In last weeks’ article, I responded to several emails recently where parents are concerned about their irresponsible children. I reviewed three reasons that contribute to an increasing absence of responsibility in children and teens. While the details can be found in last week’s article, here are the key points:

  1. We teach entitlement, when we don’t mean to.
  2. We do not teach the habit of responsibility, although we intend to.
  3. We talk too much and require little action.

Rather than more talk about how we got here, today’s article is about making a change. These changes, if consistent over time, will teach children to more responsible action.

The biggest stumbling block will be one simple thing: a lack or resolve that you can do this. I affirm to you now: you CAN do this. You CAN make these changes. You CAN turn things around. Don’t make it complex; instead keep to these simple starting points and watch things change (after some drama from your kids about how horrible you are, and how no one else has to do these things).

How to Build Responsible Behavior in Your Home

1. Talk less…starting today.

For most who are struggling with irresponsible kids, you likely need to talk less, lecture less and argue less. It isn’t working. It’s not going to work.

If it were going to work, then it would have worked. So essentially, talking (in any form) will not bring about responsible action in the irresponsible child.

2. on three responsible behaviors you need to see.

What daily or weekly behaviors do you want to see? Make a short, simple list. This will be their daily ‘work’ list. For many parents, the essential summer responsibilities might read something like this:

  • Get up by 8 am and pick up your room
  • Complete specific academic building task (like a math worksheet, for example)
  • Household chores (listed out daily)

3. Require responsible action before getting the goodies they seek.

Each day have the written ‘work’ plan developed in advance. Make sure the kids understand, that nothing happens until they complete their responsibilities. Absolutely nothing…until the work is done.

They will ask for exceptions. They will beg for leniency. They will plead to let them off the hook today. Don’t do it.

In this way, they learn that effort is required in order to get the rewards. This is the first step to eliminating the sense of entitlement.

4. When they want something new, start allowing them to have skin in the game.

Whether it’s a new phone, a new game, or a new set of sneaks, your kids will be wanting something soon. When they do, construct a plan for your kids to earn a portion. In other words, set up simple formulas where they do some extra chores, help out on Saturdays or mow the lawn at grandma’s house to earn cash that goes toward the ‘goodie’ they want.

Make sure you can easily show them how this works, and how you will match their savings with your contribution. In others words, make it a simple visual chart that they can understand. They need to ‘see’ how their efforts will add up to earn the new goodie they seek.

If instead they simply pull from a pile of cash given to them from the past, this will not likely work. Why? No effort is in it. We need THEIR effort to be part of this. That’s where they will have meaningful ‘skin in the game’ and begin to appreciate those goodies. Remember this: in that effort, entitlement is destroyed.

5. Don’t engage the complaints, the negativity and the disrespect.

For many of you, your kids will throw a fit. Let them. Let them complain, whine and get upset.

Just don’t engage them during the complaints or change the game plan. Simply require action, before they get their daily rewards. When you expect them to resist and complain, then it’s easier to walk away.

Remember action is key. Your action will be setting up the plan, requiring effort on their part before getting their goodies, and never caving in or getting soft. You have to expect that they will want the easy path. They will want a way out.

To build responsible children, you must require responsible action. You can’t do this with words. You can only do it by holding them accountable to the action, before getting those cherished goodies. Do this for the summer and watch the growth of responsibility as it naturally evolves.