Life Skills 101: Teaching Kids Responsibility

We all want our children to grow into responsible, competent adults. But how do parents accomplish that?

Being responsible is much more than a skill—it's an attitude. It's up to parents to instill that willing, winning mindset, while showing their kids what responsibility entails.

This is really about more than doing a few chores. It's about kids taking charge and making a contribution to the family. The great thing is, when a child starts handling responsibilities—however small—it also boosts independence and self-esteem.

But it isn't something that happens overnight. According to parenting experts, these steps can get your child started:

  • Show your child that his opinion matters. Give him choices: what shirt to wear, what to pack for lunch. When kids feel they have a voice in family matters, they're more likely to feel that their contribution counts.
  • Don't wait on your child; encourage her to do some things for herself. For example, next time your child asks for an apple, show her where you keep them and how to wash one off.
  • Gear responsibilities to your child's skill levels, and always demonstrate how to do a task. Don't take for granted that your child already knows. Doing a chore together at first makes it easier and more fun.
  • If your child wants to help with a task—such as setting the table or washing the car—let her pitch in, even if it takes you longer. It will show your child that you value her efforts.
  • Instead of assigning certain chores, ask your child for his ideas. He will be more willing to complete his tasks if he's the one who assigned them!
  • Use praise, not criticism, and avoid nagging. If your child fails to complete her chores, let her experience the consequences. For example, if she doesn't put her clothes in the hamper, her favorite shirt won't get washed for tomorrow.
  • Even young children can take responsibility for their "stuff." To encourage your child to put his toys away, surround him with kid-friendly organizers that are safe and accessible to small fry.
  • Caring for a family pet—such as brushing the dog or feeding the cat—is an excellent responsibility builder that teaches children to look after others.
  • Give your child an allowance, and allow him to make his own spending decisions. When kids feel empowered, it encourages a can-do attitude.
  • Hang up a responsibility chart to track your child's progress. This not only reminds kids of their duties, but creates a sense of accomplishment. Working towards a small reward is also an excellent motivator.
  • Engage in family projects and give each family member a specific role. If you're digging a vegetable garden, your child can be in charge of planting the seeds.
  • Encourage your child to solve his own problems. Instead of offering him a quick solution, ask him questions that prompt him to think on his own.

Finally, show your child that you believe in her—even when she stumbles. Nothing is more powerful than your confidence and encouragement. Keep the faith, and your child will rise to meet your expectations.

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