to an overarching goal of responsibility. Putting in effort now will plant the seed for responsibility to grow naturally in the later years.