How to Teach Responsibility to Your Child

Kids who learn to be responsible have a huge life advantage.  In learning responsibility, they have to know how to problem-solve and think creatively.

Begin TODAY with this:

ask your child questions, instead of providing answers.  

Get her to think through problems and consider possible solutions . . . so she can begin making decisions.

For example, a seven-year-old asked his aunt, “Can I bring these candies with me to the funeral?” His aunt answered, “Think about the situation.  We’re going to a very quiet place to say goodbye and be respectful.  Let me know when you decide what you want to do.”  The boy thought about this for a few minutes, and then told his aunt that he’d decided not to bring the candies with him.

Another:  A toddler was screaming because she was put in her crib for the night.  Dad came to the door and very calmly said, “If you want to continue screaming, I will close the door.  If you decide to be quiet, I will leave it open.”  She thought for a moment, and then sat down and began to look at her picture book quietly.  Dad left the door open and went back to his activity.

And this teen made a responsible decision:  At 9 pm he asked Mom if he could go to his friend’s house. She resisted the urge to say, “No way!  You haven’t done your homework, and it’s LATE!” Instead, she saw an opportunity for him to think and problem-solve, and said, “Think about how much time you need for your homework, and how much time you need for sleep, then decide.”  Her son decided to go to his friend’s house for 15 minutes.

In the above cases, it would’ve been a no-brainer for the adult to tell the kid what to do.

Plus, even though we can do things for our kids faster and probably more efficiently, at first . . .

when we “do” for our kids what they could “do” for themselves,
we rob them of the opportunity to grow and learn.

Give her opportunities to contribute to the family, and let her know how important her contribution is.  And not just the garbage-take-out and dog-poop-scooping, but also age-appropriate tasks that get more recognition (see list).

And if she’s 7 or older, get her an alarm clock and teach her how to use it (actually, some younger kids can even do this well).  She’ll never learn to get herself out of bed on time if YOU take the responsibility away from her.  She needs to feel the consequences of oversleeping, and how great it feels to be self-reliant when she gets up on time.     (note: be willing for her to experience the consequence. Without your “I-told-you-so‘s”.  We go deeper on all this in our personal and group instruction .  Just know that any benefit of learning will be negated if you begin lecturing about missing school, etc.)

Keep asking yourself,

“What am I doing for my child now
that she may be ready to take responsibility for doing on her own?”

Make sure you see Tasks Children Can Do to Learn Responsibility.

Be sure to reply below and tell us what creative ways you’re encouraging responsibility in your home..


“No!” one of the best words to teach your child. It could save their life.

HOW TO SAY “NO!” (and mean it)
One of the best things you can teach and model for your child.

Have you taught your child to say “NO!”? When I ask this of parents the usual response is…”Are you crazy?  Why on earth would I want to teach my kid to say “No” (in their minds saying, “…to me”)?  Well, let me ask you these questions:

Do you want your son or daughter to be able to say…

                      NO! to drugs?
                           NO! to alcohol?
                                NO! to cigarettes?
                                     NO! to sex?
                                          NO! to peer pressure?
                                               NO! to bullying?
                                                    NO! to inappropriateness by an adult?

If you answered “YES” to just one of these then you really do want to teach your child to say “NO”. Here’s the deal.  This is not about teaching your child to be disrespectful. It is about teaching your child how to respect themselves and others. Most parents initially baulk at the idea of this because they feel it will open the confrontational floodgate at home. I’ve got news for you, that “floodgate” is most likely open right now. Teaching your child how to respect themselves by knowing how to say “No” appropriately can actually close that gate.

Take a moment and think about that friend, that co-worker, or even yourself for that matter, who agrees to everything.  Every time the boss comes to him with a new project he just smiles and says, “No problem.”  Then as soon as the boss is gone he turns to you and complains about how overworked he is (overwhelmed seems to be the current word of choice) and that he will once again be spending another weekend, without pay, catching up. Or that friend who says “yes” to every community fund raiser, church or social club project, but has no time to take care of herself (and it shows). The only time she gets a break is by getting sick.  The problem is that most of us did not get “No” training as kids.  Have you ever heard this phrase before, “Don’t say no to me in my house” or something similar?  So how can you become proficient at doing anything if you are not first, taught how to do it; second, allowed to practice; and third, coached through the process?  Learning to take care of oneself by saying “No” is no different than learning any type of skill. The challenge that you might face as a parent is that your own skill at invoking the power of “No” may be weak, so your confidence as a teacher may be low. But it’s important to make the effort to teach this because it could actually save your child’s life one day.  Be diligent.

