Teaching Responsibility

by Dr. Virginia Smith

“Don’t forget your coat!” “Remember to pack your lunch for tomorrow.” “You have a piano lesson at 4:30 this afternoon” “Don’t make me remind you to clean your room before your friend comes over to play video games.” You probably find yourself reminding your children of their various responsibilities many times each and every day.

How can you help your children develop the character quality of responsibility? We all know that responsibility isn’t really *given* in one sense of the word – it is *taken*. But, one way to help children grow in their ability to be responsible is to give them responsibilities that you know they can handle. These responsibilities might, at first, be easy to do – AND – easy to remember. For example, you might ask your four-year-old to take responsibility for replacing the bar soap in the bathtub. That is a task that is not only physically easy to perform, but also easy to remember because she sees the need for soap every time she takes a bath – or at least we hope so.

As Children Grow and Mature

As children grow and mature, so can their responsibilities. Your middle schooler is probably capable of making his own lunch. Giving him the responsibility to do so can actually be an encouragement to him to actually eat what is packed. You can give him appropriate choices by providing healthy options which he can use to build a lunch he will eat.

Safe to Fail

To fully learn how to be responsible, children must be allowed the opportunity to fail – while it is still safe for them to do so. When children are still young enough to live at home it is a perfect time to gently stretch responsibilities so that they are appropriately challenged. When they forget their lunch money, for example, experiencing the consequences at school are a good, safe way to encourage them to remember the next time. While overdrawing their checking/debit account when at college is a much more urgent proposition. If they learn to be responsible with their money as younger children, they are less likely to make a more serious mistake later in life.

Match Responsibilities to Each Individual

As you consider the responsibilities you might begin to give to your children, here are a few suggestions – but remember that each child and each family situation is different so you might prefer to do something other than what is on this list:

As you can see, there is a wide variety of skill levels represented in this list. Take some time to think about the abilities and interests of your children and match them to responsibilities. You probably have many more, and much better, ideas that would be appropriate.

Learning and developing responsibility takes work and effort. By taking the time to do this now, while your children are still safe at home, you help them to be more successful once they are launched and on their own.


Dr. Virginia Smith is a speaker, author, and life-long educator. A Kamm Distinguished Fellow in Academics, Research, and Leadership, she holds degrees in family services, business, and education with areas of concentration in curriculum design and development.

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