Personal Responsibility

How to Teach Personal Responsibility

Our children need to learn personal responsibility at an early age. And since they need to learn this, that means we need to teach it! I don’t know about you, but I am 100% positive my kids were not born knowing this. If we want our children to grow up to be independent, responsible adults, then we must teach them personal responsibility.

Personal Responsibility Part One – Doing What Must Be Done without Being Told

Can you imagine life without having to give the same instructions/commands every single day? A life that did not include telling your child every morning to make his bed? Or feed the dog? Or brush her teeth? How much time would you save if you didn’t issue those instructions to each child every day? What would you do with all that extra time?

Teaching your child personal responsibility will help you avoid many of those daily routine instructions. I know you are wondering what alternate reality I am living in. But really, this is not a complete fantasy world! Will it happen immediately? No, of course not. But with effort and time, you can teach your child to take care of things himself, without instruction from you every day.

How to Teach Personal Responsibility

Note this; the critical word here is “teach!” Personal responsibility is not something that just magically happens someday in the future. It is a skill that must be taught, a habit that must be developed, part of positive character development in our children. So, set clear expectations: Tell your child exactly what it is that you want him to do. Be specific! Telling your child to “take care of the dog” is a vague expectation. Instead, saying, “Feed the dog and give him fresh water” is more specific.

Model the correct action.

If we refer back to feeding the dog, show your child exactly how to feed the dog. Where is the dog food kept? How much food goes into the dish? Where should he put the dish of dog food? Which bowl is for the dog’s water? How much water? Hot or cold? Have them work with you to learn the process of feeding the dog and giving fresh water. Have your child go through the process with you for a few days, with the child assuming more responsibility each day. Finally, supervise while your child fulfills the task by himself. Be sure he knows exactly what to do and how you expect him to do the job.

Teach your child that you mean what you say.

If you tell her to do something and have instructed her on how to complete the task, she needs to know there are consequences for not doing the job. If you do not enforce your instructions or require completion, you are ultimately teaching your child that you do not mean what you say; that it doesn’t matter if she does what she is told or not.

Establish a deadline for completion of the task.

Suppose the dog needs to be fed in the morning, state that she must feed the dog before breakfast. Then hold to that deadline. You are teaching an important life lesson! Deadlines do matter! Due dates must be met. You are helping your child establish critical and necessary life skills.

Establish a connection between the desired action and the result of completing the task.

Feed the dog before breakfast means that your child cannot eat his breakfast until he feeds the dog. All actions or inactions have results or consequences. Children need to learn that. If they learn that when they are young, they will save themselves from multiple problems as they get older.

Consistency is key!

You are trying to develop patterns of behavior; you must keep at it! Helping your children form new habits and routines takes time and consistent effort. After a few weeks of instruction, consistent reminders, and reinforcement, this new task will become a habit, a routine automatically incorporated into their behavior. And then you should not have to remind them every day!  And that was your goal. Congratulations, you did it!

Update and Retrain When Necessary.

If necessary, updated instructions or training may be needed if the procedure changes. Or when you add a new task to their list. Go back to #1 and repeat the process.

As your children get older and develop more responsibility, the “process” may get simplified or take less time.

Some Bonus Suggestions:

  • Chore charts, checkboxes, task calendars – all these can help, especially with younger children. I don’t think my 17-year-old son would appreciate a chore chart and stickers anymore, but, hey, if it helps, why not!
  • Focus on one new task at a time – Be sure your child understands and competently and faithfully handles one responsibility before adding to his list. You don’t want to overwhelm him.
  • Offer praise and rewards for faithful completion of tasks. Kids thrive on praise! So, let them know that you are satisfied with their efforts. If they still need improvement, praise them for what they have accomplished and work with them to improve and complete the task.
  • Be sure the tasks you expect your child to complete are age-appropriate. Start young children with simple tasks and expectations, and then increase the number of responsibilities and the difficulty level as the child becomes older and demonstrates increased responsibilities.

