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Keys to Family Happiness

Raising Responsible Children

Raising Responsible Children

George: * “Every evening followed the same routine. Michael, my four-year-old son, left his toys scattered all around the house. I tried to make him clean up before putting him to bed. But Michael would become hysterical, screaming and carrying on. Sometimes I got so frustrated that I yelled at him, but that only made us both feel terrible. I wanted bedtime to be a happy time. So I gave up trying and just cleaned up the mess myself.”

Emily: “The trouble began when my 13-year-old daughter, Jenny, had difficulty understanding her teacher’s requirements for a school assignment. Jenny cried for an hour when she came home from school. I encouraged her to ask for help at school, but Jenny insisted that her teacher was mean, so she didn’t dare speak to her. I was tempted to march right down to the school and tell the teacher exactly what I thought of her. I felt that no one had the right to make my baby so unhappy!”

CAN you relate to George and Emily? Like those parents, many find it difficult to watch a child struggle with a problem or be unhappy. It is only natural that parents try to protect their children. However, the situations described above actually presented an opportunity for those parents to teach their child a valuable lesson in responsibility. Of course, the lessons a 4-year-old and a 13-year-old can learn will be different.

The truth is, though, you will not always be there to shield your child from life’s challenges. Eventually, a child will leave his father and mother and “carry his own load” of responsibility. (Galatians 6:5; Genesis 2:24) To enable children to fend for themselves, parents must stay focused on the goal of teaching them to become unselfish, caring, responsible adults. That is no easy task!

Fortunately, parents have a wonderful role model in Jesus and the way he dealt with his disciples. Jesus was not a literal parent. But his goal in choosing and training his disciples was to empower them to carry on the work, even after he was gone. (Matthew 28:19, 20) What Jesus accomplished is similar to the goal each parent hopes to reach in raising responsible children. Consider just three aspects of the example Jesus set for parents.

“Set the Pattern” for Your Child

Close to the end of his life, Jesus said to his disciples: “I set the pattern for you, that, just as I did to you, you should do also.” (John 13:15) Likewise, parents need to explain and show by example exactly what it means to be responsible.

Ask yourself: ‘Do I frequently speak about taking care of my own responsibilities in a positive way? Do I talk about the satisfaction that I receive from working hard for others? Or do I often complain and compare myself to those who seem to have an easier life?’

Granted, nobody is perfect. All of us feel overburdened at times. But your example is probably the most powerful way to help your children to see the importance and value of responsible behavior.

TRY THIS: If possible, occasionally take your child with you to work and show him or her what you do to support the family financially. Engage in volunteer work where your child can accompany you. Afterward, discuss the pleasure you received from caring for that responsibility.​—Acts 20:35.

Have Reasonable Expectations

Jesus recognized that it would take time before his disciples would be ready to assume the roles and responsibilities he was expecting of them. He once said to them: “I have many things yet to say to you, but you are not able to bear them at present.” (John 16:12) Jesus did not immediately ask his disciples to do anything independent of him. Rather, he spent much time teaching them many things. Only when he thought they were ready did Jesus send his disciples out on their own.

Similarly, it is unreasonable for parents to ask children to assume adult responsibilities before they are ready. Even so, as children grow, parents should determine what assignments and tasks are appropriate for them. For example, parents need to teach their children to be responsible for their own personal cleanliness, to clean their room, to be punctual, and to manage money wisely. When a child begins school, parents should expect the child to view his or her schoolwork as an important responsibility that the child must care for.

Parents need to do more than just assign responsibilities to their child. They must also support the child’s efforts to succeed. George, the father mentioned earlier, realized that part of the reason Michael became so upset about putting away his toys was that the task seemed overwhelming. “Instead of just yelling at Michael to pick up his toys,” says George, “I tried teaching him a system for getting the work done.”

What specifically did he do? “First,” says George, “I established a set time to pick up the toys each night. Then, I worked along with Michael, doing one section of the room at a time. I made a game of the task, even turning it into a contest to see who could work the fastest. Soon, the process became part of the bedtime routine. I promised Michael that if he did the job quickly, I would read an extra bedtime story to him. But if he dawdled, then story-time would be cut short.”

TRY THIS: Analyze what each of your children could reasonably be expected to do that would contribute to the smooth running of your household. Ask yourself, ‘Are there things that I am still doing for my children that they could do for themselves?’ If so, work with your children until you are sure that they can handle the assignment on their own. Make it clear that there will be consequences, either good or bad, depending on how well the children care for their assigned task. Then, either enforce the consequences or grant the rewards.

Provide Specific Instruction

Jesus, like every good teacher, knew that the best way to learn is by doing. For example, when Jesus felt that the time was right, he sent his disciples out “by twos in advance of him into every city and place to which he himself was going to come.” (Luke 10:1) However, he did not simply leave them to their own devices. Before sending them out, he gave them very specific instructions. (Luke 10:2-12) When the disciples returned and reported on their success, Jesus commended and encouraged them. (Luke 10:17-24) He expressed both his confidence in their abilities and his approval.

When your children face challenging responsibilities, how do you react? Do you seek to shield your children from the things they fear, to protect them from disappointment and failure? Your first instinct may be to “rescue” your child or to take the burden upon yourself.

But consider: Every time you rush in and “save” your children in some manner, what kind of message are you sending? Are you indicating that you have confidence in them and believe in their abilities? Or are you telling them that you still think of them as helpless infants who must rely upon you for everything?

For example, how did Emily, mentioned earlier, deal with her daughter’s dilemma? Instead of interfering, she decided to let Jenny deal directly with the teacher. Together, Emily and Jenny wrote out a list of questions for Jenny to take to school. Then they discussed when to approach the teacher. They even rehearsed the way the conversation might go. “Jenny mustered up courage to approach her teacher,” says Emily, “and her teacher commended her for her initiative. Jenny was so proud of herself​—and I was proud of her too.”

TRY THIS: Write down a current challenge your child faces. Next to the challenge, write down what you could do to help your child meet the challenge without “rescuing” him or her. Rehearse with your child the steps necessary to overcome the challenge. Express your confidence in the child’s ability.

If you forever shield your children from difficulty, you may, in fact, stunt their ability to take on life’s challenges. Instead, strengthen your children by raising them to accept responsibility. Doing so will be one of the most valuable gifts you can give them.

^ par. 3 Names have been changed.


  • Do I have realistic expectations of my children?

  • Do I both tell them and show them what they need to do to succeed?

  • When was the last time that I encouraged or commended my child?