It’s a story all too familiar to most parents. Your kids promised that if you got them a dog, they’d always feed him—and two months later, you’re the one refilling his dish every day. Or the beds are left unmade, the homework undone, the table uncleared, the house strewn with unpicked-up-toys—you name it. After all you’ve done to teach your kids to value responsibility, it seems that every promise they make comes with an unspoken “provided it’s not too much trouble.”

Cute Dog and empty bowl. Hungry dog waiting for food. Flat design

The standard approaches of nagging, yelling, and grounding don’t do much to improve your family relationships or your kids’ attitude toward keeping their word. So if your household has problems with people not taking responsibility seriously enough, here are some better techniques for bringing about change.

Remember Everyone’s Entitled to a Few Mistakes

There’s a difference between forgetting to clean up once in a while and being chronically lazy. Keep your reminders gentle if:

  • This involves a job someone started less than two weeks ago. They’re probably still on the learning curve.
  • They’ve been handling the responsibility for some time, and this is the first incident of neglect (or the first one in months). Everyone has an occasional off day.
  • There are extenuating circumstances. Sounds obvious, but many parents get too busy venting their anger to even consider listening to any explanation.
llustration of a Family Doing Some Spring Cleaning
Most kids will willingly make amends once they feel they’re respected even when they’re wrong.

Swallow the “You’re Always Irresponsible” Remarks

Even if the problem is recurring, venting anger is a bad idea. Once someone’s self-defense instinct is triggered, chance of reasonable resolution is next to nil. Stick to the facts and be honest about your own feelings while staying considerate of the other party. One very effective approach is to ask the perpetrator how he thinks the situation should be remedied; most kids will willingly make amends once they feel they’re respected even when they’re wrong.


Don’t Just Ignore It

The opposite extreme to making a scene is acting as though the promise never existed. This is a common problem with regular chores: parents, seeing something repeatedly left undone, resign themselves to doing it personally because they “get sick and tired of reminding the kids to do it.” While it may feel that you’ll be calling the kids back every day for the rest of your life, if you stick it out and avoid picking fights they’ll be doing their jobs automatically sooner than you think—and the extra time invested now will save you months and years of stewing in resentment.

Illustration of a boy in a bathroom

If gentle reminders aren’t enough, try the “logical consequences” approach:

  • If the dog is kept waiting for dinner, so is the official dog-feeder.
  • If Mom has to take the trash out, the official trash-emptier does one of Mom’s chores.
  • If toys are left on the couch, they get confiscated for the next week.

If toys are scattered around the owner’s room, though, go ahead and ignore it. Most “clean your room” and “make your bed” arguments are unnecessary; assuming no actual health-and-safety hazards exist, it’s fine to let everyone set his own standards of neatness for his own quarters. Requiring responsibility and dependability in communal matters is enough to help kids grow up with a responsible mindset in all aspects of life.