So here is what you do to teach your child (and yourself) how to say “No”.  First you need to look for teachable moments.  Those times when your child is saying “No” by using lots of words, with his anger, with her forgetfulness, anytime they are pushing back and their resistance is communicating, “No, I am not going to do that” or “No, I do not want to do that.”  Here’s your opportunity.  Resist the urge to want to MAKE them do something, and instead say, “Wow, you feel really strong about this” or “I see that you are upset about this.”  When feelings are acknowledged, the door to communication begins to open, leading to talking rather than yelling.  As soon as you feel the tension drop and receptivity go up you might say something like, “How are we going to work this out?” or “How can we do this differently?”

O.K. so now you know how to recognize the “No” situation and are ready for the next step;
Using Other Words.  Simply replace the word “No” with “I am not willing to.”  The phase “I am not willing to” is very powerful and says that you are taking complete responsibility. You will definitely have to play with it before it starts to feel comfortable.  “I am not willing to (fill in the blank), but what I am willing to do is (fill in the blank)”.  It is not just the words alone but the essence of what is behind them.  “Mom, I am not willing to clean up my room right now, but I am willing to clean it up in an hour.  Does that work for you?”  Your skeptical side might be showing, right?  Just remember it will only happen with you teaching and modeling this behavior, taking advantage of opportunities to practice and to be there as a mentor/coach.

“No!” is still a very powerful word and should not be removed from any one’s vocabulary.  It can convey powerful intention when coupled with physical posturing. A similar word is “Stop!”  I remember one of our daughters was having an issue with a little boy chasing her when she was in kindergarten.  For him it was a game (us guys are guys), for her it was annoying.  Of course he would start chasing and she would start running, so again, being a guy, he was getting what he wanted.  We did some role play at home to prepare her in how to say “Stop!” with conviction.  I would chase her around the living room, then Kathleen would show her how to spin around, take a firm stance while bringing her finger to an “in your face” position and sternly say “Stop!”  It worked. He did.  Role playing for situations like this is a great way to teach your child how to take care of herself.  But remember, you have to take the time to teach and then allow for practice.

In being the father of two daughters I can tell you that I heard my share of “No’s”.  Sometimes I handled them pretty well, other times not so well.  In the “not so well” situations I was focused on what I wanted for the short term (my way or the highway) rather than the long term goal of wanting them to be confident and powerful. It then became my responsibility, usually at the coaxing of Kathleen, for me to go back and repair the relationship and talk about what had happened and how it could be different.  It’s called being the adult, taking responsibility for your actions, parenting with the long term goal in mind.

You are doing a great job, hang in there.  And as always, take care of yourself, listen for and encourage those “No’s”, let people know what you are willing and not willing to do, and most of all have fun!

Messages we give our kids. Are yours encouraging or discouraging?

Are your words sending the right messages to your kids?

Recognize any of these parental phrases . . .

Be careful!      Be quiet!     Shame on you!      Be nice!      Be good!
Don’t get into trouble!         Not so fast! Not so high!        Hurry up!
Don’t cry!     Don’t be a baby!    Be a big boy/girl!     Stop whining!
Here, let me do that!    You are not old enough yet.    Don’t/Stop it!

My two most frequently used phrases were “Be careful!” and “Here, let me do that!”. This was before I learned, as a student in my first parenting class, that by using these words I was sending an underlying message of discouragement. It was an “Aha!” moment. In order to be a positive influence on my daughters’ lives, I knew I needed to make a change. Since that moment, I began being mindful of the message my words were sending. I also realized how important it was for me, as a parent, to expand my parenting knowledge. I wanted to learn some effective tools. Previously parenting by “default”, I had not deliberately thought much about my parenting skills – or my lack of them.

