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Your child might not realize it yet, but the responsible behavior he’s learning today is preparing him for a successful future. The sense of teamwork your child experiences in school, community groups, scouts, sports and when he’s hanging out with friends teaches him to work and play well with others in a conscientious way. “Adults often think kids naturally know how to be responsible, but they don’t. Responsibility needs to be taught to them,” says Gianna Rodriguez Shober, teacher and counseling intern at Von Tobel Middle School in Las Vegas, Nevada. When you reinforce dependable actions at home, you equip your child to be a reliable member of a group.
Emphasize characteristics, such as courage, self-control, respect and honesty, that will serve your child well in group settings. Teach her to stand by her principles yet value the opinions of other group members. If your child is secure in her beliefs, she's more likely to choose a responsible path when faced with a decision such as whether to drink or take drugs. Have discussions with your child about possible scenarios she may encounter and how she would handle them. “Kids -- especially tweens and teens -- often tune out lectures from adults, but they put a lot of stock in what their friends say and do,” says Shober. If your child’s classmate stood up for a person being bullied, use that as a teachable moment for your daughter.
Children take their cues from the adults in charge. “If I come to class without copies of the papers I’m supposed to distribute, the students pick up on the fact that I’m not responsible. They conclude that responsible behavior isn’t important to me,” says Shober. You are your child's most important role model. If you're on time for meetings, put materials back in their proper places or gather slightly used clothing and toys for donation to a community drive, your son will observe, and will likely imitate, these responsible behaviors.
If your child has chores to do at home, she learns that each member of the family is essential to the smooth flow of the household. That accountability carries over to outside commitments -- her teammates are also counting on her, so she won’t let them down. If your daughter wants to go to the mall with friends, calmly tell her that she can, as soon as she finishes folding the laundry and emptying the dishwasher. Those are her jobs in the home, and she needs to complete them. She eventually adapts a “you-can-count-on-me” approach that spills into other areas of her life.
When you allow your child to make lots of decisions, he understands that every choice has a consequence, good or bad. “Let your child make some bad decisions while he’s young enough to learn from them and recover from them,” advises Shober. If he doesn’t put his math homework in his backpack, don’t rescue him by hand delivering it to school. He might get an “F” on the assignment, but he’ll remember his homework the next day. If he misses soccer practice, the coach might bench him at the next game. Even though it's very hard to watch, let him suffer the disappointment of his teammates.
Teach your child to appreciate the importance of a good work ethic. If he writes a sloppy essay, tell him to rewrite it neatly. If the dishes he washed are still dirty, show him how to clean them correctly and ask him to rewash them. He’ll soon learn that it’s easier to do an adequate job the first time around. Praise him often when he does a task well. If your child tells you that “none of the other kids have completed their parts either” in a group project for school, don’t accept that excuse. He should learn to do the right thing even when it’s hard. Instill the pursuit of excellence in all challenges.
Provide experiences that engage your child in community projects. She’ll begin to realize that responsible behaviors start at home and ripple outward into society. Encourage her to recycle, work at a charity event or participate in a park clean-up project. These activities promote compassion for others and allow your child to experience the satisfaction of contributing to a greater cause.