“Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.” (Psalm 127:3-5, NIV)
“For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” (2 Thessalonians 3:10, ESV)
Raising Responsible Children
Have Your Child Manage His Own Schedule
There are many ways to help a child learn responsibility. A toddler can pick up his or her toys. A preschooler is allowed growing freedom as they demonstrate that they can abide by rules and limits without having them physically enforced one-hundred percent of the time. Older children learn responsibility by being allowed to make decisions that have consequences which directly affect them. One example would be allowing your older child to keep track of her own schedule.
Many years ago when I was teaching private trumpet lessons, a sweet, red-headed fourteen-year-old named Erin began taking lessons. While other moms would often sit through the classes, I rarely saw Erin’s mother. Erin would be dropped off at my house about ten minutes before the lesson started. She’d come in, get her things out and begin to warm up without anyone telling her what to do. She worked hard during the lesson, and when the lesson ended she pulled out her calendar to schedule the next lesson.
When I asked if she didn’t need to check with her mom first, she answered that she made and kept track of her own schedule. Erin and her mother never missed a single lesson in the time I was teaching her. What great preparation for adulthood Erin was receiving through the wise parenting of her mother!
Teaching Responsibility Through Caring for a Pet
Taking care of a pet is another excellent way to teach responsibility. The varieties of this are almost endless. The main idea is that when your child comes you to begging for a pet, if you can strike up a deal ensuring that the child will be the main one to care for the pet (with exceptions for special occasions, etc.), a great deal of learning can take place through this experience.
When we moved to Colombia, our children really wanted a pet. We tried ants, a frog, butterflies, and rabbits. After they all died, we finally ended up with Cookie, our sweet, beautiful chestnut dachshund/retriever mix. The children were thrilled with Cookie. At first, they even fought a bit over who got to take her out on a walk and feed her.
Once the honeymoon period wore off, they weren’t quite as enthusiastic about taking her out. However, we insisted that their pet is their job. They have continued to care for her faithfully for three years and counting. In doing so, their appreciation of her has grown. The ‘puppy love’ has worn off. In its place is a deeper appreciation of Cookie.
Investing Time Brings Value
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry‘s “The Little Prince” is an excellent example of how investing in something often causes us to value it more. Even though the Prince’s rose acted rather harshly toward him, he loved it because it was his. He had invested in it, nurturing and caring for it. At one point in the book, a fox meets the young prince during his travels through the earth. The fox remarks, “It is the time you have lost for your rose that makes your rose so important.”
We can easily correlate that to our children and their responsibilities. An organized bedroom gets its value from the time spent cleaning it, organizing toys, etc. It is the time spent preparing food that makes eating it all the more delicious.
We see this in projects our children make, as well. A project that is thrown together carelessly at the last minute holds little value to its creator, whereas a project that has required time, energy, thought and creative effort will be highly treasured by its maker.
Find Neighborhood Jobs
Paid household or neighborhood jobs also help grow responsibility and an understanding of how the real world works. After all, in an adult’s world, hard work generally results in getting paid, followed by the decision of what to do with the earnings. Why shouldn’t our children get an early start on learning those same principles?
We have used our children’s jobs as opportunities to teach them the importance of tithing — giving the first 10% to God. Since tithing is a non-negotiable responsibility in our family, the children delight in putting their money in the offering plate and often have put in more than the allotted amount.
We then encourage them to save fifty percent of the remainder, and they can spend the rest as they see fit. They have recently become interested in the stock market. With their saved money they purchase stocks they are interested in, such as Walt Disney, Hasbro, Walmart, etc. It is with great interest that they watch the stock market’s fluctuations. Their investments have cost them actual physical effort!
Include Children in Family Decisions
Another way to help children become more responsible is to include them as much as possible in making family decisions. For example, just this morning I was considering taking on additional English students. Knowing it would affect the amount of time I spend with my children, we had a family ‘pow-wow’.
The consensus was ‘NO’. The children felt the extra money wasn’t worth losing that time together, and we agreed to make certain concessions to help us save in other ways (watching a movie on Netflix instead of going to the theater, continuing to cook food at home instead of eating out or ordering pizza, etc.)
Help Clean the House
Having children clean the house is an EXCELLENT way to develop responsibility. Watch your child reprimand other members of the household who mess up the bathroom he just spent half an hour cleaning. Or watch the child whose turn it is to sweep, reprimanding her siblings when she discovers that they haven’t picked up the toys on their bedroom floor.
I remember once when Gabriel, then six, had just finished cleaning the guest bathroom on the first floor. A group of kids came in to wash their hands, which were dirty from playing outside. When they left the bathroom messy and dirty, he made them come back in and clean up their mess! What a delight it is to find your children helping to enforce your parenting goals!
I think the biggest impediment to our children’s growth in responsibility comes from our inability to let them make mistakes. For example, we may give our child the task of washing dishes, but when he fails to clean them to our standards, our typical response is to get involved and ‘fix’ the job he just tried to do.
Teach Your Child Patiently Side-By-Side
Although that seems like a worthy goal, I would submit that it is much better to patiently teach him side-by-side. That way you can demonstrate how to do a job well and to your satisfaction (assuming you’re not an obsessive, perfectionist parent). Stick with the training until you’re sure he’s got it. Your efforts will be generously rewarded.
For example, I used to have my children sweep the house, but in those days I was ‘too busy’ to ensure that they did it correctly. I would later redo it while they were doing their schoolwork. What good was I accomplishing? Essentially none at all. I was allowing my kids to do a substandard job. I was teaching them that it’s OK to do less than their best. Then I was spending a half hour of my own time redoing their job!
It may seem like teaching your kids how to do a job correctly will take you more time. In reality, however, the time you spend up front showing them how to complete tasks well will return multiplied blessings to you throughout the years. It’s also important to talk to your children about the benefits of being responsible, and of completing a job well and on time.
Responsible Children Are Highly Valued by Others
Not only does it gain the children more freedom, but it also shows others that they are trustworthy and hardworking, which in turn opens up even more opportunities. People who are responsible are more highly regarded by their peers, have more educational options and are sought after by employers. Your children will also benefit from watching each other become responsible young adults.
Our children have demonstrated responsibility in completing their homework on time for classes such as French and Spanish, and for practicing their instruments well in preparation for their music lessons. They also demonstrate responsibility as leaders at the children’s center and in the children’s ministry at church.
Our family was recently invited to teach and minister together at a missions conference in another city. As the event organizer put it, “Your children’s reputations precede them.” There are few words that could bring such joy to my mother’s heart than those!