August/September 2009
Issue No. 15
How to Raise Responsible Kids

Welcome to another issue of the Solutions in Parenting Newsletter.

As our children go back to school, our schedules begin to fill up. There are more items on our "to-do lists", more appointments, more homework and more responsibilities for everyone. All family members can end up feeling stressed and over-committed.

This month, we address the issue of raising responsible, self-sufficient kids. Partly as a way to teach our children how to take care of themselves, but also as a way to relieve parents of unnecessary burdens.

The following tips will help every parent to empower their children to function in their lives productively and responsibly while shifting the work-load from the parents to the kids. It's a win-win situation.


Five Tips for Raising Responsible Kids

One of our most important jobs as parents is to prepare our children to cope with life outside the home. Raising an eventual adult who can thrive in the world takes conscious teaching and hard work that begins when they are very young children. Being able to use the relatively safe and controlled environment of "home" can be a perfect "classroom" for teaching and learning these essential life skills.

Responsibility means doing what needs to be done to take care of one's self, family, friends, and the greater community. Being responsible means that others can rely on you, and that you follow through on your promises. Kids need to learn that acting responsibly might involve doing something difficult, like studying for a test or giving up social plans in favor of helping the family. Here are some ways parents can teach their children to act responsibly and do the right thing.

1.  Model Responsibility. Like it or not, kids will imitate their parent's behaviors more than their parent's words. If you want responsible kids, they must see you acting in responsible ways everyday. Children learn responsibility from having parents who are trustworthy, dependable and responsible. When kids are consistently well-nurtured, they develop a sense of basic trust and security. If you say you're coming home for dinner at 6:00, do your best to be there. When you make a promise, try to fulfill it. If unexpected events keep you from following up, explain why honestly and simply. Let them see you completing your responsibilities before going out for some fun. This helps to provide a solid model as children learn to take responsibility for their own actions.

2.  Start Early. Even toddlers can learn to do housework, or to brush their teeth, or help a friend in need. If you want teenagers who do their own laundry, for example, start when they are in preschool. Teach toddlers to put dirty clothes in the hamper. When they are a bit older, teach them to sort laundry into piles according to color. Later, help them learn how to fold it and put it away. Then, teach them how to use the washer and dryer on their own. Before they become teenagers, they can be responsible for their own laundry!

3.  Believe. See them for their possibilities and not their failures. If you don't believe they are responsible, then neither will they. Show your kids you believe they can contribute to their own, as well as to your lives. Watch how you talk to your kids. Do you use language that inspires responsibility and independence or does your language encourage dependency and self-doubt? Phrases such as, "let me do that for you", or "I'll talk to your coach (teacher, father/mother, etc.) for you", send the message that you believe your child is not able to do things for himself. Phrases that express belief in your child's ability include: "Give it a try", or "Would you like my help?", or "What choices do you see here?",  instill self-reliance and allow your children to believe in themselves.

4.  Set Them Up For Success.  Kids are humans, just like adults. When they are learning how to be responsible people, they are going to make mistakes and are going to forget. Our job as adults is to make sure we have given them all of the tools they need to succeed. These tools include not only the materials they need, but the information they need to succeed as well. For example, keep glasses, bowls, and utensils on lower shelves so they are accessible to smaller children. This way they don't have to feel that they have to come to you every time they need a drink of water. Also, when teaching your child a new task, use our four-part formula for success. Have them make lists, charts, calendars, files, or any other tool they may need to keep themselves reminded and on track. They will have everything they need to perform their new-found tasks, and you get to enjoy a proud and responsible child.

5.  Less is More.  When parents do things for their children that they can do for themselves, we call that "over-functioning".  Helping isn't always help, and you may run the risk of interfering with your child's ability to learn his or her own life lessons. Before you do something for your child, ask yourself "Is this something my child can do for himself?" If the answer is "yes", then teach your child how to do it. Let them try to work out disagreements on the playground by themselves before you intervene. Teach them how to pack their own lunches, tie their own shoes, map out their own walking or driving routes, and to speak for themselves. This way, your children will believe that you believe in them, and that you see them as capable and responsible.

If a child chooses to make an irresponsible choice, resist the temptation to rescue him. Let them feel the natural consequence of losing a soccer ball and having to buy a new one, or missing a movie with friends because homework is not yet finished. When you refuse to protect children from the choices they make, you allow them to take responsibility for their lives.

Above all, please remember that you are responsible for being a good parent to the child, but your are not responsible for the child's actions. All people, including children, make their own choices. No one can force another person to act a certain way. We can only live in a responsible manner, so that our children see the value of being a responsible person.

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Monthly Parenting Challenge

How do you support your child's responsibility?

Over the course of this next month, try to become aware of what you do for your kids. Can they be doing more than they are? Can you be doing less and teaching more?

Sometimes kids will rebel against parents who do too much for them with arguments, resistance, or complacency. If you are experiencing these issues with your kids, experiment with teaching them to do more for themselves. That level of empowerment may be just what they needed!

Use the tips to the left to guide you through any situations that may arise.

Let us know how it goes, we are always curious.

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Meet Kristi Miller

Kristi Miller, MA, CAPI, MFTI, and Solutions in Parenting Founder, is a Certified Aware Parenting Instructor and Parenting Consultant who offers a distinctive form of parent education coupled with hands-on training for parents and their families. For more than a decade, Kristi has been dedicated to a specialized form of parent education she developed which honors and encourages parents and helps them define and maintain their own personal styles. This, in turn, allows children to thrive in a loving and collaborative environment.
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