It's so important to teach our children to be responsible. Not only does it set them up for success later in life, but it will do so much for them at whatever age they are right now. And while we don't ever want to overwhelm our children with so much work that they can't do the very important work of children - to play - we want to teach them early how to do age-appropriate things that will give them a foundation to build on.
Children NEED to have a sense of purpose, to be able to accomplish something well, and to have some autonomy while doing so. They need to know our expectations. Then, no matter how much they may meet with failure or disappointment outside of our homes, they know how to succeed within their family. As a busy mama, you can seriously benefit from not trying to do everything yourself too! With that as my goal, here are my top three tips to teaching kids to be responsible - and by default, making your life a lot easier.
Give them a sense of purpose with a clear and achievable goal to accomplish. Make a checklist!
What better way to set up clear, age-appropriate expectations and give children the ability to achieve goals than to give them a checklist? The way we do that with my first and second graders is by giving them a list of tasks to accomplish when they get home from school each day. This is a checklist that I created at the beginning of the year and it doesn't change. They know exactly what to expect. They're responsible for keeping track of the checklist and keeping it up to date. (If they lose the checklist, they are the ones finding it. Not me.)
There's a column for each child with 14 tasks that they are to do after school every day. I know, 14 sounds like a lot, but I broke everything down into very simple steps. For example, number one is to wash their hands and face. Number two is to put their face mask in the laundry. Number three is to hang up their lanyard. Number four is to put their shoes away neatly.
One of their tasks include setting out their clothes for the next day (including socks and shoes). They pack their lunches if they aren't buying (I taught them how to make a simple, nutritious lunch and make sure they have everything they need for it), and they do the parts of their homework that they're able to do without me.
We decided on $8 per week, per child, that they can earn if they accomplish all their tasks. They have until we're done working for the day to get them done. My office is downstairs, so if I come up at 5:00 and their shoes are scattered about, I put them away and write "-$1" on their checklist. I don't say another word about it. (No nagging!) If their lunch isn't packed the next morning, it's too late. If they haven't gotten their clothes out, NO PROBLEM! I will do it for them. -$1. They could easily lose all their money by just not doing about half of the things one day, but they never have. They rarely lose money, and if so it's only $1 or $2. If money doesn't motivate your kids or isn't really an option, find another motivation. There are plenty of ways to do this without cash.
They actually love to check off all their boxes. My first grader couldn't read well enough at the beginning of the year, so I added little pictures to help him. We don't often buy them toys, so that is their toy money. Last summer, they both saved up enough to buy hoverboards. So, not only are we teaching them a sense of purpose and helping them achieve a goal, we're also teaching them the value of money. This lesson has proven especially powerful with our son, who enjoys the control he has when he decides to spend his money on exactly what he wants.
2. Teach them effective time management when they're little.
Mornings before school are prime time to teach kids responsibility. I have one child who jumps right out of bed as soon as I say, "It's time to get up." That child will be fully dressed and ready to walk out the door in no time flat. What is this magic?
Motivation and preparation.
He is highly motivated to be the first one ready to go for the day because that means he gets to choose the cartoon they are going to watch while they eat their breakfast. His big sister is almost always the one who chooses otherwise, but THIS IS HIS TIME! He's like a king, gathering up the remote controls, getting comfortable on the couch, and choosing what he wants to watch. Because he already had everything ready the night before, there are no decisions to make. Just action.
Your job here is to study your children, figure out what motivates them, and teach them to prepare. Is it competition? Use it! Maybe it's knowing they won't be able to participate in after-school activities if they can't get up without a struggle the next day. If it's the ability to watch 5-10 minutes of cartoons before the bus comes, use it. Maybe a morning checklist would work for your kiddos? My kids are devastated if one gets to stay up later than the other, so just the threat that they might have to go to bed five minutes early will turn them into magic children. Keep trying until you discover the key to getting your child motivated so you don't have to spend your mornings urging them to get moving.
3. Routines, stability, and clear expectations.
As you can already tell by the first two points, routines are important. Since kids aren't in a position to set the schedule and determine most of our plans, it's important that we help them understand the schedule, plans, and our expectations for them. We run into trouble when we change the rules on them, or when we suddenly have different expectations and haven't taken enough time to explain.
Our children understand that bedtime is 8:00. We have to be pretty flexible about what happens before bedtime because our schedule changes a lot, but on Sunday through Thursday nights, 8:00! The kids each have their own bed, and we've tried to create an environment that they each enjoy and feel safe in. If they wake up in the middle of the night and need us, they're welcome to come find us, but they fall asleep in their own beds. (Once they're old enough, that is. We still enjoy rocking Redmond to sleep, and occasionally he cuddles up with his sister and falls asleep with her.) Then, on Friday nights, we blow up an air mattress in the living room and watch movies. The kids stay up late. My husband sleeps on the mattress with them while I enjoy the best night's sleep I get all week. (I think we're both pretty happy with the arrangement.) Saturday mornings they get to eat sweetened cereal, so they look forward to that too.
The kids understand that there's a time for discipline and a time for relaxing. They understand how to meet our expectations, and it really helps them. A child who is trying to please his parents but doesn't understand what is expected will struggle to know how to be responsible. We need to mark a clear path for them to follow, then give them the freedom to follow it. If they choose not to, then we need to examine our methods and try again.
Think about Esau from the Bible. He was his father's favorite, but his father, Isaac, didn't find a wife for him the way Abraham had done for Isaac. Left to his own devices, at forty years old, Esau chose his own wives. He married two pagan women. They made his parents miserable, but apparently no one bothered to tell Esau. As soon as he found out that his parents were displeased, he tried to make it right by marrying a daughter of his father's brother, Ishmael. Still not understanding their expectations, he failed again. I have to wonder how different Esau might have been if his parents had clearly outlined a path to success for him.
Bonus Tip: Keep a family calendar in a place where they can see it.
We have a simple white board up on the wall in the kitchen. On Sunday night, I update it for the week ahead. I write down all our appointments (which especially helps my husband and I), who will be at our house on which days, holidays, and other important information. This keeps us, our nanny, and the kids on the same page.
Helping our kids become responsible starts with us. We can teach them to prepare, motivate them to manage their time well, and provide clear and consistent expectations. Then they can grow in their ability to be responsible.
They'll also learn that we're human and sometimes plans change without notice. During those times, we understand that they might have trouble adjusting and we give them the extra help they need. We've found a lot of help with Alexa timers. If we have people coming over for dinner, we can ask Alexa to help us do a countdown. For a while, we did that before bed. I literally set Alexa to say, "You have one hour until bedtime." It stopped them from constantly asking me how much more time they had. We turned it off during Christmas break and haven't needed it again, but we've set them in the morning too. Alexa can say, "Kids, we leave for school in five minutes." and "It's time to leave for school." Again, I'm not the nagging, grumpy mom trying to push everyone out the door. Alexa said it, so it's time.
Now, I haven't even covered the chores we expect them to do as a part of our family. We'll save that post for another day. But yes, even the four-year-old has chores.
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