I almost feel like I need to preface this whole post with something of a disclaimer because the information in this article is for informational purposes only and should not be considered as a prescription for your family. This is just what's working for our rather non-traditional one.
Because even having 8 children by birth plus 25 beautiful bonus "babies" does not make me an expert. Not by a long shot.
But I've certainly learned a few things along the way while mothering 33 children and it seems selfish not to share those learnings. Parenting is hard and it's one of those things that doesn't actually get easier as the kids get older, it just gets different. So here are some of my favorite ways to help kids assume responsibility using a positive, encouraging approach.
Hold them accountable by giving them something to work toward. With our kids, we've struggled getting them to keep their rooms clean. And in Thailand, everyone removes their shoes before entering the house and kids just naturally kick them off, or oftentimes they'll even fling them off. So maintaining tidiness, inside and outside, has been an uphill battle and we finally decided to get creative since all our other ideas were bombing. We made up a checklist which you can grab here if you want it for ideas to customize one that works for your family.
We put this on the inside of each bedroom door so the children all know exactly what is expected of them and they can clearly see a written reminder. Each task has a 5 point value assigned to it and they can earn anywhere from zero to the full five points for every item. There is a total of 65 points available and we score them at around 7:30 each morning and then we leave the paper, with their score for the day, inside their respective rooms. The days are tallied to reveal the weekly total and the room with the highest score receives a small treat. This is competitive but mostly just with your own room to try to ensure you're receiving all possible points because there is no limit to how many winners there can be. This is one of those times where everyone really can get a "trophy" and it's totally legit.
Obviously, we run a home for at-risk children and so we have 5 rooms participating each week, but this could just as easily be adapted for even one or two children. If you have an "only child" you could just set a marker where if they score at or above, they receive whatever it is that you're using as positive reinforcement. It could be a special outing, a little food treat, a walk to the park or whatever small thing will keep your child/ren motivated. Anything too big becomes unsustainable and also will easily teeter over into a bribe. Rewarding good behavior and responsible choices is healthy; bribing to elicit a short-term positive response, however, always backfires.
Have clearly assigned tasks and consistent deadlines. We tried for many months, which ultimately turned into several years, to just tell them what to do, without being very specific. Clean your room is totally different than Make your bed, Clean up the trash, Put your clothes away, and Sweep the floor. One is more subjective while the other defines what your view of clean looks like. I promise you, this makes all the difference. Especially when dealing with kids you haven't raised from the beginning ... or if you're just getting a late start in holding your biological children accountable ... it helps to ensure they know exactly what you expect and when and why. If you tell them to take out the trash each morning but you don't let them know when it needs to be done by, you'll find the taking out of that trash remains a monkey on your back and you'll always have to be reminding them. But if you give them a concrete You need to take the trash out before breakfast each morning, it's easy for you to check if it's been done and they'll quickly learn it's their task to see to without you reminding them.
Avoid the herd mentality. This can creep in several different ways. One is to say you expect the same things from every child, without consideration for age variance. I think this is the less common ditch parents fall into. Far more often it's that we (consciously or unconsciously) assign a leader, or leaders, of the herd and have them do all the work. It's easier to have older kids tend to tasks because it's simpler for them, while it takes time and patience to teach a younger child to be responsible. One example for us is that following each meal, all the children tall enough to reach the faucet using a stool are required to wash their own dinnerware. This includes our tiniest girl who is only 3. She's a crafty one, though, and all evidence points to the reality that she'd never been made to do any type of "work" before we found her. She tries to get any or everyone to pity her smallness and do the washing for her. But being held accountable is showing her she has value beyond just looking cute and having her cheeks lovingly pinched. She's slowly learning she's part of a team where every member does their part and even though she may not always like it, that gives her stability and security. That being said, she isn't expected to do bigger, more challenging tasks that would only set her up for failure and us for frustration. Expectations are tempered by staying in tune with what's appropriate for each age and stage.
Work alongside your children. This probably should have been listed first because aside from prayer, I think it's the most important aspect to teaching responsibility. If you shove all the household chores off onto your kids while you watch YouTube or scroll on your phone, you may get a clean house for awhile, but you'll also find you have children with a pretty stiff grudge. They need to be working members of the family, not simply agents of production. Kids can sniff a hypocrite with a single whiff so make sure you're not suiting up as one. Yes, parents have adult responsibilities to tend to like earning an income but the average child has juvenile responsibilities like school. Resist the temptation to go tit-for-tat with your kids and instead make a plan where things are divided out in a way that gives everyone the experience and opportunity they need to grow, without overwhelming them. When they see you cheerfully, willingly, and dutifully completing your tasks, they're learning to do the same. Model for them what you want them to do rather than simply telling them.
Talk to them about why we keep order, complete tasks, and maintain structure. Take them to the Bible and point them to the life of Jesus. Show them how He created the world in perfect order, so that nothing was created before that which was required to sustain it. Talk to them about how faithful He was to the work God had given Him, even when He must surely have been worn from the demand. Walk with them to the tomb where He folded His grave clothes before exiting that resurrection morning. Show them the Proverbs that talk about how the lazy man won't be "fed": The sluggard will not plow by reason of the cold; therefore shall he beg in harvest, and have nothing. Proverbs 20:4. Teach them early and often that it's by repeatedly making the choice to be faithful that we cultivate the habit, which also brings us peace and joy.
Affirm them when they do a job well and without prompting but don't lavish them with praise to the point that they feel you didn't expect them to perform so well. As they learn that you DO expect them to succeed, they'll glow in the warmth of the confidence you have in them. A quick high-five or hug with a word of reminder that you value what they bring to the table is plenty to keep most children motivated. And the ones it's not enough for don't need more elaborate accolades; they need a parent who's attentive to where the breakdown in relationship is so it can be repaired. Because a lazy or belligerent child, aside from one with special needs, is generally an indicator that there's a relational breech somewhere and it needs to be fixed without delay.
What can you add? What's worked for you?