7 Ways to Teach Responsibility

Responsible behaviors take years to develop and are the product of consistent expectations and purposeful planning.

Teaching responsibility begins in infancy and moves into the toddler years as caregivers teach children to pick up their toys and care for their belongings.  In preschool, other ways to help around the house or in the community become more evident like picking up trash or planting flowers.   As children become more aware of how their attitudes and actions affect others, they begin to learn personal responsibility or responsibility demonstrated through their behaviors and responses to others.  Finally, children gain a more global understanding and begin to consider more global responsibilities like how to conserve energy, how to care for others, and how to make decisions with the larger picture in mind.

This month, the children at Stepping Stone School will learn about responsibility as a part of our Kindness & Empathy™ curriculum.  Teachers will engage children in focused activities and discussions about different types of responsibility and how to identify responsibility in its many forms.  At home, families may practice this important character trait by attempting several of the following activities:

  1. Model responsibility. Show up for events on time and honor the promises you make. Children will learn that responsible people are also reliable people, people they can trust. Demonstrate responsibility in your actions and then talk to your children about the things you do as a responsible adult.  Talk to them about why you clean up after yourself, why you go to work, and how they can be helpful and responsible at home.
  2. Let them help you (even if it means it will take longer). Young children want to help, but sometimes it feels like their “help” brings about more work in the end. Try breaking larger tasks down into smaller pieces so children can be successful. Allowing children to “help” early on, associates positive thoughts and attitudes to those tasks which means children are less resistant to completing them in the future.  Consider following a chores-by-age guideline like this: https://childdevelopmentinfo.com/chores/the-ultimate-list-of-age-appropriate-chores/
  3. Provide routines to develop responsible behaviors: A large part of teaching responsibility is teaching routines and establishing habits of responsible behavior. Consider using a morning checklist or a visual chart to support children as they are learning what they need to do to get ready in the morning.  As children practice getting themselves dressed, putting dirty clothes in the hamper or clearing their dishes after a meal, they are learning good habits for responsible living.  In addition, consistently referring to the checklist or chart as your child is learning new routines supports the development of independence.
  4. Resist Rewarding Responsible Actions. There may be certain daily tasks you expect your child do because he is a member of the family like picking up his toys and making his bed.  These are the daily tasks which teach responsibility and should not be rewarded.  However, there may be additional chores for which your family considers rewarding for the completion of those tasks.  When applicable, consider a monetary reward with the intention of teaching fiscal responsibility.  In this way, you may also help children recognize the value of an item based on the amount of time they worked to receive that item.
  5. Manage expectations. When asking your four-year-old to make his bed, keep in mind it may not be perfect, but the important thing is that he is learning to take care of his belongings and helping around the home. Be patient and realistic.  Adjust the task depending on the age and ability of the child.  Many chores can be broken down into smaller parts or adapted so younger children can be successful.  Remember that your toddler may very well drop a dish or two as he helps clear the table.  Consider using plastic dishes for a time so that he is not in danger of breaking anything as he attempts to learn this skill.
  6. Teach consequences. In the likelihood that your child is ever irresponsible, consider allowing her to deal with the consequences. For example, a child neglecting to do her summer reading and book report is more likely to take responsibility for her own actions in the future, if her parent does not “bail her out” now.  It may be a very difficult lesson for your child to learn, but through loving guidance and consistency, she will learn it.
  7. Read books about responsibility: Books like, The Way I Act by Steve Metzger and What if Everybody did Thatby Ellen Javernick feature characters acting or not acting responsibly. These books provide a foundation for discussions about responsible behaviors. For additional books about responsibility go to: https://talkingtreebooks.com/best-character-education-resources/books-responsibility.html

Responsibility can be taught as it is intertwined into daily routines and follow-through.  Responsible behaviors are found present where expectations are set high.


Benson, H. (2010). “First Lessons in Responsibility for Toddlers” Retrieved from https://www.parentmap.com/article/firstlessonsinresponsibility

Friedman, A. (2013). “9 Tips for Teaching Kids Responsibility.” Retrieved from https://www.care.com/a/9-tips-for-teaching-kids-responsibility-1303120948

Stamps, L. (2006, Aug 28). “Responsibility: Raising Children You Can Depend On.” Retrieved from  https://tip.duke.edu/node/745

The Parent-Child Program (2008, Feb. 29). “Teaching Young Children Responsibility.”  Retrieved from http://www.education.com/reference/article/Ref_Teaching_2/


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