David Coleman: 10 tips on how to help your child grow into a responsible adult

We all want responsible children who will grow up to be responsible adults. But what is the best way to achieve this? I believe responsibility is one of the core values that we need to try to instil in children.

When we think about responsibility, we usually think about two different aspects. We think about being responsible in the sense of being reliable, trustworthy and dependable.

We can also think about responsibility in the sense that we are liable to be called on to answer for our behaviour; we are liable to be praised or punished for what we do because we accept that we chose to carry out the behaviour.

So we consider a person to be responsible for a crime and therefore liable to be prosecuted.

Most children are quite happy to avoid responsibility. Indeed, it is a mark of true adulthood to be able to take full responsibility for our actions. So we don't expect children to be fully responsible all of the time.

We recognise that they will make mistakes, they will not be dependable and may not want to accept the consequences for their actions.

This is why we adults continue to set boundaries and guide their behaviour. For example, we don't leave a five-year-old child unattended with a block of ice cream because we know they are quite likely to keep eating to the point where they may make themselves sick.

So we serve up a portion of the ice cream and maybe give a tiny taste of seconds before putting the ice cream away. We do this because we recognise that children may not be able to plan ahead and may not realise the consequences of their behaviour.

Indeed, there is a physiological immaturity in the frontal lobes of the brain (the part that helps us to plan) that doesn't mature until our early 20s. It is no wonder that children and teenagers are irresponsible.

That doesn't mean, however, that we shouldn't bother trying to encourage and teach them to be responsible. And it's a value that we have to teach -- they won't just pick it up.

Similarly, we cannot rely on punishment to be our only method of showing children about the consequences of their actions.

Punishment may lead children to conform to a certain extent, but it will also leave them with an immature sense of responsibility.

They may not misbehave in order to avoid a punishment. That is qualitatively different to a child who doesn't misbehave because they know the behaviour is wrong.

So here are 10 ways to encourage children to be more responsible.


How responsible do we show ourselves to be in daily lives? For example, do you always keep your promises? Are you on time for things to which you have committed?

Do you procrastinate and put things off? Do you show full effort in tasks that you are responsible for?

While children won’t learn everything from watching us, they will still take their most significant lead from our behaviour.

It has been shown time and again that children will pay greater attention to what we do than what we say. So, if we are to promote the concept of being responsible, then we have to act consistently ourselves.


Our goal is to help children to learn to be responsible for its own sake, rather than to be simply responsive to the threat of punishment or the promise of a reward. Rewards and consequences do have their place in parenting, but should not be the only approach we take, especially if we want to help children to learn about responsibility.


Giving children small tasks that they are responsible for, which help the family, are a great way to allow children the experience of being responsible.

It also means they can learn what happens if they let others down by not doing their share. It may also give us the perfect platform to notice and praise their responsibility.


Children do need to learn from the mistakes that they make. For example, if your child loses a friend’s football, it may be tempting to just give them the money to replace it.

However, these are exactly the kinds of real-world situations that can give children a very powerful learning experience.

If parents are always willing and able to bail their children out of every sticky situation they find themselves in, they won’t learn to be responsible.


Like praising children’s completion of their chores, it really helps to be able to notice situations where your child does act responsibly and to talk about that with them, which may help them to repeat this behaviour again.


Dealing with money is a great learning arena for children. Even though the amounts may be very small, pocket money can be a great opportunity for children to learn about the value of things.

Spending pocket money is also an opportunity for children to make choices and decisions and to experience the consequences of those decisions.

So, if you are going to give your child pocket money, then allow them to spend it freely.

If you really don’t like what they spend it on, then perhaps give them less.


Clearly, it helps to encourage children to make choices and decisions as part of learning about being responsible. However, the greatest learning comes from reviewing the choices they made.

We should get them to look critically at choices that turned out badly and to think about what kind of choices they might make the next time.

This process of constructively reviewing the outcomes of decisions is a far more powerful way to teach a child than simply punishing them.


Doing things for others gives a great sense of respect and engenders a strong feeling of goodwill and positive well-being. Realising we have skills and abilities that can benefit others is another important learning experience for children.


When we see that children don’t seem to be able to do something, we can be tempted to rush in and take over to ensure the job gets finished right.

However, we sometimes need to take a deep breath and let our children veer off into situations that we don’t have complete control over.

We need to allow them to really get stuck into coping and dealing with things on their own.

In many situations, the sense of accomplishment and achievement that children can get far outweighs the potential dangers that may have existed.


Planning ahead is difficult for children, but they will never learn the skill unless they are given the opportunity and the encouragement to do so.

With small children, you may play timed games where they have to achieve a task (like putting on their shoes) within a certain time.

With older children, you might get them to think about things like how they will spend their time over a holiday break.

When goals are set and then worked towards (even if not fully achieved) children get the experience of committing to tasks and then working at achieving those tasks.

Pre-school » Parenting

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