Raising responsible children

Do badgers in the wild put all their toys away when it’s time to go take a bath at the end of a long day? Do parakeets say “thank you” to the bugs they dig out of the dirt in the wild? Maybe one or two of them do, but if so, it’s probably because they learned it from somebody, not because it came to them naturally. And just like the wild parakeets who may be flying around Australia thanking the trees they’re about to eat bits of, your little one may not know it yet, but she is looking to you to teach her to be responsible for her own actions.

Raising a responsible child

Baby has a few years before she is going to start to be expected to take responsibility for her own actions or belongings without your help, but it’s a great time to start helping her learn what she’ll need to be able to do just that!

  • Offer chances: At this point, when Baby is more independent than she’s ever been – and she knows it – one of the best ways to start teaching her responsible habits is just to start teaching them to her, and asking her to do the responsible thing. Sure, it might take longer for Baby to pair the socks from the clean laundry than it would for you to do it yourself, but Baby is at the age where simple chores can be fun – and, more than that, the age when she wants to help you. This means it’s the perfect time to introduce the idea of helping out around the house, especially helping out in a way that isn’t directly associated with a reward, aside from your appreciation of her help.
  • Introduce the idea of community: The best way to make sure your little one grows up to act responsibly is to make her want to. You can encourage that by fostering empathy and feelings of connection. The feeling of being a part of a group, like a family, generally makes children want to be a positive part of that group. One of the best ways to show Baby what an important part of your family she is is just by being strongly involved and engaged with her – the more you’re involved in her life, the more she’ll want to make the right choices and make you proud. As a strongly engaged parent, you’ll also promote responsibility just by being responsible yourself around her – it’ll teach her that acting responsibly is just what people – and especially her favorite people in the world – do.
  • Be sparing with punishment: Talking to your child about the consequences of her actions, in terms of both practicalities and people’s feelings – may be more effective than punishment. Research suggests that punishment as a consequence can make children less empathetic and more self-centered, since it will focus their attention on the negative consequence to themselves, rather than on how their actions might affect others. Instead, you can work on setting limits that still are considerate of your child’s reactions and feelings – maybe, no, you can’t make her a veggie-free dinner tonight, even though you know that would make her happy, but you can have her help you pick out the vegetable. Maybe you’ll find that she would rather have finger foods like baby carrots than veggies that might be tricky to get onto a fork, like peas.
  • Offer an alternative: Teaching children about how they can make something better – clean up a mess, fix something broken, apologize to a person to possibly make them feel better – can help them feel like acknowledging their mistakes isn’t the end of the world and that they are capable of making bad situations better. The lesson that doing something wrong isn’t irrevocable can help children do more right in the future. Another part of this is helping kids understand their own emotions, so they can manage them instead of acting out, to begin with. You can do this by offering her lots of positive attention and by talking to her about her feelings regularly and often – not just when something is wrong – so that serious conversations don’t just happen when she is upset. Outlining cause and effect for her often will also help her make those connections themselves, especially cause and effect related to her actions and other people’s feelings.
  • Set the stage: Don’t be afraid to start to talk about big ideas – the environment, community, responsibility to others – early. If you start in simple, kid-friendly ways, and expand on the basics as she shows an interest, your little one may start taking in these key ideas in earlier than you’d think, and the earlier she starts to think about them, the more she may be influenced by them. SImple, kid-friendly ways to talk about big ideas include using analogies from your child’s own life – like the litter she sees at the park – to talk about bigger thoughts, like pollution, community, service, or personal responsibility.

Baby is learning more about the world every day, and with your help, one of the big things she learns is going to be positive ways to exist in that world.

  • Amber Ankowski, Andy Ankowski. “How to raise environmentally responsible kids.” PBS Kids. PBS. Retrieved March 23 2018. http://www.pbs.org/parents/expert-tips-advice/2016/04/environmentally-responsible-kids/.
  • Laura Markham. “15 tips to raise a responsible child.” Aha! Parenting. Dr. Laura Markham. Retrieved March 23 2018. http://www.ahaparenting.com/parenting-tools/character/responsibility.
  • Laura Markham. “How to raise a moral, responsible child – without punishment.” Psychology Today. Psychology Today, Sussex Publishing, June 1 2014. Retrieved March 23 2018. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/peaceful-parents-happy-kids/201406/how-raise-moral-responsible-child-without-punishment.
  • Laura Markham. “Why punishment doesn’t teach your child responsibility.” Aha! Parenting. Dr. Laura Markham, March 2 2017. Retrieved March 23 2018. http://www.ahaparenting.com/blog/Why_Punishment_Doesnt_Teach_Your_Child_Accountability.
  • Robert Myers. “Easy ways to raise responsible kids: A guide for parents.” Child Development Institute. Child Development Institute. Retrieved March 23 2018. https://childdevelopmentinfo.com/development/easy-ways-to-raise-responsible-kids-a-guide-for-parents/#.WrUBK5PwYWq. 
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