Responsibility is being on-time, delivering on promises, and doing what needs to be done. It’s not lateness. It’s not delays. It’s not making excuses. Is it easy? Not always. Is it worth it? Absolutely. American author, Brian Tracy, wrote, “The happiest people in the world are those who feel absolutely terrific about themselves, and this is the natural outgrowth of accepting total responsibility for every part of their life.”
Benefits of Responsibility
The benefits of being responsible are far and wide, starting with reciprocal quality and reliability in our relationships. Being responsible demonstrates our capacity to create and deliver positive impact, opening doors everywhere. British statesman, Sir Winston Churchill, wrote, “The price of greatness is responsibility.”
Helping Children Develop Responsibility
If children are learning how to do something, they often need help. As they improve, encourage them to take the lead. Over time, gradually increase their responsibilities. Whether it’s setting the table, grooming the dog, or doing the laundry, remind them that they’re helping the family. Don’t teach responsibility with the energy of guilt or burden, but as an invitation that empowers them to make a difference.
Help them. If they spill the milk, reach for paper towels, gently saying, “Oops, milk spilled. That’s ok. Let’s clean it up.” When they toss their jacket on the living room floor, hand it to them and ask them to put it away, assertively saying, “We always pick up after ourselves.” Approach situations with positive and light-hearted energy to neutralize defensiveness and infuse the scene with a contagious good attitude. With a nurturing flow of family life and consistent expectations, children are more inclined towards being responsible.
Make Chores Fun
Our goal with chores should be less about getting the actual chores done and more about shaping responsible children. Make chores fun, offering structure, support, and hands-on help if/as needed. While the teaching process is time-consuming, take solace in the bonding opportunity, infuse tasks with cheerful energy. This approach—along with the satisfaction of a job well done—should help us raise children who take the initiative to complete chores by themselves and are less likely to skirt their responsibilities.
Routines & Structure
If children are dilly dallying in the morning, don’t bark orders at them. Instead, ask, “What’s the next thing you need to do to get ready?” Keep their focus on their own list each morning and they’ll eventually internalize and adopt responsibility for their morning routine.
Children learn basic life skills through repetition. Teach that certain tasks are not merely suggestions; reclassify certain activities as reasonable and warranted. Rightfully set the expectation that these things are to be completed with timeliness, efficiency, and respect.
If we force children to apologize for something they aren’t truly sorry for, we encourage insincerity. Instead, calmly, and confidently connect with them, make eye contact, ask about their feelings, and help them work through any messy emotions to find the truth. Once they feel better, ask them to think about what they can do to make things right. They might offer a sincere apology, a gesture of kindness, or an acknowledgement of their mistake. This reflection approach not only teaches children to assume responsibility, it encourages them to unpack inner turmoil which may have led to the wrongdoing in the first place.
Good mothers keep promises and don’t make excuses. By consistently honoring our commitments, we inspire children to live responsibly through their natural human tendency to imitate what they observe. The Dalai Lama wrote, “When you think everything is someone’s fault, you will suffer a lot. When you realize that everything springs only from yourself, you will learn both joy and peace.”
Power in Writing it Down: Whiteboard / Journal / Clipboard
When we keep neat lists in an easily accessible, known location, we can alleviate ourselves from having to worry about forgetting important tasks. For young children, a whiteboard on the refrigerator should suffice. For older children and adults, maintaining a journal or a clipboard can have a hugely positive impact on organization and the ability to honor responsibilities.
Working for Pay
By the time most children are eight years old, they’re capable of doing odd jobs for money. Feeding the neighbor’s dog when they go on vacation, shoveling snow, and babysitting (as they get older) are three of hundreds of age-appropriate possibilities. Few approaches teach real world responsibility better than when children are paid fairly for their labor.
Let Children Pay
American author, Mark Twain, wrote, “Don’t go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first.” If children are forced to pay the costs of their infractions, they’re more likely to learn from their mistakes.
Flip the Concept of Blame
It is human nature to blame others. Instead, assume responsibility for any and every contribution and work towards making things right. When we blame people, they tend to be less cooperative and more defensive, even scouring up reasons something wasn’t their fault. Flip the concept of blame; rather than making it a bad thing, give children who admit responsibility a proverbial badge of honor. Teach that we don’t care who did something wrong, we just want to fix it and learn from it. Compliment children who accept responsibility for their contribution to a problem. Make accountability a virtue to be admired and pursued. Expressions of acceptance almost always create better outcomes than expressions of blame.
“So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.”
—Romans 14:12 KJV
With help from mom, Noodle begins to understand that rules help create a safe environment for everyone.
Taking Responsibility is an illuminating guide to self-realization through self-reliance and a vision of a society transformed by a new ethical individualism.
The Little Red Hen makes delicious bread that her lazy friends can’t resist. What will she do when everyone wants a taste?
Noodle as he makes one excuse after another for his behavior and choices that lead to unwanted consequences. Teach children to stop making excuses and blaming others when they make mistakes.
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