When I said, “Be careful!”, it came from my desire to be a protecting parent. I did not want my girls to get hurt, break or spill anything, or damage my stuff. Any “good” parent would certainly want their child to “Be careful”, right? O.K. get ready, here it comes: when you say, “Be careful”, the underlying message is that the world is a scary place. . . Don’t be too daring. . . Make sure you hold back a bit. You might be asking right now, “What’s wrong with that?” I hear you. But what else could you say? Why would you not want your child to watch out for danger, or not be the first one to try something new, or be the first one to raise his hand in class, if he wasn’t sure his answer was right? The encouraging alternative is, “Take care of yourself.” Or, taking it a step further, “Take care of yourself, and take lots of risks today.” Well, I switched to saying, “Take care of yourself,” because I did not want my daughters to be afraid of life. I wanted them to be
confident, powerful, and unafraid to step out there and try new things. I desired for them to experience all that they could, while at the same time knowing that they knew how to take care of themselves. They knew not to just run out into the street. They knew not to put their hand on the hot stove. They had all the basic information. And when they headed to New York City for school, each on their own, without mom and dad, I was comfortable knowing how prepared and capable they were in taking care of themselves.

I completely understand if your skepticism meter is pegging. What about the kid who is bullied? What about all the drugs out there? What about a kid being overpowered? How does that kid take care of herself? How does saying, “Hey, take care of yourself today”, help significantly? It assists you and your child in seeing her as confident and powerful, rather than a victim. Realize, this is just one item from the list of Encouraging Messages (see below) to consider doing differently in your parenting. You will not necessarily see results immediately, but I guarantee, over time it will make a difference. This is really no different than your child learning to walk, talk, feed himself, dress himself, tie her shoes, use the toilet, brush her teeth, do a cartwheel, ride a bike, catch a ball, read, write, add, subtract. The results of those things are easily recognized, and remember, they were all learned. So, in being mindful of the words you use, choosing phrases that send
an encouraging message, you are nurturing your child’s self-esteem and confidence.

Your assignment: For a couple of days keep a mental tally of often you say, “be careful”, or one of the other common statements. Next, switch to using the encouraging alternative as indicated in the list provided. Let me know how you are doing. This simple change will make a major difference in the life of your child.

Oh, my other favorite common statement is, “Here, let me do that.” Well, I still work on this one. Instead of being encouraging by saying, “I know you can do this. If you need any help, I am here”, I’d just jump in and do it my way, so I’d be sure that it was done right. When I was working in industry, supervising a work group, it helped me a great deal when I chose the encouraging phrase. I allowed someone to make the job their own, while giving them the training needed for them to be successful, and then I got out of their way. The result was that the place ran smoothly with, or without, me present. As with the people I supervised I also wanted my daughters to be able to function on their own. They do.

So from me to you, as you head out the door every day this month to work or play, “Take care of yourself, have fun, and take risks.” You can do it, and so can your kid.

Encouraging Messages List (click to go to)

It’s all about the relationship.

As always, please leave a comment in the space below and share this within your own social media network if you are so moved.

And keep asking yourself, “If I approached my parenting as seriously as I do my profession, what would I be doing to improve my skill, and get better results?”

You can get started right now by subscribing to Results, our newsletter. In doing so you will receive our publication, Handling Feelings, absolutely free.


The Child Who Always Forgets – Has A Parent Who Always Remembers

Making Use of Natural Consequences

Does this scenario or something similar sound familiar: you are just about to leave the house for an appointment when you see it. There on the kitchen counter sits your daughter’s lunch. The lunch that you get up early each morning and lovingly prepare. The lunch that you reminded her was ready for her to take with her to school. It’s not that you don’t mind getting up a bit earlier to make sure she has good food to eat, its just that you wish she weren’t so forgetful. You briefly wonder who in the family she gets it from. Oh, well. You grab her lunch and head for school to make yet another lunch delivery. You are at least comforted by the fact that you know you are an involved parent. What you don’t realize is that every time the school staff see you bring in your daughter’s lunch, they just look at you with that friendly, “Thank you” smile — while to themselves they are saying, “The child who always forgets has a parent who always remembers.”

