This conversation might sound familiar:
“But you didn’t tell me to…”
“It is not my responsibility to remember your homework/ lunchbox/ dance clothes…”
Maybe you’ve said it or possibly heard other parents say it and have vowed, “No, not me. Never.”
And then you’re faced with that moment where your child forgets her lunch at home for the third time that month.
She begs and pleads with you to bring it to her at school.
What can you do?
So you drop off her pink, sparkly lunch sack at the front desk, all the while wondering how you can get out of this…
How can you teach responsibility to kids?
Real Consequences for actions
It’s not a sticker chart, a jar full of dollar bills or a coupon box.
The answer is both incredibly difficult and yet really simple.
We need to give our kids challenges and let them fail.
Because what better practice in knowing what you need than forgetting it and having to go without.
For example, my four-year-old son just started swim lessons.
I want him to be able to pack his own swim bag – not an unreasonable request for an almost five-year-old.
An hour before swim, I sat with him in his room and went over everything he needed. He helped create the list. He needed to pack:
- A towel
- Clothes to change into after swim
The first day, we packed it together. The second day, he was on his own.
As we were leaving the house, I quizzed him on what he needed – but I didn’t check the bag – on purpose.
I didn’t want him to depend on me to remember all his swim stuff for him. It needed to be his responsibility.
Me: What did you pack in your swim bag, buddy.
Son: I have goggles… oooh, I forgot my towel
(he ran upstairs to grab a towel)
Me: Do you have your clothes for after too?
Son: Ya, I shirt and underwear…
Me: Do you have pants?
Son: Yup.. I packed my pants.
Fast forward two hours later and he’s walking out of the swim center with his towel around his waist because he forgot his pants.
Will he now always remember his pants?
You bet he will.
As much as you want to…Don’t do it for them
Part of learning responsibility means having the opportunity to fail.
Unfortunately, this also means that you may have to forgo the easier way of doing it yourself to the slightly harder way of waiting.
I had this experience with the dishwasher this morning.
Our silverware drawer was completely bare of spoons, knives, forks…
The cupboard had not a single bowl.
They were all in the dishwasher waiting for the kids to unload them. And oh… it bugged me.
In fact, I was just about to do it myself when I froze.
No, wait a minute. This is their job. Sure, I may need to hunt for a clean bowl and fork, but there is no way that I want to unload the dishwasher EVERY SINGLE MORNING while my kids are completely capable.
And where – even though it’s taken two months for them to do it without fighting (much) – I will not undo that.
So, the dishwasher remained open for a good hour until my daughter came downstairs and helped her brother unload.
Add on additional responsibilities, gradually
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Once our children master a task, it’s time to increase the expectations.
In her book, Cleaning House: A Mom’s 12-Month Experiment to Rid Her Home of Youth Entitlement, author and mom Kay Wills Wyma addresses the need to make kids competent in household chores so that they won’t be overwhelmed by these mundane tasks in the future.
She says, “It takes so much brainpower and emotional vitality and physical energy to do the so-called big things in life, but if all [our kids] verve is drained because they’re overwhelmed by the simple tasks of cooking and cleaning and shopping, how can we expect our offspring to be world changers?”
Research has shown that a cluttered home environment can increase anxiety. By teaching kids these household chores early, we prepare them to be competent adults in the future.
For instance, this weekend I taught my daughter how to plant flowers.
And… haha… funny story.
I didn’t know how to plant either.
In fact, I have been procrastinating on fixing up our backyard because I think I have a brown thumb. Ya, this post here where I planted a fairy garden… that garden is dead.
However, since it was Mother’s Day, my own mom was visiting us and she happily showed us how to transplant flowers from plastic pot into a pot all our own.
We rocked it.
And by we, I mean my mom and I. Because my kids got bored, gave up halfway through and whined the rest of the time.
But.. that’s what happens when you introduce something that’s different and hard.
Kids need to know how to stick with something -even though sweat is dripping down your face and your back aches.
Now that I know how to plant, we have a lot more backyard beautification to do and trust me… my kids will be helping me do it.
I already have a new job in mind – keeping those plants watered so they don’t die.
Positive Parenting without rewards
You don’t need elaborate reward systems or massive incentives to teach your kids responsibilty and make them more accountable.
All you need is persistence, a willingness to struggle through all the disagreements and whining, as well as show them how capable they are by increasing the responsibilities.
We may not see our teachings pay off until they are 20 years old and living on their own.
But, we’re all in this together.
You got this, mama.