The art of teaching kids responsibility

One of the many exciting challenges of parenting is meeting the needs of our kids, while at the same time teaching them responsibility so that down the track they can ‘fly the nest’ as competent young adults, capable of meeting their own needs. It’s somewhat of a tension – what should we do for our kids and what should we teach them to do for themselves? Family Coach Jo Batts answers three questions she frequently gets asked by parents seeking advice on raising responsible kids.

1. At what age should a child take responsibility for their daily needs?

There is no ‘right time’ for a child to take on responsibility. It’s different for each child. What we’re really looking for in our kids is their ability to recognise that they are part of a team and that they can operate as a contributing team member. My advice is to start small and build. You want your child to be taking small steps towards responsibility and independence, but it pays not to have a really rigid idea about how and when this evolves. All progress is good progress. Kids develop at different ages and stages. They learn to crawl, walk and talk in their own good time and the same applies to the way they manage themselves. Don’t try and rush the taking on of responsibility – the less you rush it, the more kids will develop a natural interest and confidence in doing things for themselves.

2. How can I encourage my child to be more responsible in the mornings before school?

This question comes packaged with another – how realistic is the goal of kids making their own lunches, packing their bag for school, remembering their togs/library book/homework…?

My advice is this: get kids started early with the idea that the family is a team and everyone can do something to help. When your child starts school, it makes sense that you are modelling and leading the way with pretty much all the steps involved in getting ready for the day – from getting dressed to having breakfast and packing a lunch. With encouragement, you will find that your child’s ability and confidence naturally grow and you can then let go (bit by bit) as your child learns to take the lead in getting organised. Every child is different here but in general, things will go more smoothly if you stay engaged and alongside as your child learns to take on responsibility for the task in question.

If you just take it slowly, one step at a time, your child will have space to master the task without getting overwhelmed by all the ‘to-do’s’. Be prepared for the ball to be dropped a few times as they learn to take responsibility – there might well be some odd socks or forgotten library books along the way, it’s all part of the journey. Experiencing the consequence of forgetting something (library books and swimming togs are good examples here) is a helpful part of the learning journey towards responsibility, however it admittedly tugs on the parental heartstrings a bit when the children have been dropped off at school but their lunchboxes have remained on the kitchen bench! Trust your instinct for the response that best suits your child in this instance.

3. Is a morning routine beneficial for children?

Absolutely, though be careful that you don’t expect too much, too soon. Help your kids by providing a list of morning essentials (which you could brainstorm and write together), and for younger children, perhaps some pictures of the few things they need to do in the mornings. Making their bed, getting dressed, brushing their teeth, packing their bag…  As your child grows in confidence, give them a bit more responsibility. Older kids could factor a household task into their routine – taking out the rubbish, feeding a pet, unloading the dishwasher…

Things get busy in the mornings so it’s important to appear relaxed and to speak calmly, and tackle just one thing at a time. Try and avoid the pointing and shouting from room to room in the hope that kids will ‘get it’. You will need a bit of patience in the transition phase between you doing it and them doing it. This is the time for modelling, encouraging and supporting as your child learns a new skill.

While responsibility is a valuable life skill, I think it’s even more valuable for parents to remember that independence is not the goal – connection is. If we can empower our children to be contributing members of our family team in an environment that prioritises connection, we’ll be on the way to raising kids who are confident as well as capable. Connection is where the growth and learning really happens. Connection is always the key.


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About Author

Jo Batts

For Jo, relationships are at the heart of whānau. Jo is our Family, Relationships and Marriage coach at Parenting Place working with family, sibling and relational dynamics. She’s a counsellor, a strengths coach, a parent, a partner, and the leader of our relationships and marriage programme. Jo's down-to-earth approach helps people to develop the practical tools to build healthy relationships for everyday life.

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