Teaching Responsibility to Your Child

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The tween years are the perfect time for teaching responsibility. As adolescence approaches, levels of conscientiousness begin to rise for the first time. You can capitalize on this natural trend by using the following tips for teaching responsibility to help your tween now and throughout their life.

Teaching Responsibility Often Means Stepping Back

During early and middle childhood, you probably needed to constantly remind your child about their obligations or else things wouldn't get done. As a tween, though, your child has more autonomy, or the ability to take charge of many of their own responsibilities, like due dates for school projects and when they need to leave for sports practice (Granted, you still need to drive your child, but they now have the capability to remind you instead of the other way around.). Let your child exercise this ability. If you always do your child's thinking for them, they'll never get the chance to learn.

Stepping back also means letting kids "fail" once in a while, which can help build their resilience. Choose "low stakes" moments to let them flounder.

For instance, if your child is bad at paying attention to the time, don't remind them that their favorite show is about to come on, but rather let your child discover it on their own. You may need to continue to step in for important events, however, like getting to the dentist on time or to the bus stop.

Create Opportunities for Responsible Behavior at Home

Household chores can be the perfect arena for teaching responsibility. You're the supervisor, so there's no risk of your child failing in public, yet they have a chance to take on a task and complete it on their own. Taking on chores not only helps your child become more responsible, but it can also raise their self-esteem and lets your tween know how important it is for everyone in the family to chip in. Make sure their tasks are explained clearly, that a timeline for completion is set, and that they know what will happen if the task is not followed through. Be sure to provide frequent, clear, concrete feedback about your tween's efforts; tell your child precisely which behaviors did and/or did not work well, then give your tween a chance to fix it.

Provide Tools That Support Responsibility

It may sound simplistic, but does your tween have the tools they need to be organized, on time, and self-disciplined? Think of the responsibilities you're still taking on for your tween—like watching the clock in the mornings or before practices, reminding them about homework, keeping school papers organized—and find tools that will shift those responsibilities onto your child. Take a fun trip to the office supply store and encourage your tween to pick out organization tools like binders and planners that speak to them. While it's fine to make suggestions, keep in mind that the tools probably won't be used if you impose an organization system; your child has to figure out what works for them. 

Choose the Right Moments for Teaching Responsibility

As with the teaching of any skill, timing is key to teaching responsibility effectively. It may be tempting to try a new approach—such as using a planner for the first time—when things are already changing, thinking that new habits can be set up all at once.

New habits tend to be retained best when they're introduced during relatively stable times. Therefore, you may want to avoid introducing new strategies as your child is transitioning to middle school or when your child is very actively searching for their identity.

Your child is already facing so many emotional, social, and academic challenges during these transitions that they'll likely cling to old habits for a sense of stability. Better to set up the responsible habits long before the transitions occur or else wait until after they have passed.

Take Breaks From Teaching Responsibility

It's healthy to increasingly shift responsibility onto your tween, but as when learning any new skill, your tween will need breaks. You don't need to demand responsibility 24-7 in order to get your child to be more prompt, self-disciplined, and dependable. Keep in mind that your tween is still developing, so cut them some slack once in a while. Weekends are often the perfect time to do just this. After all, we adults often lay back on our level of responsibility then, too.

Respect Where Your Child Started

If at the beginning of the tween years your child was the least conscientious person in their class, it's highly unlikely that they'll ever become the most responsible person compared to their peers. There's nothing wrong with that. Conscientiousness is a trait. Like any trait, some of us have it more than others. Experience can alter these basic inclinations to an extent, but there is a limit.

As long as children are becoming increasingly responsible relative to their own starting point, things are progressing well. Encouraging responsibility is a great idea, but don't put excessive pressure on them to be someone they're not.

Your Own Habits Are Key to Teaching Responsibility

Perhaps the most effective way of teaching responsibility is modeling conscientious behavior yourself. Are you perpetually late to appointments? Do you pay bills behind schedule or require your boss looking over your shoulder constantly so that you get your work assignments done? It's the old case of "do what I say, not what I do"—that just doesn't cut it. Your tween learns through watching, not listening. If you are dedicated to working on improving your own habits, your tweens just might follow. 

4 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  3. American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. Chores and children.

  4. Lally P, Gardner B. Promoting habit formation. Health Psychol Rev. 2013;7(S1):S137-S158. doi:10.1080/17437199.2011.603640

By Rebecca Fraser-Thill
Rebecca Fraser-Thill holds a Master's Degree in developmental psychology and writes about child development and tween parenting.