6 Ways to Instill Responsibility in Your Child This School Year

Amy Daniels |
Teaching your kids to be responsible As the Labor Day weekend starts to simmer out, it’s likely that you and your family are truly getting into the swing of the school year once again: missing homework deadlines, fumbling over one another in the morning, and scurrying across town to grab missing football gear. Whether your firstborn clings to your hand while you walk her into kindergarten or your youngest son is heading into his first year of middle school, chances are that the whole family would benefit from promoting a more responsible school year. This can be the year that your child can learn to juggle all of her activities. Check out my six ideas below to get started.

1 - Work together to develop clear and concrete goals

One of the easiest ways to set your child up for success is to keep every goal two things: simple and tangible. When you sit down with your child to tackle the goal-setting process, look out for words that are abstract or vague and determine what it is you two really mean to say. Aim to include the who, what, when, where, why, and how with every step. For instance, if she’s been begging to join a soccer league, determine how long she’ll stick with the sport. These little details are crucial to establishing goals she’ll stick with; without them, her emotions will - just as ours do - set her heart on another activity before seeing this one through. During this process, consider your family values and lay out a plan that is in accordance with those ideals. Think about what your family deems as responsibility, success, and good habits. There are several areas you may want to consider, like:
  • School. This may include completing homework on time, getting good grades on projects, or getting along with classmates.
  • Home. This could include responsibilities like age-appropriate chores, hygiene, or time management.
  • Extracurricular activities. Anything from organized sports to casual hobbies may need some goal-setting.
  • Money. This may mean things like learning to save money, considering the idea of donating, or understanding basic budgeting principles.
Before you end the conversation, determine how she can best stick to her goals. Is she a visual learner who benefits from charts? Would she like to get into an evening/morning routine? Does she want reminders from you? Use this information to develop a plan of action that is realistic and helpful.

2 - Help your child understand why these goals are important

Remember all the times your parents nagged you to do something without giving the “why” behind it? It’s something kids remember. No matter how many times you tell your child to get into the habit of something, his limited perspective just won’t see it as very important. Let your child benefit from your experience. You can utilize tools like personal stories, examples, and illustrations - all while engaging him in conversation and hearing from him what he thinks is important and why. When you two work together, he’ll more clearly understand why it’s so important to do well in school. With both of you on the same page, you lay a great foundation for working with one another - rather than against one another - to accomplish his goals. Watch your mannerisms as you accomplish this step. Do you suddenly find yourself lecturing him or shutting down his ideas? While you are the authority and have the experience he simply doesn’t, you want to keep a positive attitude and let him know that he is playing a huge part in the process.

3 - Eliminate logistical issues

It can be all too easy to overlook the importance of your home’s environment. Unfortunately, it can be one of the biggest pitfalls for your child’s success if it isn’t handled. Think about what your home is like whenever your child sets out to accomplish her goals. If it’s a space that tends to get cluttered, chaotic, and noisy, it isn’t realistic to expect your daughter to generate “A”-quality school assignments. You may also want to consider if home is where your family usually is. When you’re juggling multiple kids with different interests and schedules, getting into a routine at home can be all the more difficult. Think about what you can do to make sure your child isn’t fighting an uphill battle. If she’s trying to save money, seek out a place for her to keep it and a way for her to keep track of it. If she’s trying to get better at completing her chores, make sure she knows exactly where everything is supposed to go and where she can access any supplies she’ll need. Ruth from Living Well, Spending Less gives some great advice on how to declutter the entire house, and StorageFront provides a way to search for affordable storage units nearby.

4 - Play an active (and appropriate) part in the experience

As a parent, you fulfill a crucial need in the life of your child that no one else can replace. Sure - others may step in temporarily as teachers, friends, or authority figures, but you put on all of these hats (and more) everyday. It’s no surprise, then, that you may find times when you struggle to identify what it is your child needs from you in that situation. For instance, when your son fails to follow through on a goal you two have agreed upon, it may be ever so tempting to ease the blow that will come with natural consequences. This will be the appropriate response in some cases. Sometimes, however, the hardest part of being a parent is letting your child deal with the implications of his actions. How can you know the difference? Collaborate with your significant other, your friends, or even online resources to develop a strategy for dealing with all the things coming your child’s way. Particularly if a significant other is involved, you’ll want to develop a consistent method, lest your child learn which one of you is The Strict Parent and which one is The Fun Parent. Here are some good ground rules to consider when raising a child to become more responsible:
  • Help your child plan ahead. He needs your help to understand how to best manage his time.
  • Choose tough love sometimes. There are times when a firm stance helps your child make better decisions in the future.
  • Talk him through tough situations. More than anything, most kids just need the support of their parents. Let him know you’re always there through hard times.
  • Be consistent. While your reaction to isolated incidents may vary, let your child look up to you as a wise and mature role model through your ability to be consistent.
  • Find your patience. Your child is going to make mistakes. Becoming more responsible will take time and plenty of errors. Remember that we all take time to change our behaviors.
Work together to develop a foundation so that you can go into situations more prepared.

5 - Acknowledge success accordingly

Just like with any goal-setting plan, it’s important to reinforce positive behavior. This process will look different for every family according to their means and their values, so consider what little treats you can incorporate to let your child know she’s doing a great job. I do give this tip with a bit of caution. Ultimately, you don’t want your child to work hard just because something good is in it for her (or, conversely, because she wants to avoid punishment). After all, part of growing up is learning that hard work doesn’t always have an immediate (or visible) pay off; sometimes intrinsic motivation is the only thing that keeps us going. That being said, make sure there’s some light-hearted fun involved as your child continues to achieve her goals. Consider non food-related rewards like an allowance or days out with the family, or even little moments of hugs and affirmation, to show her that you notice everything she’s accomplishing.

6 - The toughest tip of all: live by example

No matter what your child says or how many times he rolls his eyes at you, he secretly looks up to you and notices the choices you make. As he gets older, he’ll even begin evaluating your decisions and deciding for himself whether or not he agrees with your choices (scary, right?) That one time two years ago when you announced to the family that you’d be going on a low carb diet, your child noticed when you fell of it a few weeks later. But, of course, this fact doesn’t mean that you need to be perfect or that you should be more secretive about your goals. What it does mean, however, is that you can’t work diligently to make your child more responsible without making responsible decisions yourself. Kids are pretty bright; they can pick up quite quickly when a role model is being hypocritical. Before you tense up and wonder how on earth you’ll turn into fit, fashionable, and flawless mom you’ve always wanted to be, think about how you can use your failures to educate your child. You actually have a wonderful opportunity by being open with him about your goals - just as he is open with you. When you slip up on your plans (which will inevitably happen someday), use the moment to practice what you preach. Your child will notice when you pick yourself up and keep chugging along. Your imperfection can actually be one of the things he admires about you most. --- By implementing some or all of these ideas, you will start to see some changes in your child this school year. As she becomes more responsible for her own goals and actions, you’ll see her attitude improve in a number of different areas. Think about what you can do to make this the year that’s different than the rest. If you have any additional ideas for me, feel free to send them my way in an email. Happy goal-setting! Photo credit: OJO Images