We all want our kids to be responsible. After all, it’s a vital trait for success in school and in life. The elementary and preteen years are a prime time for kids to bone up on their ability to plan ahead, meet deadlines, follow through on promises, and make sensible decisions—all skills that add up to a kid who can be counted on. Follow these steps to get your child on the right track.
Set a good example.
Show kids what being responsible looks like by following through on your own obligations and commitments (yes, even that promised trip to the frozen yogurt shop), being on time for appointments, and accepting accountability for your mistakes instead of making excuses or blaming others.
Give kids chores.
Having jobs around the house helps kids prove to themselves that they are valued and dependable members of the family. Elementary-age kids can handle chores like folding laundry, loading and unloading the dishwasher, and taking out the trash. Preteens are capable of washing dishes, doing laundry, and vacuuming. As your child masters her assigned tasks, gradually introduce jobs requiring a greater level of conscientiousness—for example, entertaining a younger sibling while you prepare dinner. Also, be sure to explain to kids why doing chores matters: Not only are they contributing to the family, they’re learning skills they’ll need to live on their own one day.
Provide opportunities to make decisions.
An important element of being responsible is making smart choices. The best way to develop this skill in kids is to offer them plenty of practice. Start with small decisions (“Do you want to have your snack before or after you do your homework?”) and work up to more complex issues (“How can you manage your commitments to school, a club, and a team?”). Prep your child by teaching him sound decision-making strategies, such as listing the pros and cons of each alternative. Encourage him by asking questions such as, “How do you plan to…?” “What do you think will happen if…,” and “What other options might work?” Also, walk him through decisions you have made—explain your thinking and why you came to the conclusion you did.
Create a culture of community service.
Being a responsible member of society means more than just doing homework (and later, paid work) and getting to places on time. It also involves looking out for others. Volunteer at your child’s school or with a local charity so she can see you helping in the community. Prompt her to reach out to others. Simple acts like assisting an elderly neighbor with yard work or being a buddy for a younger student helps kids cultivate empathy and a commitment to the community.
Teach organization and time management.
Even with the best intentions, it’s tough to be responsible without the right logistics in place. Introduce your child to tools like to-do lists, calendars, and checklists. For example, encourage your kid to create a checklist of items needed each day. (Sneakers for gym on Tuesdays, library books on Fridays, and so on.) Have your child pick a spot to post the list and to station outgoing items so nothing is forgotten.
Resist the urge to save the day.
If your child repeatedly leaves without his library books or homework, hold off on high-tailing it to school with his belongings. The same goes for rescuing him if he leaves a big assignment until the last minute. As hard as it may be, letting your child experience the unpleasant consequences of his actions (or inactions) is one of the most effective ways to teach responsibility.