A few years ago, I had the honor of teaching graduate students at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. Summers in the Windy City can be scorching hot and the winters can be brutally cold. Imagine if, in mid-February, I had walked to the back of that classroom and opened all the windows. I could stand at the front of the room and expound on anything I wanted. My teaching should be the students’ primary focus while in class. But the reality of the arctic air blasting into the classroom would dominate the experience of those students. And just like the weather, culture beats words any time. One way to describe culture could be as a climate used to build healthy responsibility into a child’s life. That climate will impact the focus of our children.
There are several great articles out there that outline the specifics of how to teach a child responsibility. For example, chore charts or age-specific tasks are great tools. But in addition to the specifics, we need to be aware of the culture of healthy responsibility that is either present or absent in our home. Our children need to know the reasons why being responsible—even when it’s hard—is a gift to them, their family, and others.
6 Specific Ways to Create That Healthy Responsibility Culture
1. You Teach Best What You Most Need to Learn
Imagine a graduation speech at a major university. The speaker takes the podium and utters these three words: “Make your bed.”
With hundreds of robed graduates assembled before him, Admiral William McRaven, former head of the U.S. Navy Seals, shared a series of life lessons. His simple encouragement has become one of the most-watched graduation speeches ever and became the title of a book. Admiral McRaven’s message was that if these graduates wanted to go out and do great, important things in life, they should start by being responsible in the small things—like making the bed.
This speech sounds a great deal like Jesus’ words in Luke 16 and Luke 19. Jesus shared that a person who is faithful with a little is the one who will receive much. He describes how a reliable and responsible servant pays attention to the small details in life.
If we are serious about creating a culture of responsibility for our children, it begins with us. We need to let the dog out, take the dishes to the sink, or offer to help bring in the groceries. Maybe you say “no” to one small thing a day, such as eating that second piece of pie. Or perhaps you do one thing each day that you can check off your list of urgent to-do’s. It’s those small, responsible things that speak volumes to our kids.
Creating a healthy culture of responsibility begins with us as parents modeling a willingness to do those small things. Our children will pick up on our actions and will begin to live them out later in life. Watching them do this is, in itself, a great reward.
2. Stand With Your Child at the Start of Every New Chore
It’s often true that kids who are too young to do certain chores want to do them. When they become old enough to help with these chores, they suddenly don’t want to! Young children are imperfect at doing tasks. They see you doing something and want to be just like you. How often do we push them away from helping because they’re slowing us down? Since they haven’t had as much practice at doing something as we have, they may leave a streak on the window or bit of dust on the table. Yet those who are serious about creating a culture of responsibility will stand with the child as they struggle to master a new skill. At the start of a new chore, we need to provide them with a living example of what a job well done looks like.
Stuck at home?
3. Your Nonverbals Will Speak Volumes More Than Your Words
As you stand alongside your child and help them with the new chore, they’re going to notice your reaction to how they’re doing. As you help them make their bed for the first time, put napkins on the table, or empty the dishwasher, they will notice the look on our face.
There is a choice to be made right here. You can practice putting a smile on your face and in your voice when you’re coaching a child to be responsible. You might say, “Hey, I need your help in getting this trash out of here so that it’s healthier and safer for our family.” Then you’ll show them how to pull the drawstrings, make that bow, and carry the trash outside. When they get to do that chore for the first few times by themselves, remember Proverbs 15:30: “Bright eyes gladden the heart. Good news puts fat on the bone.”
Your child knows, before you ever encourage them with your words, what you’re really thinking about their attempt to be just like you. You may not say it verbally, but your eyes might be saying, “You’re doing that wrong.” A toss of your head might say, “What a waste of my time!” or “What a mess! Look at all the extra work I have to do.”
Non-verbals are a big part of the culture of responsibility you’re working on teaching them. It’s a choice we have in helping them to learn a new skill and how to take on that responsibility. We have an opportunity to encourage our children with bright eyes and good news, even as we help them to master a task for the tenth time.
Think about the incredible benefit of how this type of encouragement adds to, not subtracts from, their life. “Hey, you’re getting it! Way to go!” said with a smile creates that positive culture of responsibility.
And your child will have the confidence to know, “Yep, I am getting it!”
4. Responsibility Triples When There Is a Routine
Our two daughters aren’t perfect and were never perfect kids. No one is! But part of why they have become such responsible adults is because of my wife, Cindy, who built some incredibly helpful routines when they were young. Proverbs 22:6 tells us, “Train up a child in the way they should go.” We are to repeat things with our children by building a routine that is crafted based on their personality.
Cindy looked at each of our daughters and saw two very different people. One daughter’s routine after school was a snack, playtime, homework, dinner, TV, bath, prayers, and then bed. The other daughter’s routine was a snack, homework, dinner, playtime, TV, a bath, prayers, and bed. Each had her routine, which was linked to their personality and learning styles. It’s crucial to provide structure and routine for a child. A healthy culture of responsibility can (and should!) look different for each child.
5. Everyone Makes Mistakes, but Our Family Cleans Up Our Messes!
If you have a child, you know that messes are going to happen. For example, milk placed too close to the edge of the table spills. Trails of mud come inside the house because we’re hurrying to get out of the rain. One way to build a culture of responsibility is to link whatever you’re asking your child to do with your family’s name. For instance, you might repeatedly say things like, “Whoops! There goes the milk. Let me help you clean that up. Remember, everyone makes messes, but we’re the Smith family. We clean up our messes.” Insert your family’s name in this statement.
Imagine how many times you’re going to say something like that in a month or year. But keep saying it. Keep linking your family’s name—the Trent family, the Burr family, the Gigowski family—to that outcome that you’re looking to reinforce. Doing so will build who you are as a family into their hearts and minds—a family who is willing to step up and make things right.
6. Be Aware of Ways to Reinforce Responsibility
How many times have you seen a person who is young, healthy, and has no disability sticker on their car pull into a handicapped spot to run into the store? When you walk to the door of the store, be sure to make a point about what kind of culture your family carries with it. You might say, “Remember, we don’t park in disability spaces. Those are for people who need help walking. We can walk a little further so that we don’t take hurting people’s parking spaces.”
This same errand to the grocery store can be a lesson in showing your kids that your family doesn’t leave the shopping cart in the middle of the parking lot for someone else to push to the collection space. You can also make sure to say “thank you” to the people who bag the groceries before walking to the car. Teaching your kids responsibility in these ways can also nurture a servant’s heart in your children.
These six attitudes can help create a culture of responsibility in your family. They can supplement all of the other creative ideas about how to teach your child to embrace chores and be responsible. None of these ideas are formulas for complete success, but they are great ways to build a positive view of responsibility. Therefore, teaching these attitudes to your kids can strengthen their hearts, life, relationships, commitments, and faith for the rest of their lives.