How to Raise Responsible, Self-Reliant Children

Helping Kids Develop a Can Do Attitude

I often hear teachers and parents alike lament that the students today have little intrinsic motivation and initiative. Certainly as a school counselor, I  often presented lessons on being responsible. When asked what it means to be responsible, children usually have a good idea. They would identify tasks like cleaning their room and doing their homework. Studies show that kids who have regular chores and responsibilities have a greater sense of well being and see themselves as more capable and effective.

In her book, the Good News about Bad Behavior: Why Kids are Less Disciplined than Ever–and What to Do About It, Katherine Reynolds Lewis, identifies three steps to raising responsible, resilient, disciplined kids. In previous posts, I’ve written about the first two steps: Connection and Communication. In this post, I’ll identify tips for practicing the last step which is Capability.

Capability is defined as an individual’s ability. Lewis and the researchers whose work she cites in her book begin by maintaining that children have the ability to accomplish tasks and develop good social skills. However, rather than thinking that these abilities simply happen by chance, they consistently encourage parents and educators to create teaching moments in a positive environment which supports problem solving and imperfect action. This means that we expect kids to make mistakes along the way and praise effort rather than perfection.

Eight tips for encouraging responsible self-reliant children:

Being responsible is part of the teamwork involved in community. Parents and teachers who can convey responsibilities as contributions that everyone makes to create the whole fabric of a working ,caring environment will gain the best cooperation.  Here are some tips for developing responsible children:

  • Be clear on expectations and results expected.  Clean your room or your work-space may mean put everything in it’s place to an adult and shove everything in the closet to a child. Allow for age and ability differences. Model the behavior you expect.
  • Communicate a time frame.  Is this a daily responsibility or a once a week one?  Does it need to be completed by a certain time?
  • Don’t present the task as a choice when it really isn’t one.  Many times parents will say, “Will you pick up your toys for me?”  which implies that one answer could be, “No thanks, I’d rather play.”  A better communication is a statement, “It’s time to pick up your toys before dinner.”
  • Provide plenty of praise and encouragement but don’t get stuck in a reward mode for  behavior.  Instead recognize the effort: “You really studied hard for that test and it paid off!” Create celebrations when appropriate but make them activities rather than a trip to the treasure box or candy: “This class worked as a team to clean up. We have time for a happy dance to GoNoodle!
  • Be consistent and create routine. Assignments or chores done on a haphazard schedule give the impression that you don’t care and ultimately the system will fall apart. Teach children how to plan for their day by reviewing tasks and responsibilities at the beginning of each day or class. Create a positive intention and help kids visualize a successful productive day.
  • Allow for mistakes.  Encourage your child to be a problem solver when things don’t go as planned and figure out how to fix the problem.  This is better than taking over and doing the task for them.
  • Set a responsible role model yourself.  It doesn’t hurt to point out that as the adult, you have your responsibilities as well and that you will be completing them while he does his part.
  • Create a sense of play and fun.  Not all chores have to be boring drudgery.  Have a race to see who can clean the fastest.  Put on some music and sing while transitioning from one activity to another. Work with a partner or a team. There are plenty of ways to make responsibilities a time of interaction and engagement.