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Raising a Responsible Child: 14 Everyday Strategies

Children, like the rest of us, need to feel like they matter to the world, and like to know that they can make positive contributions to the lives of others.   Seeing themselves as responsible (or, as Dr. Laura Markham says, “response-able”) gives children a sense of power and a knowledge that they can respond to what needs to be done, building their self esteem, giving their lives meaning, and teaching them how to handle themselves responsibly in the world.

In Dr. Markham’s post “How to Raise a Responsible Child” on the site Aha! Parenting, she provides us with 14 everyday strategies guaranteed to increase your child’s “response-ability” quotient (some of which are explained in more detail in her article):

  1. Teach that we always clean up our own messes.  Begin by helping your child, until she learns it herself, and try not to be judgmental, which can cause your child to be defensive.  “If your kids learn early that ‘Everyone is responsible for their own messes,’ they will not only be easier for you to live with, they will be better citizens of the world.”
  2. Kids need an opportunity to contribute to the common good.  Comment on their contributions, even if they seem small, and watch these behaviors grow.  “As your children get older, their contributions should increase appropriately, both within and outside the household.  Kids need to grow into two kinds of responsibilities: their own self care, and contributing to the family welfare.  Research indicates that kids who help around the house are also more likely to offer help in other situations than kids who simply participate in their own self care.”
  3. Remember that no kid in his right mind wants to do “chores.”  “Unless you want your child to think of contributing to the family as drudgery, don’t “make” him do chores without you when he’s little. Your goal isn’t getting this job done, it’s shaping a child who will take pleasure in contributing and taking responsibility.  Make the job fun.”
  4. Rather than simply giving orders, try asking your child to do the thinking.  “For instance, to the dallying child in the morning, instead of barking ‘Brush your teeth!  Is your backpack packed?  Don’t forget your lunch!’ you could ask ‘What do you need to do to get ready for school?’”
  5. Provide routines and structure.  “These are crucial in children’s lives for many reasons, not the least of which is that it gives them repeated opportunities to manage themselves through a series of not especially inviting tasks.”
  6. Teach your child to be responsible for her interactions with others.  “When your daughter hurts her little brother’s feelings, don’t force her to apologize.  She won’t mean it, and it won’t help him.  Instead, ask her what she can do to make things better between them.  Read him a story?   Help him with his chore of setting the table?  Give him a big hug?  This teaches children that their treatment of others has a cost, and that they’re responsible for repairs when they do damage.”
  7. Hold your kids accountable for damaged goods.  “If kids help pay for lost library books and cell phones, windows broken by their baseball, or tools they’ve left out to rust from their own savings, the chances of a repeat infraction are slim.”
  8. Don’t rush to bail your child out of a difficult situation.  “Be available for problem-solving, helping him work through his feelings and fears, and to insure that he doesn’t just sidestep the difficulty, but let him handle the problem himself, whether it requires offering an apology or making amends in a more concrete way.”
  9. Model responsibility and accountability.  When the opportunity arises, say things such as It’s a pain to carry this trash until we get to the car, but I don’t see a trashcan and we never litter,” or “This sign says parking is reserved for handicapped people, so of course we can’t take that spot.”
  10. Never label your child as “Irresponsible.”  “The way we see our kids is always a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Instead, teach him the skills he needs to be responsible.”
  11. Teach your kids to make a written schedule.  “It may seem like overkill, but in our busy 21st century lives, all kids need to master this skill by high school, or they simply won’t get everything done.”
  12. All kids need the experience of working for pay.  “Begin by paying your eight year old to do tasks you wouldn’t normally expect of him (washing the car, weeding the garden), then encourage him to expand to odd jobs in the neighborhood (walk the neighbor’s dog or offer snow shoveling service in the winter), move on to mother’s helper/babysitting jobs when it’s age appropriate, and finally take on after-school or summer jobs.”
  13. Create a No-Blame Household.  “Blaming makes everyone defensive, more inclined to watch their back – and to attack – than to make amends.  It’s the #1 reason kids lie to their parents.  Worse yet, when we blame them, kids find all kinds of reasons it wasn’t really their fault – at least in their own minds – so they’re less likely to take responsibility and the problem is more likely to repeat.  Instead, accept any responsibility you can – it’s good practice to overstate your responsibility – without beating yourself up.  (You’re modeling, remember?)”
  14. Teach your kids that, as Eleanor Roosevelt said, they not only have the right to be an individual, they have an obligation to be one.  “Studies show that people who take responsibility in any given situation are people who see themselves as willing to be different and stand out.  That’s the kind of kid you want to raise.”


Dr. Markham provides some excellent strategies for teaching our children to be “response-able.”  For more great tips, check out Kidtelligent!  Kidtelligent can give you additional tools to help teach your children based on their own unique personality types and interests.  Find out more about the Kidtelligent Assessment and other tools at, and follow us on Facebook at

Sarah is a guest blogger for Kidtelligent. She is a soccer-playing, travel-loving, poetry-writing wife to a “go-getter” husband and mother to two high-spirited, sweet, and enthusiastic boys. All of this “get up and go” makes her one tired, but happy woman!