How can we help our children develop a sense of responsibility? Let’s consider some of the possibilities.
First, children need to experience their own feelings. We want to protect our children, yet we cannot shield them from all of life’s experiences and the emotions that go along with them, so keep them safe but allow some situations to play out. For example, if your child is having a tiff with a friend (and no one is being physically hurt), it may be best to wait and see if your child can resolve the conflict independently. During the process of waiting, your child will experience the feelings that go along with the situation. We want our children to know that we believe they can handle things for themselves. Parents can always jump in to help teach new problem-solving strategies if need be, which is different from jumping in immediately and taking away the opportunity to see what skills your child has already developed. When possible, let your child feel successful in managing life’s circumstances.
Parents can also teach children to be responsible by letting children experience logical consequences to their actions. If children are not held accountable for their actions, they never have to take responsibility for themselves. For example, if you have set up a reasonable consequence for a child’s forgetting or dismissing a chore, then be sure to follow through with the consequence.
Language also plays a role in the development of feeling responsible. How we verbally express ourselves influences how we think and act. Our brain listens to what we tell it, and internal language helps monitor and control behavior. Parents can use words and phrases of responsibility to help a child internalize what it means to be responsible. Language such as “Let’s take charge of . . .” or “You are in control of . . .” or “You are responsible for . . .” can play a part in programming your child to feel and act in a responsible manner.
Empower your child to believe that his or her place in the world can be managed and that many goals can be achieved.