It is not wrong to want to be there for your child. It is not wrong for you to want to protect them from some of life’s little mishaps. What is wrong is continuing to rescue them in situations where, if you allowed the natural consequences to happen, you would not have to rescue them again. Ever. Your child will learn how to take responsibility for his actions and solve his own problems. And now you will have extra time to do things for yourself. Unless you see yourself living with your child for the rest of your life (or hiring staff to be at their beck and call), I encourage you to make use of appropriate natural consequences. In the above scenario it may not be her lunch that she keeps forgetting, it could be she forgot to take her completed homework, forgot his mittens, forgot his eyeglasses, forgot her ball glove, forgot his lunch money, forgot to put her dirty clothes in the hamper. Anything that creates an inconvenience for them and gives you the opportunity to rescue them is the perfect place to allow natural consequences to be the teacher.

Not all natural consequences are appropriate. Of course you would not allow your child to experience the natural consequence of running into the street and being struck by a car, or putting their hand on a hot stove. To determine if the natural consequence is appropriate, ask yourself, “What would happen in this situation if I didn’t interfere?” In the beginning scenario, she would just be a little hungry. When she gets tired of being hungry she will most likely start remembering to grab her lunch in the morning. In the case of the other examples mentioned: she would have to explain to her teacher; his hands would be cold; he may have to sit closer to the whiteboard; she would have to explain it to her coach or borrow a glove from a teammate; wear something else. When allowing for the natural consequence to happen, it is extremely important for you to not blame, shame or say, “I told you so.” The error will be recognized and understood without any additional input from you, and it will be more effective.

When making use of a natural consequence, it is helpful to pave the way beforehand. In the examples presented here, you could explain in a kind, but firm, manner that:

…if she forgets her lunch, you will not rescue her by bringing it to her. She will have to figure something out on her own.
…if he forgets his mittens, his hands will be cold.
…if she does not put her dirty clothes in the hamper, then they will not get washed on laundry day.
…if she forgets her ball glove, she will either have to sit the game out or see if she can borrow one from a teammate.

Natural consequences are effective teachers. This is not about YOU teaching your child a lesson. In the case of the forgotten lunch, when she calls with a request that you bring it to her, you calmly and simply say, “I am sorry you forgot your lunch. I am not willing to bring it to you”. Then change the subject.

Work on one issue at a time. You may discover that in working on just one issue, several others may clear up. Note: this also works on adults as well, it may just take longer . . . old habits die hard.

Have fun…take care of yourself…and always remember you are the creator of your own experience.

Are you excited about the holidays…maybe?

The HolidaysGetting What You (and Your Family) Want

Depending upon your age, phrases such as:  Santa Claus is coming to town, I’m dreaming of a white Christmas, Grandma wants us to visit during the holidays, can we bake cookies, and let’s get out the decorations…can invoke fun, excitement and mystery if you are six.  Or, sheer panic if you are, let’s say, over 26.  The latter happens simply because as you get older life becomes more complicated. The excitement and wonder you had when you were six has dimmed a bit.  Also, when you were six, it seemed like an eternity from Thanksgiving to Christmas day.  For those of us who are older, it can seem like the Christmas holidays begin the weekend after Thanksgiving . . . there just is not enough time to get all the shopping done, make dishes for all of the parties, visit all of the relatives, and feel any spiritual significance . . . it seems to happen in a blur.  Plus, when it is finally all over, you might feel disappointment because it just did not turn out the way you had pictured it, the way is was when you were six.  Who cares about angels getting their wings every time some stupid little bell rings, anyway.

So, to help make your Holiday Season a bit more fun and more memorable, I suggest the following:

Step 1.  Make a list of things that are important and meaningful to you.  Pick the top three.

For example, when we lived inVermont, my top three things were: to gather pine boughs from our woods for the barn wreath, to cut down and decorate our Christmas tree, and to listen to holiday music.

Have each member of your family make their list (and pick their top three things).  Put the lists together to see where they line up and where they don’t.  Some negotiating may be needed.

Step 2.  Schedule when you will do the items on your list, on the family list, by writing them on the calendar.  If you happen to be a family of four then the most you will have to schedule will be the “twelve things for Christmas”.

Step 3.  Work the schedule.  Since it is the Holidays, there are always things that come up unexpectedly.  So remain flexible, but don’t just drop something from the list.  Re-schedule it.  This is about taking care of yourself and being an example for how to do it.

Note:  Resist the temptation to over-schedule.  Save your list and revisit it the following year.

Here’s to enjoying theHolidayseason and making it look the way you want it to.

Happy Holidays from Results Parenting