University of Illinois Extension

Raising Responsible Kids

Cheri Burcham, Family Life Educator

How many times have you wondered, "How can I get my grandchildren to be more responsible for brushing their teeth, picking up toys, or getting ready on time?" Teaching children to be responsible is teaching them to be in control and making their own decisions. It also means they need to be accountable for the choices they make and face the consequences of their actions. It is often easier for parents or grandparents to give in to children's needs or wants to avoid a battle or to help them out. Many adults believe that childhood isn't a time for work or don't want to be involved in the hassle of letting children "help" them.

But, chores can be a great way for children to develop responsibility. Chores allow children to contribute to the family, share the workload, learn new skills and even earn money.

As you strive to raise a responsible, self-directed grandchild, think of a ladder. At the first rung of the ladder, children will act to avoid punishment and gain pleasure or rewards. Children hit the next rung around 5 to 6 years of age when they show concern and respect for the rules. This is when they start conforming to rules or the way something is supposed to be. The last rung is "self-direction," where the child shows initiative and independent judgment.

It is important to remember that learning a new chore takes years - not days, weeks or even months for a child to move from completing the task with help, to doing a task independently. For example, according to a 1989 study of families in Washington state, 99 percent of children involved could dress themselves with help beginning at age 2 1/2, but still needed reminding or supervision around age 5, and did not fully complete the task without reminding or supervision until 10 1/2 years of age (Crary, 1990).

So, how do you get children to help out with chores?

  • Be clear and specific when giving instructions for a task.
  • Provide choices in assigning chores. Try a "job jar" or job rotation.
  • Avoid being a nag.
  • Brainstorm ways to "help" children remember to get jobs done.
  • Make sure consistent consequences are in place when a job doesn't get done.
  • Make doing tasks fun!
  • Rotate the "dirty jobs" that no one wants.
  • Try to avoid re-doing a job. Children may not complete a task the way you would do it, but the important thing is that they tried.
  • Consider safety when assigning and supervising tasks.
  • Offer praise and express appreciation when children complete or attempt tasks. Appreciation is a great motivator!

You can also help your grandchildren become responsible by being a responsible role model, helping them with problem-solving and decision-making, and showing that work contributes to the family. You should also expect good things from children, offer love, encouragement and support, and have appropriate expectations for each child.

Being responsible and learning responsibility is a lifelong process. You can provide the roadmap for your grandchildren to reach that destination. Enjoy the trip - the destination is in sight!