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Teach Your Child to Take Responsibility

Teaching your child to take responsibility for themselves is a major goal of parenting. This goal covers a lot of ground! Just as Rome was not built in a day, children do not magically become responsible for themselves!

Children learn responsibility in three ways. First, and perhaps most importantly, by watching you. Secondly, they learn by being instructed. Third, they learn through their own life experiences and thoughtful reflection.

This is a process, which implies there are many inter-related steps leading to a desired end. With this in mind, know that everyday is a learning day for your child and that some days progress is not necessarily evident!

Some important things to remember:

  • Teach them in love. Remember, they are learning.
  • Make sure your boundaries and expectations are clear.
  • Develop logical consequences for mistakes.
  • Empower them by encouraging rather than blaming when instructing and correcting them.
  • Believe in yourself as a worthy model. Get help if you need it.


Young babies cannot meet many of their own needs. Their dependence on you is purposeful. Your baby is witness to your daily actions and conversation. Your very young child is learning responsibility in this way.

Some say babies need to be able to soothe themselves. Trusting a baby to fall back to sleep by himself after being fed, changed, held and played with is an example.

Toddlers can begin to do some of their own self care and hygiene. They can pick up toys and put them where they go when finished playing with them. Even young toddlers can carry their soiled clothes to the hamper.

Older preschoolers love to have a chore or two. Being responsible for putting the napkins on the table or feeding a pet helps them know they are part of the family. Age-appropriate tasks are good for showing youngsters they have an impact on their environment.

Consistently telling the truth, following directions, reflecting on successes and goof-ups, displaying kindness and courage- show you that your child is learning to be responsible for themselves. Many times this process is three steps forward and one step back- but this is a normal part of growing up.

Main points to address:

  • Babies learn by watching you and by your response to their needs.
  • Toddlers and older preschoolers can do some self care.
  • Give your preschooler a few jobs to do each day.
  • Celebrate your child’s milestones with praise and occasional rewards.

Grades K-3rd

Young school age children are still learning from you, and also from other important adults in their life. Modeling continues to be very important, but learning from experience is becoming more important.

Children have a built in sense of right and wrong, fair and unfair. Watching other children being responsible or failing to be responsible shows them the effect of either on them- individually and as a group. This is priceless training.

Keeping a close working relationship with your child’s teacher is essential. Some children have difficulty in one area of responsibility or another, perhaps organizing belongings or accepting consequences. Working as a team you can help your child become more proficient in that area.

Chores are important to this age group. Working along side of you is better than having them do chores independently. They need to know how things are done correctly from start to finish. Explicit instruction in being responsible for words and actions will give them a standard to measure their own progress in an area.

Rewards for responsible behavior and a job well-done will encourage your youngster. But some things should be done just because they need to be done, with or without reward.

Kids this age can begin to be responsible for the money they have earned or saved. Making wise financial decisions at this age will help your child grow up with healthy habits in this area.

Remember your child is learning and practicing, learning and practicing!

Main points to address:

  • Form a good working relationship with your child’s teacher.
  • Kids still need supervision with chores.
  • Not every success or compliance needs a reward.
  • Help your child form good money habits.

Grades 4-6th

Older elementary children have formed much of their character by 4th grade. Many of their self-care habits, work and study habits and ways of dealing with peers and elders are established. Still, there is much to learn.

Developmentally, this age is able to self-evaluate their behavior and performance with guidance. Setting kids up for success is vital. Do they have a study area that is set up just for them? Is there a calendar, a dictionary, a daily planner available? Is a chore list where tasks can be checked off when completed in plain view? Time management is very important and now is the time to learn it.

Children 9-12 should be able to cooperate with adults and other children fairly consistently. When things don’t go smoothly, they need you to help them reflect on their part in things. Preaching does not work! But active listening and empathy does. You will see progress when they accept responsibility for some of the problem most of the time!

Friendships provide good practice in being responsible. Letting your child RSVP and write thank you notes teaches them thankfulness and good etiquette. Volunteering to help with a community cleanup or club fundraiser is valuable practice for becoming a socially conscious adult. Reading to nursing home residents will help your child know the importance of serving others.

Again, remember children are learning and practicing what they’ve learned. But this is not a rehearsal! Being responsible is woven into the fabric of their young lives as they live out each day. Year by year they will become more responsible for their thoughts, words and actions- and you’ll know you’ve done your job.

Main points to address:

  • Children need “props Efor success.
  • Help them reflect on their own thoughts, words and actions (without blaming!) when things don’t go well.
  • Help your child learn good manners and etiquette.
  • Know that learning responsibility is a process. Don’t give up! Use encouraging words with your child.

Resources that can help you in your venture include:

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