Personal Responsibility Part Two – Owning Up to His Mistakes and Being Held Accountable for His Actions/Reactions/Responses

All children need to learn accountability – admitting their failures or mistakes, and being responsible for their actions. Were any of your children born this way? Willing to admit they were wrong or did something improper? My children sure weren’t!

We all need to learn this lesson. If we do something wrong or inappropriate, our first tendency is to blame someone or something else. “It’s not my fault!” Have those words ever been uttered in your home? Passing the blame, blaming something else is a big part of avoiding any personal responsibility.

How to Teach This Part of Personal Responsibility

Part of being a parent is teaching – homeschooler or not! Children need to be taught everything! It is a never-ending process! And the more we teach them at a young age, the fewer life lessons we will be required to teach as they are older and perhaps not as interested in learning.

Model correct behavior.

The best way of teaching this is to model correct actions and reactions/responses ourselves. If we learn to admit to our mistakes, not pass the blame to others, show responsible and controlled reactions, the easier it will be to teach our children to do the same. Children are great imitators, so we need to be sure they imitate our proper behavior.

Provide instruction and reasoning.

We need to instruct our children so they understand what responses are acceptable and which ones are not. And we need to tell them why! For example. If Johnny comes and hits you, it is not acceptable for you to hit him back. God says we are to love and forgive those who hurt us. Or perhaps, “Who ate the cookies I was saving for Grandma?” If Suzy responded and said she ate them because Johnny told her too, we need to instruct Suzy that she should not be blaming Johnny for what she chose to do.

Actions have consequences!

Actions have consequences. Like Newton’s 3rd Law – every action has an equal and opposite reaction, so too, our actions always have consequences.

Change what you have the ability to control.

We cannot control what others do or say; we can only control how we choose to respond. And be sure they understand that our actions/reactions are choices we make for ourselves.

Always set clear expectations.

Your children need to know what you expect from them. They need to be fully aware that you expect honesty and correct responses all the time. Your expectations should not vary based on your mood, your exhaustion level, or anything else.

Some Helpful Suggestions

  • Be patient and consistent with your children. None of this is easy – it is all new to them; learned behavior takes time to implement.
  • Offer praise when they get it right! Acknowledge when they own up to a mistake. Praise their correct reactions. This will boost their efforts to do the right thing.
  • When they fail, and they will, use gentle reminders to make them aware of what they did incorrectly and encourage them to do better the next time.
  • Remember, we are parents acting in love to lead our children in the right ways. We don’t need to act like drill sergeants whipping the troops into shape.

What Is the Point of Personal Responsibility?

This seems like a lot of work and effort on the part of the parent. What’s the point? Why bother? How will this help me? It seems like it is just going to make my life harder and more miserable!

  • Believe me when I say that ultimately, eventually, teaching your children to act responsibly will make your life easier! Can you imagine not having to tell your child every morning to make his bed or take care of the dog? What if your children automatically pick up and put away their toys before supper? As they learn personal responsibility, life in your home will flow more smoothly.
  • As your children learn and practice accountability, the number of fights or arguments among siblings should decrease. Owning up to a mistake or failure can prevent fighting over who broke the toy. Learning to react correctly to situations can prevent the tales about “he hit me!”
  • Teaching personal responsibility will help lead your child towards independence. As much as we love our children and enjoy their presence, there will come a time when you are ready for them to be out on their own. Can they function without you? Part of parenting is preparing your children to leave your home and set up their own homes.
  • Having a good grasp of personal responsibility will help your children establish good reputations among their peers and co-workers. And a reputation of responsibility will cause people to trust them.
  • Teaching personal responsibility to children will lead them to become responsible adults. They will grow into individuals who understand the importance of paying their bills on time, fulfilling their obligations, and knowing how to interact with others civilly and responsibly.

Personal responsibility is one of many character traits children need to learn. For more ideas on positive character development, read this post.

For a summary of positive character traits and their Biblical basis, click here!

Positive Character Development

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