Shifting Responsibility


Are you doing all you can to encourage your children to take responsibility? When they are little, we do everything for them, whether it’s making meals or bathing them. But as our kids get older, we need to shift that responsibility over to them. The types of responsibilities I’m thinking of are:

  • Feeding a pet every day
  • Walking the dog
  • Doing homework without being asked
  • Practicing piano (or any other instrument)
  • Any chores you expect of him

This shift happens very gradually, typically with one responsibility at a time. It can sometimes be quite tricky to manage this shift in responsibility ownership. We don’t want to overload our kids with so much responsibility that they don’t handle it well. Nor do we want to give them the idea that they are allowed to be independent in all things.

It’s all about balance. We want to require them to take on responsibility for certain tasks in the home. But at the same time, we don’t want an independent, wise in their own eyes attitude.

Which of these best characterizes your child?

1)    He asks you to do everything from putting his toys away to tying his shoes (well beyond the age when he can do it himself).

2)    He refuses your help in most things, claiming he can do it himself.

The problem with the first is that he’s not being required to do enough. The problem with the second is that he’s allowed to be too independent which often comes with attitude problems. When a child is too independent, he will convince himself that you don’t have the power to tell him what to do.

If you have a child who seems to have a little too much responsibility – and a wise in his own eyes attitude – start limiting his freedoms. Give him just the right amount of responsibility and start having him ask permission for almost everything he does.

Consider the funnel when deciding what responsibilities you can allow your child. The funnel tells us to keep our kids’ freedoms age appropriate. But more than age, we should consider whether they will act responsibly with the freedoms we give.

Having our kids take on responsibilities also requires a certain amount of attention on our part. If we have the child feed the cat, we need to make sure he does so consistently without us having to nag. If you find yourself nagging, then the child isn’t handling the responsibility well. Think about making a chart that lists the child’s responsibilities. Don’t make it a reward chart, but more of a daily checklist.

With my oldest, I’m thinking about moving him to a calendar system. I need to determine whether he’s old enough for it, but I want him to manage his own responsibilities. If he has a calendar, he can schedule piano practice at a time that suits him (and the rest of the family), his home therapy session three times a week, any schoolwork that isn’t directed by me, and more.

Kids are always in a hurry to grow up. So feel free to give them responsibility and a way to manage their responsibilities, but also keep an eye on whether the child is in the funnel and not acting too independent for his own good.