Let’s start with the foundation. Psychologists say a parent serves as the first model of responsibility for a child. Your actions will make more of an impression than any amount of lecturing. If you want your child to develop trustworthiness, keep in mind that they will follow your example.
Developing accountability for one’s actions must start when your child is young. Your efforts must be consistent, and the work will require effort and patience. But without your help your child will have difficulty growing into a responsible adult.
These steps will lay the groundwork:
- Set boundaries and establish rules. Setting up appropriate consequences will help your child learn that there will be repercussions if rules are not followed. Clear communication and fair discipline will help them understand that there are rules in life and how to follow them.
- Let them choose. Allow them to make choices appropriate for their age. From an early age, they can select the toy they want to play with or hear the bedtime story they want to hear. Small children who are allowed choices develop a sense of self-sufficiency and confidence.
- Insist that they treat others with kindness. Help them develop empathy for others. Encourage them to think of others feelings as well as their own. Teach them to treat others how they want to be treated. And remind them if they can’t say anything nice, it’s best not to say anything at all. Teach them to share.
- Give them chores. Completing simple tasks such as putting away toys will build self-sufficiency and give them pride in accomplishment. Participating in other small chores will give them a sense that they are helping out the rest of the family. Assuming responsibility in caring for pets can also help develop a sense of compassion. Encourage them to always treat the animals they care for nicely.
Laying the groundwork early and consistently will encourage your child to become responsible from a young age. You will give them a foundation that they can build on as they mature and teach them to accept accountability for their actions. Continue to guide them in these ways:
- Continue the rules through the teen years. Rules and consequences shouldn’t end as your child heads into their teens. The structure provided by rules becomes even more important as your child begins tasting freedom and heads into more responsibility. Children accustomed to following rules will be prepared to establish their own structure in life that will support them once they leave home.
- Make the transition from directing their life to acting as their advisor. Increasingly allow them to make their own decisions as they grow into young adults. Practice in exercising good judgement should come while they are still under your roof. When they have a meltdown (which they will), teach them how to calm themselves down and take appropriate actions to fix their problem after they have calmed down, not during.
- Teach them to manage money. Managing money is one of the most important lessons your child will learn as they grow into a responsible adult. Encourage them to develop a good work ethic and help them find part-time work when they become old enough. Once they start earning their own money, encourage them to put a certain amount of money from their paycheck on the side for saving before spending. Help them open a checking account and guide them in starting a savings account for college, car insurance or an apartment.