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Written by Lorena Morales

Translated by Lorena Martínez Lombard

Surely, as parents, we have said or heard phrases like: “Their room is always a mess”, “If I’m not all over them, they won’t study”, “They just finish eating and go running off, they never help me clean up”, or even “they don’t accept losing”, “they do nothing to apologize or repare the damage”… and these are issues that worry and that with time become more difficult to fix. What all these issues have in common is that they emerge from errors in the way we educate our children to be responsible. The good news is, we can do something to fix it.

The key for a healthy socioeconomic development is being responsible. To be responsible means to take actions and decisions that help others and help ourselves. It is a value and an attitude that families begin teaching their children at an early age: first through observations by parents and elders, and then reinforced by social approval.

Children will always want to feel included in groups, thus abiding to social rules. Doing this allows them to form their identity, security, and favors both their autonomy and self-esteem. It also impacts their social relationships in a positive way. It allows children to understand that friendships require commitments, and they get to experiment the satisfaction of fulfilling these commitments.

Sometimes, however, due to laziness, being in a hurry, or family beliefs, we prefer to do things ourselves instead of giving children the opportunity to develop abilities for becoming responsible and independent; to tolerate frustration and strive to obtain results without expecting an immediate reward. Unwittingly, they grow up believing they deserve to be served, and they extend their dependency towards other people, sometimes even as adults.

That is why, if we want our children to be responsible, we first have to evaluate what we are doing as parents. This implies evaluating the different levels of responsibility:

  • How much do we over-protect them?
  • Do we clearly communicate what we expect of them?
  • Are we consistent with the way we supervise these responsibilities?
  • How do we exercise discipline?
  • Do we accept our emotions? For example, do we blame our children for our impatience or our bad mood?
  • Are we responsible for how we act towards them?
  • Do we demand according to their capabilities and moment of development?
  • How much do we motivate them?

Once we reflect upon these questions, we can make change the way we implement rules and behavior at home. Let me present some ideas:

What can I do to promote responsibility in my children?

  • The sooner you start, the easier it will be to install good attitude and responsible habits
  • Teach them to reflect before acting. Give them a moment to measure their impact, instead of reacting automatically. This gives them the opportunity to expande their answers.
  • Show them that if they make a mistake, they can both confront and learn from them their errors. If they are aware that they have your support, it will be easier to assume responsibility.
  • Give them the tools to learn about organization. If they learn to be organized, it will be easier to fulfill their responsibilities. Hanging a calendar no the wall or having an agenda may help.
  • In accordance to their age, help involve them in house tasks: in the kitchen, making their bed, picking up their toys, participating when it comes to buying groceries, etc.
  • Ask yourself, am I doing something that they can do themselves?
  • Patiently explain how to do things. Give them their space and the support they need to do things in a successful way. If they want to do things in a different way, allow them to use their creativity.
  • Show them by example that working at home is something that can be enjoyed. If they see you complaining all the time, they won’t want to help.
  • Make it fun. Instead of making it seem a punishment, allow them to see that helping with house chores is a way to cooperate and live in a pleasant environment. Play some music, make it seem like a game, and celebrate results.
  • You can give them an amount of money each week (adequate to their age) and show them to manage their money. Above all, focus teaching them to save money and long-term planning. Assure they understand that the money is not a gift, that you will be supervising their work and helping them make good decisions.
  • Recognize their effort and be tolerant towards those they don’t dominate. Make them know you trust them.

Responsibility is linked to other values such as empathy, respect, organization, and charity. Giving them a sense of purpose will allow them to become more conscious of their impact both in society and in the world. It is important to have a clear vision as a family. If we are aware that we are educating adults, our work will become easier.

Furthermore, the base for teaching our children about cooperation and self-discipline is the quality time we spend with them. If we maintain a close relationship and create harmony at home, it will be much easier for them to collaborate and accept our guidance and corrections. Also, they will realize that by having self-control, they reduce their selfishness and will find pleasure in attending others’ needs.

Frequently, the way we exercise our parenthood just needs a few adjustments. Through dedication, we can begin to change the path, and have the satisfaction of giving the world responsible citizens.

Lorena Morales is a clinical psychologists, psychotherapist and thanatologist, specialized in individual, partner and family therapy. Founder of Blueprint, through which she also offers capacitation to families and educational institutions.