Helping children become responsible
H. Rita Straub, Extension Family Living Agent — Marathon County, University of Wisconsin
Revised November 2008 by Kathleen A. Olson, Extension Educator — Family Relations. Reviewed May 2016 by Lori Hendrickson, Extension Educator — Family Resiliency.
The idea of teaching responsibility to children in our society and culture has changed, but some of the basics remain from generation to generation. The dictionary defines responsible as “personal accountability or the ability to act without guidance or higher authority.” Obedience is “submitting to or complying with the restraints or commands of others.”
Most parents want their children to become responsible. This characteristic develops over time with continued parental guidance. Children are taught responsibility when they help with necessary normal work and activities in the home. They learn to do things they may have to do even when a parent is not present.
Benefits of Children's Increased Responsibility
Helping children become responsible offers benefits to both children and their parents.
Children benefit from being taught responsibility by:
- Developing a sense of belonging to the family — they feel they are "needed."
- Learning to become independent.
- Gaining organizational skills needed to get a task completed.
- Working with others.
- Learning a new skill or improving an existing skill.
- Getting prepared for adulthood.
Parents benefit from teaching children responsibility by:
- Sharing the workload given to children.
- Serving as a role model.
- Balancing work and time for the entire family.
Making the Transition
Parents and adults are very important role models for children. Our attitude toward responsibility may be learned quickly by our children without ever discussing it with them. We want children to become confident in their skills and abilities as they grow and mature. It is always a challenge for parents to know when to involve a child. The easiest way is to watch for signs of development in the child. For example, the child may do some physical lifting, climbing, or fixing of a toy that looks similar to what a task requires.
Parents can ensure that their children will be successful with the added responsibility by asking these three questions about any new task or chore:
- Does the child understand the task?
- Does the child accept the task?
- Does the child have the ability to motivate him or herself to do the task?
If you answered "Yes" to the above questions, take things slowly with the new assigned task or chore. Stand by the first time a child does a chore to answer questions, offer encouragement or reassurance, and just to know the child can handle it. Encourage a child to assist you with the task to compare the child’s capabilities with the task. Parents and children can work together as a team in getting work completed and contribute their share in an age-appropriate manner.
The Center for Parenting Education. (n.d.). Part 1 — The big picture: Teaching responsibility to your children.
Clemes, H., & Bean, R. (1990). How to teach children responsibility. New York, NY: Price Stern Sloan, Inc.
Crary, E. (1990). Pick up your socks...and other skills growing children need! Seattle, WA: Parenting Press.
Pekel, K., Roehlkepartain, E. C., Syvertsen, A. K., & Scales, P. C. (2015). Bringing developmental relationships home: Tips and relationship builders for families. Search Institute. Retrieved from: This is an excerpt of Don’t forget the families: The missing piece in America’s efforts to help all children succeed. Minneapolis, MN: Search Institute.
University of Minnesota Extension. (1997). Positive parenting II: A video-based parent education curriculum. St. Paul, MN: University of Minnesota Extension. This product is no longer available.
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