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Teach Kids Responsibility

Teach Kids Responsibility (1)

Kids make messes. Parents ask and ask (and it really sounds like nagging) their kids to take responsibility for their things and it seems like it is hard to come up with a strategy that works. At Connected Families, we believe that there is a gift behind every misbehavior. It’s true! It might be hard to see how your kids’ messiness could be a gift, but with intentionality, and a change in perspective, both parent and child can often come to a solution that eliminates the nagging and encourages the child in her gifts.

I worked with a family recently that came up with a very practical suggestion for helping kids manage their messes, and it seemed to work. Read the following to spur your own ideas for helping your children through a particularly challenging behavior. Whether it is a messy bedroom, messy entryway, missed or lost homework, forgotten chores– consider how you might adapt this family’s solution to your own special circumstances.

The Challenge:

Emma is one of those sunny, lively kids that spreads joy and laughter wherever she goes, along with  a trail of mess–a testimony to her creativity (the gift she has). Since Emma has a sister who shares the art supplies, it was difficult to enforce consequences like putting the mess/supplies into a timeout for a few days.  Each of the girls were perpetually waiting for the other one to clean up after the supplies had been used. The old adage, “If everyone’s responsible, no one’s responsible” applied well to this situation.

Emma’s mom, Sarah, was discouraged. All her well-intentioned solutions seemed to decompose into negativity and nagging.

The Strategy:

During a parent coaching session, we developed a simple strategy that would build Emma’s sense of personal responsibility for her things. The first step? Mom decided to get each girl her own box with a selection of art and craft supplies. Then, they would be in charge of their own items and would be held accountable if they didn’t put things away.  

Both girls liked the idea and they made a special outing of going to the store with Mom to get the supplies. They had fun decorating their own boxes and at the same time increased their pride of ownership and commitment to the plan.

Some Guidelines That Worked:

Once complete, they discussed some clear guidelines about taking care of their own things:

  • The girls would get their own box out (not just a few supplies) and keep the box near them while working. The box would serve as a visual cue/reminder to put things away when they were done and set the girls up for success.  
  • When the girls had packed up their supplies and returned the box to the designated shelf, then they would give a high-five to mom or dad to celebrate their success and let their parent know that they had completed the task. This is the “secret sauce” that makes this approach a “recipe for success.” A simple check-in (like a high-five) works because it builds confidence and identity as someone learning to be responsible for their things.
  • Occasionally, Sarah would talk about what a valuable skill the girls were learning, and how the ability to clean up well would really help them someday when they were older. 


Though it wasn’t always perfect, this approach replaced the discouraging nagging pattern with encouragement and success!

The girls were so encouraged with the change, that they worked on the overwhelming mess in their rooms. Their mom helped them pair down the amount of possessions they had, and then organize what was left in special containers. Because of their previous success with their art supplies, they usually were able to get out a container, play with it and put it back before moving on to the next thing. The girls were so proud of how clean their rooms looked that they excitedly showed their grandma the next time she came over for dinner!

My Response:

So maybe messiness isn’t a challenge you have.

  • What is an issue about which you find yourself nagging your child?
  • How could you short-circuit your nagging with a structure that –
    • Builds a sense of ownership of the problem and solution
    • Sets kids up for success and celebrates that success
    • Helps kids see the value in what they are learning
  • Let us know your struggles and success stories in the comments below!

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Lynne Jackson
Lynne Jackson
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