Teaching Kids a Sense of Responsibility (page 2)

— Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
Updated on Dec 16, 2008

Feed the Cat, Fold the Clothes... The Daily Grind

Think of all of the tasks it takes to run the house—monthly, weekly, daily, even hourly—and write them down. For the more complex tasks—for instance, laundry—break them down into subtasks (putting clothes in the basket, washing and drying clothes, folding clothes, etc.). Then, have each member talk about which task he might be able to complete successfully and why.

Some families may employ a cleaning service. Regardless of the service’s  responsibilities, basic household chores need to be done and can be easily assigned between professional cleanings—such as wiping down the kitchen counters after meals, emptying trashcans, and shaking out area rugs.

Choosing chores is an easy and fun activity to do as a family. You might draw straws—the longest straw drawn gives the holder the right to pick first from a list of chores. You may also want to play a game and allow the winner to choose the first chore.

Post the chores in a central location and include a checklist so that family members can cross off each task as they complete it. Children like visuals, and the act of crossing off a task will solidify their accomplishment. Rotate the household duties in a logical order and even allow trading of chores between members. But make sure that one person isn’t paying another to do her chores.

As children grow, they can take on larger tasks that used to be difficult for them (e.g., putting dishes away in cabinets when they grow tall enough). As they move into the teenage years, young people can take on even greater responsibilities, which help them develop independence and an ever-increasing sense of self-reliance and competence.3

To Reward or Not To Reward

When discussing the family operations, talk about the vital role of each member to the whole and how important it is to work together in certain ways. Come up with examples of what could happen when something doesn’t get done.

Afterwards, talk with your family about the types of rewards and consequences that will be a part of the process. If a person completes a task, does he get a monetary reward such as an allowance? If he doesn’t complete a task, does he lose TV and computer time? End by suggesting short, once-a-week family meetings to talk about progress and challenges that arise. Remember to be fair: If a parent fails or succeeds in his responsibilities, he should take a consequence or reap a reward.

Avoid Blame, Try Creativity

Remember to avoid blaming and labeling when your child doesn’t complete her tasks. Have clear consequences and carry them out.

Try creative ways to remind your child of his responsibilities. Rather than telling your child that he’s lazy for not picking up clothing strewn across his bedroom floor, ask whether it is being left for the “invisible maid.” Offer daily praise and encouragement.

Just telling your child what you see and feel can make a huge difference: “I see that you put away the crayons after you finished coloring. It makes the dining room table so clean when they are put away.”

Remember that children model the behavior of their parents. So don’t expect a child to take on a responsibility when you forget yours. Set a good example to instill a sense of responsibility in young children. Doing so will help teach them the many skills they need to deal with the ups and downs of life: self-reliance, cooperation, giving and receiving, and living with others.


Additional Resources

University of Michigan Extension Service, 2005. Teens and Family Responsibilities, last referenced 1/24/2008.

Center for Effective Parenting. Children and Chores, last referenced 1/24/2008.

Josephson Institute of Ethics, 2007. Parenting to Build Character, last referenced 1/24/2008.

Medline Plus. Parenting, last referenced 1/24/2008.

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