Taking their dishes to the sink after dinner (bonus points if they take it all the way to the dishwasher). Helping siblings get ready for school. Going for that very first drive around the block. Recognizing when a family member needs assistance and lending a helping hand.
Many kids and teens have their first experiences of being responsible at home – from contributing to the household through chores to learning how their choices and actions affect others. After all, when it comes to young people, responsibility boils down to two things:
- the opportunity to act independently, and
- the ability to answer for your choices and actions.
Thankfully, from our earliest days, it’s human nature to want to contribute and feel like a valued member of our families and communities. That’s why one of the best ways to teach kids responsibility is to empower them to have an active role at home, school or the Club.
This includes giving age-appropriate opportunities to pitch in with chores and duties. As the adults in their lives, it also means having realistic expectations and giving lots of room to make mistakes and try again, so that we’re simultaneously building confidence in kids that they can be responsible.
4 Tips for Empowering a Responsible Child
- Start now (and, ideally, start early).
Even before they can string a sentence together, kids see what their parents and caregivers are doing and want to get involved. Take them along with you as you do errands and involve them in household tasks you’re working on – whether it’s narrating washing and drying dishes to your curious infant or asking your teen to help you bring dinner over to a neighbor who’s going through a hard time.
Doing things together makes everyday duties feel communal, shared and important, which is a great way to build confidence and self-esteem before kids start contributing to these tasks solo.
- Model responsibility.
No one is watching you more closely than your kid or teen – so when they see you being responsible, they’re more likely to try being responsible themselves. Show that things like “tidying up” are an expectation of everyone under the same roof. You can make this into a fun family activity by throwing a “Sunday Night Scramble” where everyone (adults included) tidies their rooms and gets ready for the week ahead, then celebrates a job well done by enjoying a treat together. As your kids age, they’ll need less of your assistance tidying and will have established a lasting habit for starting the week off right.
You can also model responsibility by explaining tasks that need to happen and the benefits everyone receives when we do them, such as, “Today we’re going go grocery shopping and then put away all the groceries, so that this weekend we have lots of good food to enjoy.” This helps kids understand the “why” of a chore far more than “because I said so.”
- Give opportunities to be independent.
It’s time to let them practice – and practice and practice. Let your kid have room to try their hand at daily duties and other ways they can show their independence, from walking the dog to deciding which toys to donate. For teens, independence might look like getting their room cleaned before having a friend sleep over or helping to cook dinner for the family.
It’s important to manage your expectations (some dishes may end up broken as your younger kid learns to clear the table after dinner) and give lots of specific kudos for a job well-done (“You cleared the dishes quickly and carefully without dropping any – thank you!” helps reinforce kids’ skill-building better than “Great job!”). As they get more engaged, encourage consistency and set guidelines and rules so that these contributions become habits.
- Discuss consequences.
When tasks aren’t done or expectations aren’t met, it can create problems down the road. Share with your kid examples of how delaying a task one day can impact the next day. An adult example you can model to them might be: “I didn’t do my laundry yesterday like I planned to, and now I don’t have the outfit I need for my big meeting today.”
Talk to your kid or teen about consequences of their decisions and set expectations in advance. For instance, remind your kid: “We’re about to do an art project at the kitchen table, which will be really fun! But remember: we must clean up the table afterward so that everyone can eat dinner at the table tonight. If we want to do arts and crafts, we must always clean up after. Not cleaning up means no arts and crafts for a couple days.” And stand firm with consequences.
Our homes are the first place many kids and teens learn about responsibility and get the chance to be independent. When we empower kids and teens to be active participants in household tasks, they learn how to be responsible and how their decisions affect the family.
Learn more about why youth empowerment is important in helping young people become active contributors and collaborators, excited to explore their impact on the world around them.