I’ll never forget the moment I realized that being my stepson’s parent wasn’t just about guiding him, loving him, and being the arms he runs to at the end of the night. It’s funny, actually, because the moment itself was so insignificant (I was just sitting in my kitchen, looking out the window and lost in thought), but I had this sudden realization that I was responsible for his well-being, his awareness of himself and the world, and most importantly, the man he would become. It was my job to teach responsibility, self-love, empathy, and the value of hard work (among a million other things).
And that realization, frankly, scared the hell out of me.
Years into this journey, I now know that these lessons unfold in time, unfold gradually, and actually, were far easier than I first imagined sitting in that little beach-side kitchen. Little did I know I would be better at all of these things than I imagined, and that I would feel (sometimes) even settled in my parenting journey, knowing that I was doing a good job.
If any of these words resonate with you (or scare you), here’s what I want you to know: Instilling values in your child(ren) isn’t as hard as you think. As long as you strive to be a positive, present, and involved parent, your child will grow into an amazing human. (So don’t be so hard on yourself).
But, if you’re like me and already hard on yourself most of the time, here are some suggestions I have for how to teach responsibility to your child.
Set Up An Allowance
As a teacher, I’m all about incentives (and eventually shifting those incentives to personal drive and/or intrinsic motivation!). However, I personally think there is a lot of value in allowance because of what you can teach your child about money management, budgeting, and other financial concepts.
With an allowance, your child can learn how to save money rather than spending it all in one go. An allowance also provides a ‘safety net’ for overspending or making silly purchases. An allowance can also provide a positive ‘first step’ before getting a job. As your child works for different amounts, they will learn the value of hard work, perseverance, and even time management.
Purchase A Pet (Or Participate In Animal-Related Activities)
I’m a huge advocate for pets (because they complete your family!) and can teach responsibility, empathy, and caretaking from a young age. Pets require regular attention and daily care, such as feeding, cleaning up after them, taking them out for a walk, etc. This helps children to understand what it’s like to take care of something/someone other than themselves, as well as brings out nurturing qualities.
However, you don’t have to buy a pet to teach these values. You can pet sit with your child, or you can go with them to volunteer at a humane society.
If you do want to purchase a pet, just be careful about where you’re buying your animal. It’s important to know the background, history, and medical information for your potential new friend before you invest. A healthy, well-socialized pet will make the world of difference.
Some of the best places to purchase animals are from registered breeders, rescue centers, or humane societies. You’ll want to avoid being scammed (for example, don’t buy a Havanese on Gumtree because there are regular scams!) and instead look into breeders, specialty centers, or local (quality!) pet stores.
Enroll Them In Activities
Signing your child up for an extracurricular activity (music, sports, art, or even something simple like regular exercise) can help create healthy habits, regular routines, and teach responsibility. When your child is a part of a team or regular activity, he or she will feel compelled to participate, do his/her best, and show up prepared.
Even if your child isn’t in an organized activity, something like running or riding a bicycle can teach them basic safety skills, time management, and discipline as they have to take care of themselves and equipment, follow traffic rules, etc.
Consider A Smart Watch/Device
A smart watch, cell phone, or other communication device (with limits, depending on your child’s age!) can be an excellent tool for teaching responsibility because it helps keep your child connected with you while giving them the freedom to be away from home. With certain devices you can enable apps, texting, or other games. You can also add GPS tracking for safety oversight.
With smart devices, you can (and should!) set rules regarding usage, but allowing them to also self-monitor and be involved in their limits is a great way to teach healthy technology habits early on.
By providing these opportunities and teaching responsible behavior earlier rather than later, you are setting your child up for success! Prioritizing essential skills like money management, critical thinking, and self-reliance can help them to be confident, aware, and empathetic humans. And as they grow older, you can continue to equip them with more tools so they can succeed in all aspects of life!