Teaching Kids Responsibility: Expert Advice on How to Raise Responsible Kids

Yesterday, Dr. Brian reported on research that highlighted the importance of giving kids responsibilities or chores early in life and how this benefits them as adults. So we know what parents should be doing in this respect, the question is how do parents go about it? Back in the early 1970's, Dr. Thomas Gordon developed a program called Parent Effectiveness Training. The basic idea of the program was to deal with your kids in a way that promotes their sense of mastery and responsibility. Dr. Gordon's program uses techniques that are in contrast with many popular child-rearing practices. For instance, he does not see a role for rewards and time outs. Instead, the program focuses on enhancing the parent-child relationship through specific communication strategies. For instance, Dr. Gordon talks about the importance of active listening. By learning active listening techniques parents develop the ability to accurately assess their child's concerns and reflect these concern back to them thereby promoting communication, understanding and their emotional investment. In addition, he advocates the importance of "I" statements with children as a way to avoid blame centered interactions. With these elements as a base, Dr. Gordon advocates what he calls a no-lose conflict resolution. This is achieved by engaging your child in reaching a solution to a conflict where everyones’ needs and interests are considered and a solution that is acceptable to all parties is reached. He believes it is important for kids to actively participate and take responsibility for helping devise compromise solutions.

Many variants of Dr. Gordon's philosophy have been developed over the years. Barbara Coloroso is an author and educator who also rejects the idea of dealing with kids through rewards, withdrawal of privileges and time outs. In her book, Kids Are Worth It! Revised Edition: Giving Your Child The Gift Of Inner Discipline, she advocates giving kids opportunities to problem solve, make their own decisions, and with parental support, dealing with conflicts and problems as they arise. In this way, she believes children can learn self-discipline and become responsible adults. Her six principals include giving your kids the following messages: I believe in you; I trust you; I know you can handle this problem; I am listening to you and understand; and I care about you. She believes that, when safety is not a concern, it is important for kids to learn through experience and natural consequences (e.g., your child refuses to use an umbrella and ends up wet and uncomfortable at school). At the same time, she does endorse imposing consequences when your child's safety is at stake. Coloroso encourages parents to take time to consider their children's request rather than say no right away and if they decide to deny a request to give the child an explanation without engaging in arguments or power struggles. If a parent is not sure about whether to approve a request, she encourages parents to give kids an opportunity to give their reasoning and judge it on its merits. When kids have done something wrong, she believes they should be given ownership of the problem and given a chance to think about the best resolution to it and have them explain this to their parent.

Teaching kids to be responsible can be done through giving them age appropriate chores to grow into. Teaching responsibility can also be seen as something that is promoted or discouraged within the context of how parents and children communicate and relate to each other. Giving kids ownership for their problems, allowing them opportunities to think up and apply solutions and supporting them in this process is another way to achieve what research tells us is an important part of growing into a successful, self-assured and responsible adult.

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Note: Posts on Family Anatomy are for education only, and are not intended to replace professional or medical advice. If you need to talk to someone about family or mental health issues, you can get a referral from your family doctor.