Ask the Experts: Teaching Responsibility - MetroFamily Magazine
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Ask the Experts: Teaching Responsibility

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We asked local experts to weigh in on their tips for teaching responsibility.

To find more answers to other common parenting questions, check out our collection of Ask the Experts.

Dr. Lisa L. Marotta: Imagine that you had a boss who reminded you of your daily tasks . . . all day long. Pinocchio* had Jiminy Cricket and we all know how well that turned out. Reminding (a.k.a. nagging) is an ineffective technique because true responsibility is an internal ownership. The goal is empowering your child to develop his own system for keeping track of things. My “Love and Logic” training influenced both my parenting and my practice through celebrating mistakes. Although we would like to pretend otherwise, even in adulthood, much of our success is learning through mistakes. Next time you are tempted to Jiminy Cricket your precious Pinocchio remember these four “Love and Logic” steps to responsibility:

1. Give your child a task he can handle. “You are in charge of your mittens today.”
2. Show empathy and allow natural consequences to do the teaching. “I’m sorry you were cold. How will you remember them tomorrow?”
3. Give the task again.
4. Repeat the steps as often as necessary with patience and optimism.

Loving your child through mistakes is the best way to help him become a real responsible boy. I used the male gender to keep consistent with the fable; all children need help in learning responsibility.

Dr. Lisa L. Marotta is celebrating 22 years of private practice. She is a clinical psychologist in Edmond with a special heart for women, children and families. Dr. Marotta enjoys writing, public speaking and blogging. She and her husband Sal have two young adult daughters.  

Trudy Ruminer: As a parent of a child who is organizationally challenged, investing in a $30 label-maker may be the best money ever spent and could quickly become you and your child’s new best friend. This is a fun way to get your child involved in becoming more organized and taking ownership of his/her personal items. The idea is to help your child come up with practical, logical and convenient locations to store their personal belongings and then label as many of those places as humanly possible. Designate certain types of colors of personal items if you have more than one child, especially if they’re of the same gender, is another great way to help children recognize and take ownership over their items. Monogramming or labeling identifying names, initials, or symbols on as many of your child’s items as possible is another great way to instill pride in ownership. Lastly, and least popular among the kiddos, is learning through the ole’ school of hard knocks. However, as parents, it’s often difficult to resist the all alluring temptation to swoop in and rescue our children.

Trudy Ruminer is a licensed clinical social worker and the clinical director and owner of True North Therapeutic Solutions, an outpatient mental health agency in Oklahoma City. Trudy is mother to four adult children and the proud grandmother to one. She draws her knowledge not only from her own personal parenting experiences, but also from her years of experience working closely with families. 

Dr. Anne K. Jacobs: It seems people tend to fall into two general categories, those who seldom misplace their belongings and those who seldom manage to track their belongings. These two different types of people often share the same home. The first task is to allow some grace, a buffer for our individual differences and realize losing things does not mean a person is ungrateful or has some sort of character deficit. That being said, it is important to help children grow to be as responsible as they can:
• Help children create an organizational system, plan where objects go when not in use and do not allow kids to move on to other projects without cleaning up items from the first.
• Prompt your children to say what they need to remember. We have more success in my house when I ask, “What do you need to remember to bring home today?” instead of directing.
• Plan for the consequences while the stakes are low. Commiserating with children over a lost toy that will not magically be replaced is difficult but easier than the pain they will feel when they lose a crucial assignment. As children develop their organizational skills and become more responsible, they will still need your help and reminders to an extent that fits their age or needs.

Anne K. Jacobs earned her Ph.D. in Clinical Child Psychology from the University of Kansas and enjoys serving children, adolescents and their families. In addition to her private practice in Edmond, she holds an adjunct faculty position at Southern Nazarene University. Her family includes: husband, Noel who is also a child psychologist; twin daughters, Keegan and Sarah; one dog, two cats, and five tarantulas. 

Madison Clark: Unfortunately losing items, especially for young children, is just a part of development! Children are so caught up in playing or going to the next thing, they set something down carelessly and have no idea where it is when they need it later. Accepting that fact is the first step, but there are some things you can do to help them be more responsible. Have you ever walked into a really well-organized classroom? I’ve had the privilege of working with a number of wonderful teachers over the years and I take this tip from them. Make sure there is a specific home for everything and label things in a way that makes sense to your child. For example, a 3-year-old who cannot read will need carefully organized bins with pictures of the contents on the front of each, but a 7-year-old will do just fine with word labels. If your home is not organized in a way that is obvious to your child, things will wander all over the house. A well-organized home sets children up for success in being responsible for their things. I think of myself as a pretty organized person, but I still lose my keys from time to time or find my phone in the pantry, so I know as well as anyone that losing things is just a part of life!

Madison Clark is a licensed professional counselor and registered play therapist in private practice in Norman. She specializes in working with families with young children, ages 0-6. She has extensive training in play therapy and enjoys watching parents connect with their children through play. 



Tamara Walker:

Kids are notorious for misplacing, forgetting and losing items. It can be a challenge to teach your kids how to be responsible for their belongings but it is an important lesson to learn.

Help your child learn where items belong when they are not in use. Having a set location for your kid’s belongings will help him get in the habit of putting his items where they belong when he is not using them. If they are always kept in their proper spots, there won’t be the frantic rush to search for them when he needs them. For example, having a “launch pad” for each child can help keep everything together needed for school or extra-curricular activities. Set up an area in your home where backpacks, lunch boxes and other items needed for school are kept together for easy accessibility in the mornings.

Tamara Walker, R.N. shares her family expertise at and Ask MomRN Show, a weekly online talk show featuring family/parenting, health and family entertainment topics with well-known experts, authors, and celebrity guests. Tamara is a mom of two young adults. She lives with her husband in Edmond. 

Greg Gunn: Reinforce good behavior by acknowledging your child every once in a while for being responsible and reward for good character. One family I know calls this “attitude bucks.” Instill an ownership of their things early on and do not reward bad behavior by always replacing items broken or lost that direct blatant irresponsibility caused. Of course, accidents and mishaps happen to children just like they happen to adults and should be dealt with differently. In fact, kindness and understanding should prevail. Have the child earn money by extra chores to pay for items he loses or breaks by being irresponsible and use these times to build the relationship with your child..

Greg Gunn, founder of Family-iD, is a life coach, pastor, author and speaker from Oklahoma City. Married for 30 years, Greg is a father of seven kids, a father-in-law and a grandfather of two. For 17 years, Greg has led Family Vision Ministries, a ministry that helps families put their purpose on paper and pass it on to future generations. 


To find more answers to other common parenting questions, check out our collection of Ask the Experts.

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