Teaching kids responsibility is an important task in raising self-sufficient kids. Read four real benefits they get (plus parenting tips to put into action).
I had a problem: I was doing everything for my kids.
The day would go by much quicker, after all. Tying their laces? I could do it in five seconds. Pulling up their pants? They’d get their undies all tangled. And leaving my eldest to do the dishes on his own meant finding soap residue on the plates.
For the longest time, I even thought I was supposed to do everything. That I’m doing a great job by being a hands-on mom. The parent who’s involved in her kids’ lives and knows every detail of their day. Doing everything for my kids came natural to me.
If it weren’t for my husband—who’d rather not have to do everything for them—I’d likely still be dicing their food and bathing them in the tub.
4 benefits of teaching kids responsibility
Now I know better.
Kids should pitch in around the house, if only because no one likes to nag (or be nagged). But teaching kids responsibility have hidden benefits, not just for parents but for children too.
Allowing kids to do more on their own nurtures their natural drive to be self-sufficient and independent. We’re helping them own their responsibilities without relying on others for everything. And you can’t beat the pride they feel when they get something done.
Take a look at the importance of teaching kids responsibilities, and the amazing benefits they reap when we do:
1. We’re not raising kids—we’re raising future adults
Childhood is the perfect opportunity to try, fail, and learn—when the stakes aren’t so high as they are in adulthood. After all, forgetting to finish homework is one thing, but forgetting to file your taxes is another.
By not teaching kids responsibility, we’re not doing our primary job: raising future adults.
Think of childhood as a testing. Everything your child learns and does now gears her up for more complex scenarios and higher stakes the older she gets.
Releasing her into adulthood without the experience to thrive on her own is a disservice. Or worse, so too is doing everything for her, even when she’s already a young adult.
Setting her up for a smooth transition into adulthood starts now, years from when she’s actually an adult.
What you can do now: Give your kids age-appropriate chores, starting incrementally. If she’s never washed the dishes before, have her wash the plastic plates and cups before moving onto breakables.
Free printables: Struggling with getting her to do their chores? Want to develop good habits from the start? Download your Printable Chore List templates to help you and your family organize chores—at no cost to you. You’ll also get my newsletters, which parents say they LOVE:
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2. Kids learn to take feedback
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In college, I liked writing poetry, but couldn’t bear the thought that I had to try hard. I assumed I either had it in me, or I didn’t (I had a “fixed mindset” mentality).
So, when I won a few poetry competitions, I figured I was a natural. I kept writing, kept reciting. But when I entered and lost a fairly large poetry show, I gave up. Just like that, I stopped writing poetry. I couldn’t grapple with the idea of failing at something I was “supposed” to be good at.
I don’t want my kids to feel like the same, that they either have talent or they don’t. I want them to believe that effort overcomes supposedly inherent skills they have, and that we can always build the skills we need to perform well.
So, what does this have to do with teaching kids responsibility? They learn how to take feedback. Because they won’t get it right the first time. They’ll spill water all over the table the first time they try pouring their own cup and stack the dishes the wrong way after washing them.
But they’ll also learn how to take feedback as positive and inevitable. We shouldn’t micromanage every mistake, but we can get them used to hearing constructive feedback as a way to learn. Teaching kids responsibility starts with showing them how to do the task and correcting it if need be.
What you can do now: Give your child useful feedback, correcting her actions and not herself as a person. And only give feedback for important things. Making sure she dries herself after a shower is important—how she hangs her towel on the rack isn’t.
3. Kids rise to our expectations
I’ve learned that kids will rise to our expectations, whether we set them low or high.
Imagine a child who only hears she can amount to a certain level and no more. She replays that message in her head over and over and will behave as others expect of her. Now, imagine what happens if she hears that the sky is the limit. She’ll replay that message and will act accordingly.
By teaching kids responsibility, we trust their capabilities and know they can do it eventually. We might think we’re doting on our kids by tending to all their needs, but hovering only conveys that we assume they can’t do it on their own.
What you can do now: Give your child a responsibility that’s a notch above what she’s currently doing. Stretch your own expectations and see whether she can handle the task on her own. You might be surprised at what she can do.
4. Kids develop their own organizational methods
Every week, my then-first grader and his class would go to the school library where each child would borrow a book. He did this in kindergarten as well, except now that he was in first grade, I wanted him to be more responsible for the books he borrowed.
You see, when he was in kindergarten, I took a more active role in his school responsibilities. I was the one who knew which day he’d be going to the library. I’d look for the library book at home and tuck it in his backpack. Even if I didn’t, I’d still remind him the night before to do it.
The following year, I was determined to be more hands off and let him take the lead. To be honest, I wasn’t sure how well he’d remember, and I cringed at the disappointment I knew he’d feel if he forgot.
But not only would he remember to bring the book nearly every week, he also developed ways to remember.
For instance, he’d write his own chore list that included anything from making his bed to—you guessed it—returning his library book. He also remembered that library day is the same day as his class reading party—both events that happen to be book-related.
And on those days he forgot to pack the book, the disappointment only fueled his desire to remember even better the next time.
All on his own, he found ways to organize his responsibilities, something he would never have done if I continued to do these tasks for him.
What you can do now: Don’t save your child from her responsibilities or the challenging feelings that follow when she makes mistakes. Allow her to experience the consequences of not being responsible for age-appropriate tasks. She just might devise her own ways to remember next time.
Take a look at this video below on how I decided not to “save” my son from forgetting his backpack:
How to encourage responsibility for kids
So, now that you know how important teaching kids responsibilities is, how can you encourage autonomy and hand more to your child? How do you balance doing a job well and learning to let go? Follow these four steps:
- Do the task while your child watches: Describe what you’re doing as she watches and observes. For instance, show her how to make her bed.
- Do the task together: Doing the task together gives her the chance to try it with your help. Perhaps the next morning, you’ll enlist her help in making her bed.
- Let her do the task while you watch: Now you’ve switched. Let her do the task while you watch. Having you nearby provide instant feedback and instruction while still giving her full ownership of the task. In our example, she’ll make the bed on her own while you watch and give feedback.
- Let her do the task on her own, unsupervised: Finally, the ultimate goal. At this point, she should be able to do the task on her own without your help or supervision.
In the first few days, it took my son a good five to ten minutes to practice tying his laces. This is a long time when you’re trying to get out of the house on time, and I had to bite my tongue each time I was tempted to grab the laces and tie them myself.
But as the days went by, he learned how to loop and tug the laces quicker. He realized he has to tie them tight if he didn’t want them to come undone. And now, he can tie his laces almost as quickly as I can.
All because I backed off.
The best part when kids are given more responsibilities? They feel proud and accomplished. What was once foreign is now something they do, all on their own. And they feel like a contributing member of the family, doing things that previously only their parents had done.
I’ve learned the real benefits of teaching kids responsibility. That we’re raising future adults and letting them get comfortable with taking feedback. That they’ll rise to our expectations, whether we set them high or low. And that they’ll come up with their own creative ways to meet those responsibilities.
After all, I don’t want to suddenly realize that my kids have grown up and still can’t do much on their own. I might as well start teaching them now.
Get more tips:
- Tell Your Kids You Love Them, Even when It’s Hard To
- How to Enjoy a Restaurant Meal with Kids — Even without Screens or Snacks
- What to Do when Your Kids Refuse to Do Chores
- How to Get Your Kids to Clean Up After Themselves
- The Real Reason Kids Should Have Chores
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