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How To Teach a Child to be Responsible

Updated on June 29, 2016

If your child could verbalize what she or he is thinking as they first learn about

behaving...'being a good girl or a good boy'...would they say?

"Give me the tools.

Teach me how to control my actions.

Teach me to filter things I say.

Help me know that I do not need to say publicly EVERYTHING I am thinking.

Teach me about kindness.

Teach me about fairness.

Teach me to love.

Teach me to never inflict physical or emotional injury on any other person or on any animal."


One of the single most difficult issues that a parent or teacher faces is in the area of behavior management. How to discipline children is an age old concern that no one has T H E answer to because there is no one answer.

Teaching children to be self-disciplined is a learning process for you as well as for the children. You will find that even though you decide to use a definite approach you may learn that over time you need to revise and adjust it. Be flexible and willing to adjust if you find that what you have chosen to use is not working. You can usually avoid having to revise your approach if you carefully think it through. But sometimes a method just does not work. Rather than allow chaos to occur, ask for suggestions from others who seem to have no issues in this area as soon as you find your plan is not successful.

Selecting a plan to follow is difficult because there are so many different theories and beliefs on how to discipline. My suggestion is this:

  • Choose a plan that works for you and your family. (Or, for the classroom)
  • The plan may be one you have devised and have had success with over the years
  • If it is a plan someone else has devised, thoroughly review it and feel comfortable with it before you begin to use it. Tweak it so that it belongs to your family.
  • Talk with someone who has used the plan and hear the up side and the down side to the plan.
  • Teach children to be self disciplined.

Brothers Learn From Each Other


This video's tips is not just for toddlers.

  • Following through on what the consequences will be …positive or negative is often not consistently practiced.

If you have failed to follow through, you are probably in the company of others who have not done so. Failure to follow through is deadly to managing behavior. Equally as deadly is behavior plan hopping.

In some cases, a plan will sound like it will work. If it does not produce desired results readily, it is given up and something new is tried. Plan after plan is tried. That leads to confusion for children. They need to know what is expected and they need to know that what is expected is the same every day.

Before you begin trying to implement a new discipline strategy, be sure you have thought it through carefully especially when it comes to consequences. Once you have settled on a plan, be prepared to follow through on whatever you have promised will occur of a negative or positive nature.

Be certain you know what the consequences and rewards will be before you begin and do not say that something will happen positive or negative. if you already know you will not follow through. One of the main ways a discipline strategy fails is that it is not followed through fairly or consistently

Address the act and not the child when children need correction. Children need to know they have made a poor choice and that is why you are displeased.

You will also want to: be firm, be fair, be consistent. If you do so, you will find that children learn to be self disciplined and you will continue to learn ways that you may wish to improve whatever plan you have decided to use.


Be certain that everyone knows what is expected. If you are a teacher, the first day you will wish to explain the expectations for children while they are at school. When I was teaching, that was the first day's main focus. Children left my room knowing what was expected. A letter went home to their parents to be signed and returned explaining those expectations. They were reviewed and reviewed and reviewed until they became second nature. We kept it simple and the rules were brainstormed together.

  • Respect others, their property, and school property..
  • Listen when someone is speaking.
  • Follow directions the first time
  • Stay seated unless permission has been given to move around.

Because the expectations were decided together, children felt they had ownership in them. They were their rules, not mine.

You can do something similar to this at home. Sit down with your family and decide what expectations will help the home run efficiently and harmoniously. Keep the list short, no more than four or five. Post them.

Charts can be helpful


Little ones sometimes like to keep track of how their day went.

You can laminate these and reuse them. Dry erase markers can be used so they can be erased.
You can laminate these and reuse them. Dry erase markers can be used so they can be erased. | Source

Own your behavior

Teach children to be self disciplined. Most of the behavior management is turned over to the children when they are taught to be self-disciplined.They learn to own their behavior and decisions.

It is really about making wise choices. Even your prek children can be taught to make wise choices Whether they want to make them or not is something that takes tweaking.

