Many parents feel that their children are irresponsible. Parents will tell their kids, “I had a job and paid for my own stuff!”
“My parents never checked my homework, I just did it myself!” Finally, they will shake their head and say, “You are so irresponsible!”
All those things may be true of what we did as kids and what our kids are doing these days, but it does not help our kids actually learn to be responsible.
Frankly, being responsible is and adult thing and does not come naturally to kids because childhood is the time to learn how to be responsible. We, the parents, are the ones who need to teach our kids how to be responsible.
There are many ways to teach our kids to be responsible but ironically the most powerful way is to use the words responsible and point out the times that your child is acting responsibly.
The first time children hear about the concept of responsibility is when they are being admonished for being “irresponsible.” Conceptually, they have no model for what responsibility actually looks like.
Children learn in concrete ways. We need to put the word responsible and the action of responsibility together for them.
That is why it is so important to point out when they are actually acting responsibly. Not only that, “what we mention we strengthen”, so the more times we point out and praise our child for acting responsibly, the more responsibly they will act.
Furthermore, they do not have to do anything out of the ordinary for us to notice their responsible behavior.
This is what it sounds like that:
“Thanks for coming in from playing to let me know that you are going to Sara’s house to play. That was responsible.”
“Thanks for letting me know that Savta called. Giving messages is being responsible.”
“I appreciate that you played with the baby, while I was taking a shower. That was being responsible.”
We can also have our children overhear us telling our spouses or grandparents that they were acting responsibly:
“Eli, acted responsibly today. He was playing outside and ran right in to tell me that Sara was hurt and then ran to get a bandaid!”
“Mrs. Schwartz told me that Sara played with her baby when she got to shul so she could daven. She felt that Sara acted responsibly!”
Finally, when your child does act in irresponsible ways, we can admonish them gently by reminding them of their past responsible behavior.
“I know you know how to be responsible, I am sure you will figure out a way to get your book report in on time!”
“I know you know how to be responsible, you have held onto to the house keys for a whole year now. I am sure you will figure out a way to make sure you bring your sneakers to school on gym days!”
Teaching kids to be responsible is important. We can do it gently, kindly and responsibly.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.