5 Steps to Raising Responsible, Contributing Adults

5 Steps to Raising Responsible, Contributing Adults


Children who grow up in cooperative households—households where everyone pitches in—have the best chance of becoming responsible adults who appreciate what they have, empathize with others, and live as contributing citizens in their community and world. Make your own household cooperative while your children are still young, and you’ll also be investing in insurance against having to live with irresponsible, uncontrollable teenagers for ten years.

Children who are brought up to respect their home and its contents, and also to feel a sense of shared ownership, have both a vested and an emotional interest in protecting the family’s property from harm. By contrast, children who are constantly told they’re “not ready” to handle the dishes or vacuum cleaner, or are regularly excused from work because they “never do it right anyway,” or have no privacy in their own rooms because “we pay the mortgage here, not you,” or see toys and lamps automatically replaced when broken, with nothing asked on the “breaker’s” part—these are the kids who grow up without any sense of ownership toward their house or possessions, so why should they care if the utility bill soars or the rain blows in an open door or their friends wreck the house? Most of us know a neighbor who has gone out of town for one weekend and returned to find a scenario reminiscent of Risky Business: household cash flown to who knows where, half their property broken or missing and the other half scattered across the living room, multiple new dents in the car. That’s exactly what you’re inviting if you enable “it’s not my house, I just live here” attitudes in your children.

So how do you cultivate the opposite? Try this five-step approach.

  1. Determine what the child is developmentally ready to do—capably, not flawlessly. (Shady Oaks has an “Age Appropriate Chore List” available that may help you evaluate this point.)
  2. Demonstrate what is expected. Then clarify the child’s understanding by having them describe it in their own words.
  3. Dissect the task: list or diagram the individual steps. You may want to make a chart and post it in a handy location.
  4. Be Deliberate and consistent. Never micromanage a task or rush to the rescue at the first spill; let the child miss a few spots and do better next time. That’s how they develop a feeling of mastery and the self-confidence that goes with it.
  5. Develop a system of encouragement that speaks to your child. Validate them in ways they find personally meaningful. (The 5 Love Languages, by Gary Chapman, has some good ideas here.)

This five-step program can change the dynamics of your household in less than two weeks, once you make the decision to implement it fully. Follow the instructions, keep it up for life, and expect amazing results in the short run and the long!