Have discussions with your children about making wise choices. Give scenarios and ask them what a wise choice would be to solve the problem.

This is a process that takes frequent revisiting and follow up. When a child makes a poor choice after the whole issue is solved, discuss how the outcome could have changed if a wise choice had been made.

Your children will talk about making wise choices, if you use this technique. It is one you can use at home and at school.

Parenting for thought

Try these keys


Problem solving

Be certain that everyone knows and understands the expectations. Be certain they are clear to everyone. Tell children what it means to problem solve. Give several examples and ask volunteers to give ways to problem solve.

Later, if a child comes and asks you about something you have gone over thoroughly and the child was not paying attention, tell them to problem solve it. They will find a way to solve their problem. It is okay to have siblings or classmates help them solve the problem. An example of this in the classroom would be this:

Pencils were kept around the room in baskets when I was a teacher. When a pencil lead broke, children got up, quietly got a new one, placed the one with the broken lead in the basket pointed end down, and returned to work.

Once in a while a child would come up to me in the middle of a group lesson and say they needed a pencil. I would say: problem solve it.

Simple techniques like this caused children to pay attention and to do more for themselves. Our ultimate enable them to work and think independently. This again can be used at home as well.

Teaching problem solving was one of the most important skills I felt I taught my daughter, and now my grandsons, and the children who were in class with me each day.

Be consistent

You have established expectations with your family You can discussed whether rewards will be a part of the plant.

The next most important part of teaching children to be self disciplined is to be consistent. Whatever you have said you will do whether of a positive or negative nature, be prepared to follow through. If you have said to Bobbi Jo that if her bed is made each day you will allow a special privilege, then follow through.

If you build in rewards of any kind into your plan, it will fall apart if you do not do as you said you would. Regardless of whether the reward is not the most important part of the plan, to a child it will be important. It is disappointing and leads to lack of trust if you do not do as you said you will. There are extenuating circumstances that do arise and most children understand that at times a reward may need to be delayed. Otherwise it is necessary to see that whatever reward you planned is given in a timely fashion.

The same thing of course holds true in the classroom. Do not promise anything you do not intend to produce. If you fail to do your part, children will no longer trust you. If something unforeseen does occur and you cannot follow through when you said you would, explain to your children and make plans for a later time. But make it as timely as possible.

Self discipline and ADHD and Other Behavior Issues

Over the years I usually had a large number of students with mild to severe discipline issues. I even had students who had been labeled SED (severely emotionally disturbed) students. In addition I taught a self contained SED classes for three summers and one full year in middle school. Children with Aspergers and other issues that required extra attention were also in class each year.

Children who have such behavior issues can learn to be self disciplined. It takes patience and revisiting. Often you will wish to use a behavior contract with these children. It is important to have some kind of visual for them to see their progress.

It would take a whole hub to properly address this topic but it can be done.

Possible rewards for school and home

These are some choices you may consider in the classroom:

  • lunch in the classroom
  • extra computer time
  • free choice on learning stations
  • special recess time
  • One tangible reward the children really liked was free ice cream on Friday (teacher paid).

Consequences for repeated disruptive behavior:

  • First offense: warning/conference with teacher
  • Second offense: time out/with 3rd grade and above...write about what happened/with younger ones, I conferenced with them again
  • Third offense: parent conference, excluded from a special class activity

These were not really as cut and dried as they appear. Often before the first offense warning, I had given a number of visual clues to a child to let her or him know what was happening was not appropriate.In fact there were many more 'chances' given than the three shown here.

For home:

  • a ride to the store with Mom or Dad
  • an ice cream cone with Mom or Dad
  • extra time on the computer
  • watch a favorite video tv program
  • a hike in the forest

Choose something special that does not cost anything preferably (or has minimal cost).

Use rewards with caution. If you give something as a reward, the next time your children may expect the same thing or something larger. Just use rewarding carefully.


Consequences are a decision you will need to discuss with your family, again so they have ownership in the decision making process. Some think because they are the parents they should make all of these decisions. However if children feel they have some say, then they will be more likely to buy into it.

