In last week’s article I responded to a parent who desperately asked, “Dr. Cale, my kids are irresponsible. They won’t do anything I ask. And it just gets worse as they get older. What am I doing wrong?” I reviewed three key reasons that contribute to an increasing lack of responsibility in children and teens.

We teach entitlement when we don’t mean to.
We teach pretentiousness when we don’t mean to.
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 take more responsible action.

How to build responsible behavior in your home

Talk less…starting today.

For most who are struggling with irresponsible kids, you likely need to talk less, lecture less, and argue less. If you’re guilty of this, you know it’s not working. If it were going to work, then it would have worked. Talking (in any form) will not bring about responsible action in the irresponsible child.

Decide on three responsible behaviors you need to see.

What daily or weekly behaviors do you want to see? Make a short, simple list. For many parents, the essential responsibilities look something like this:

  • Do your homework without a battle
  • Pick up your room
  • Set the table

Require responsible action before getting the goodies they seek.

Have a written plan in place each day. Make sure the kids understand that nothing happens until they complete their responsibilities. 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 to get the rewards. This is the first step to eliminating the sense of entitlement.

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 pair of jeans, your kids will want 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 item they seek.

It will not work if they simply pull from a pile of cash given to them from the past. Why? No effort is in it. We need that effort – their effort – so they will gain a sense of appreciation for those new toys and goodies. In that effort, entitlement is destroyed.

Also, abandon the idea that because they ask you will give. It’s a bad game plan and teaches a false lesson.

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

Many of your kids will likely 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; 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 for the action, before getting those cherished goodies. Do this for 60 days, and watch the growth of responsibility as it naturally evolves.