We live in a society where helicopter parenting has increasingly become the norm. Parents try to make life as easy as possible for their little ones; sometimes giving in too quickly and easily to their requests and creating environments where failure is not an option. As a parent myself, I know it can be very challenging to balance being nurturing and supportive with setting limits and managing expectations. Children will always need guidance and love, but they also need to learn how to become responsible young citizens, friends, and siblings. Teaching them to be responsible for their actions and accepting behavioral consequences will ultimately help to improve their self-esteem and guide them on their way to success in school and later in life.

Studies suggest that children with higher self-esteem tend to develop into individuals who are more traits of responsibilities, such as being dependable, trustworthy, and able to acknowledge mistakes. Before listing out a set of chores for little ones to do – ones that they are ‘responsible’ for – there are some basic messages that parents should constantly give their children to help instill internal confidence and esteem. First, children need to feel loved and safe. Remember to tell your children that you love them and that you are so glad they are in your life. This may seem obvious, but you can never tell your children that you love and care for them enough. Second, encourage your children so they have a sense that they are capable and have a cheerleader in you. Saying phrases such as, “Wow, you really did a good job coloring that picture” or “I am proud of you for how you played soccer today” will go a long way towards helping them gain confidence.

In addition to sending these important messages to children, there are a number of steps that parents can do to help teach them responsibility in fun and productive ways. Be warned, however, that parents need to remain flexible. Sometimes a child may not do something as quickly as a parent would like or even as well, but parents need to remain patient and positive with the child. For example, if a child is taking responsibility for making his or her bed and it is not done perfectly, just go with it. They are taking on responsibility and this is the crucial point. Below are a few ideas that may help parents teach their children the importance of being responsible for their own actions:

  1. Start Early, but Gradually: Children as young as toddlers can begin to own certain parts of their daily routines. This can include brushing their teeth, picking out their clothes, throwing away their trash, and putting their toys away.
  2. Teach Independence: Often times children would be willing to do certain tasks on their own, but they simply do not know how. If a child says they are thirsty and are capable of getting a cup of water on their own, show them where the cups are and how to do it. This will make the child feel empowered and “big” and also reduce stress on the parents.
  3. A Routine of Responsibilities: Some parents have great success with task or chore charts – these are lists which have basic daily activities that children are responsible for doing. Parents can make a fun reward system for their children i.e. if a child does all of the items they are responsible for in the morning (brushing teeth / hair, getting dressed, putting their lunchbox in their school bag) they can get a star marked on the chart for that day. At the end of the week, the child can get a reward if all the days are fully marked with stars.
  4. Talk: One of the best ways to get children to understand that they need to take responsibility is simply to talk to them. When children are able to take personal ownership for tasks and actions, talk with them about what they are expected to be responsible for and ask them what tasks they would like to help with. Parents could ask their children, for example, if they would like to set the table each night for dinner or water the flowers outside. Children always feel more confident and empowered when they are involved in some of the decision-making, and they will tend to perform better because of it.
  5. Teach Consequences: Youngsters do not just become responsible overnight. Even when they understand that they need to make their bed or put their dirty clothes in the laundry basket they most likely will not always perform their “responsible” duties. Parents should think about laying out consequences if these chores are fulfilled. An important part of teaching responsibility is reminding children that they need to be responsible for their actions or lack thereof.
  6. Stay Strong: It can be easier for parents to just do things that their children are responsible for taking care of including cleaning up or putting clothes away. Parents need to try not to give in and continue to hold their children to the tasks they are responsible for. It can be challenging to do this, but in the long run the child will be better off for it. They will learn the importance of being counted on and trusted and keep their word – all valuable skills in the short and long term.

As children get older, their responsibilities will naturally change. Many of the tips, however, will hold true regardless of the age of a child. It is important to continue to give all children opportunities to own many of their actions and hold them accountable for them. All the while, parents need to continue to provide ample doses of love, guidance, and encouragement. For even the most “responsible” youngsters need help and some reminding along the way!

About the Author:
Gladys Ruiz is the Director of Little Children Schoolhouse in Brookline, MA.  After more than 10 years working in Early Childhood Education, Gladys opened the Little Children Schoolhouse to provide a nurturing, loving environment—an extension of her student’s home and family life—in Brookline. Pre-K, Preschool and Daycare programs for toddlers and infants include extra activities, such as weekly music, yoga, cooking, science activities, and field trips.  Both full day and part-time enrollment are available.