How to Teach Your Child to be Responsible

Most parents understand the importance of instilling a sense of responsibility in their child, but don’t have an idea of how to do it. Here’s how you can teach your child to be responsible.

By Arun Sharma

How to Teach Your Child to be Responsible

It was time for his favourite TV show and Hari rushed with a glass of milk in hand to switch on the TV. In the process, he spilled some on the floor. But, without paying any attention to the mess he had created, he switched on the TV and started enjoying his show.

Radha, his mother, was watching all this. She raised her voice and told him, “Hari, take the mop and clean the milk you spilled on the floor.”

“But, mama, it’s the job of the housemaid to clean the house. Ask her to do it,” Hari nonchalantly replied.

There was still time for the maid to arrive. For a moment, Radha looked in frustration at her little one. Then, without saying a word, she picked up the mop and started cleaning the mess herself.

Incidents like this are a common sight in a lot of families. As a parent, why do you think Hari acted in such an irresponsible manner? Do you think what Radha did was right? Do you think you are doing the right things to ensure that your child does not act like Hari?

Having pondered on these questions, let’s try and understand what makes children shun responsibility. Also, let us explore ways of inculcating responsibility in them, or turning the ship around, as in the case of Hari.

What is responsibility?

The Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries defines responsibility as “a duty to deal with or take care of somebody/something.” According to the extract of the article, ‘Personal Responsibility’, written by P. Alex Linley and John Maltby and published in The Encyclopedia of Positive Psychology (2009), “Personal responsibility is concerned with people taking individual accountability for their decisions and actions, together with the outcomes they create and their impacts on others.”

When it comes to children, a sense of responsibility would include exhibiting the following qualities:

  • Trying to contribute as a family member
  • Honouring commitments
  • Putting in the best effort
  • Being dependable
  • Accepting the blame when things go wrong

What makes children irresponsible?

Human babies are born helpless and depend on parents or caregivers for survival. But, as they grow up, babies gradually begin learning various life skills under the loving and watchful eyes of their parents.

However, some parents go overboard with their love and affection. They try to do everything for their child instead of teaching her age-appropriate life skills like grooming herself, taking care of her belongings, and doing simple chores. This deprives the child of a chance to gain experience, and learn and contribute in a constructive manner, which, in turn, prevents her from learning to be responsible.

Also, children are born without a sense of responsibility. As a result, they only want to do things that seem exciting, and do them whenever they feel like they want to. Chores like clearing the plate, packing the bag, and making the bed seem boring and unpleasant to children. And, they try to come up with excuses to avoid doing them. In such situations, parents need to motivate and encourage children to get on with what they are supposed to do. Failing to encourage or motivate children to learn and do age-appropriate tasks on their own can turn them into irresponsible individuals.

Habits of children who evade or eschew responsibility

  • Are bossy
  • Are unhelpful
  • Throw tantrums
  • Are demanding and lack gratitude
  • Try to force their parents to give in
  • Are unwilling to accept ‘No’ for an answer
  • Do not hold themselves accountable for their actions

How can we raise children to be responsible?

  1. Explain responsibility and consequences: Use simple words and examples to explain responsibility – for example, you can tell her that a duty she is expected to do on her own without being told is a responsibility, like brushing her teeth or keeping her belongings in order. Also, teach her that responsibility and consequences go hand in hand. For example, let’s assume it is her responsibility to water the plants. If she waters the plants regularly, they remain healthy and everyone feels happy. But, if she doesn’t, the plants wilt and everyone feels disappointed, and she is told to ensure she waters the plants every day.
  2. Identify responsibilities: Make a list of age-appropriate tasks that you want your child to learn and begin doing – for example, picking up toys after he has finished playing, putting his plate in the sink after eating, switching off the lights and fans while going out of the room. Then, begin by helping him do these chores, which would also help him learn how to do them. Also, use positive and kind words to reinforce the sense of responsibility in your child – for example, “We always keep our plate in the sink after we finish eating.”
  3. Motivate your child to think: Inculcating responsibility begins by telling and teaching your child what to do and how to do. But, once that stage is over, instead of prompting your child to do the tasks, make him internalise the process. You can do this by asking him questions like, “What do you need to do next?” or “What would you do after you are through with what you are doing?” After some time, you will find that he is managing everything on his own, without you urging him.
  4. Create opportunities: Most children love being around their parents and helping them. So, give your child as many opportunities as possible to contribute to the household. In addition to learning how to do things by herself, it would motivate her to do more and teach her how to contribute and make life better for family members. You will see that, over time, not only does your child begin handling more responsibilities, but also develops a sense of empathy and willingness to help others.
  5. Encourage problem-solving ability: As your child takes up new responsibilities, he is bound to make mistakes that could give rise to a problem(s). During such times, encourage him to try and find a solution and set things right, but, at the same time, be available to help him as and when he needs it.
  6. Be a good role-model: Young children tend to idealise their parents and follow in their footsteps. So, while you may love your child mimicking your actions, also remember that it places an enormous responsibility on your shoulders. To make your child learn responsibility, you should ensure that what you say and do reflects what it means to be responsible.

It takes a great deal of patience and effort to inculcate good values in a child. However, instead of feeling overwhelmed by the responsibility at hand, take one step at a time, and you will find that all of them have added up to make a huge difference.

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