Devise consequences that are fair and that you will administer. Again, do not say you will do something and not do it.

To reward or not to reward


Decide what type of reward system you wish to have in place. My behavior plan was tied to class performance. I believe that if a child is on task and completing assigned tasks that there is little time for unacceptable behavior. I found that to be true about 99% of the time. There was always that tiny fraction of students who could be on task and completing assignments and still acting in an inappropriate manner and I dealt with that as I arose.

The point is this. Students were rewarded for class performance...on task behavior, following the rules, and completing assignments. I believe still today that students who were engaged and actively participated were less likely to have behavior issues arise. For many years, I gave Scott dollars (play money that looked like real money) to the children when I saw a student on task or completing assignments. The money was saved to be used at an end of the year auction or to purchase items at our store on Friday. There was a lot of incentive to get the job done.


Making decisions about rewarding is an important one. The goal of teaching children to become self disciplined is for them to learn to be self sufficient and self reliant. They will learn to problem solve and will better able to address new situations that confront them. For that reason, rewards should be carefully and judiciously given.

Children need to understand that they are learning to be self disciplined for the reasons mentioned above and not for a reward of some type. Surprisingly, many of them do understand that and make every effort to meet expectations.


Charts and age appropriate chores


Whether in the classroom or at home, charts can be used. You can decide which type you would like to use if you decide to use one. Some children like to see how they are doing in meeting expectations. Younger children especially like this type of reinforcement.

A few of the many free charts that are available are provided. The sources for them are given at the end of this article.

You can decide if you wish to reward for meeting expectations.

Age appropriate behaviors

If you are not sure, that expectations you have for chores are reasonable you may wish to consider reviewing some of those given here More are provided in the sources section of this article. Use these as a guide for sure and adjust to meet the needs of your family.

Possible age appropriate chores for children age 8-10

8-10 year olds

make bed
water plants
clean room with direction
set the table

clear the table
feed pets (depends on type of pet and how your comfortable your child is interacting with the pet)
help make dinner
put laundry in hamper
help wash the car
help wash dishes
help load/empty dishwasher
rake leaves

take out the trash

More are at free printables in sources below

Behavior plans for teachers

As a teacher,It is not necessary to reinvent the wheel entirely either. There are a number of excellent behavior plans that have been developed.

If you go to this site, you will find many ideas that are well organized and planned on multiple topics including behavior management and organization. I tweaked her ideas some to suit my needs but basically I adopted her model for my last year of teaching.Colored folders, labels which indicate ‘where’ each child is with behavior for the day, numbered clothes pins, a place to post it…that is about all you need to implement her plan.. Be sure to explain it carefully before you actually use it as the children won’t find it important otherwise. I like that it is interactive because children know when their clothespin has moved up or (sadly) down.

You will also find that a detailed explanation of behavior and organization plans have been provided (which again you can tweak for your use). There are a number of freebies but also other items which can be purchased.

As a parent, you can use ideas she suggests but modify them for your home use. For home use, however, you will want to consider what behaviors you wish to focus on that will keep harmony in the home while helping children get homework and chores completed.

Is this a lot of work? Is it worth it?

The actual planning and conferring with family members or students does take time. Initially it takes time to formulate the plan and in takes time to monitor to be sure that it is working. After it has been in place for a few weeks, then the time investment is minimal.

There will be little investment of time on your part now except to follow through on however you are recognizing that your children are learning to be self disciplined.

Is it worth it? To have a more harmonious home and children who are learning to be self reliant is the end result. It is an investment of time and energy that does yield desired results. Your children will be happier and you will be happier as they learn how to be make wise choices and to problem solve.

Possible age appropriate chores for age 11 and older

  • take garbage out
    set the table
  • clear the table
    clean room with directiion
  • put away groceries
  • clean the bathroom with direction
  • clean the kitchen
  • dust
  • vacuum
  • mow lawn
  • feed pets
  • water plants
  • put laundry in hamper
  • help with laundry and eventually start doing own laundry
  • help make dinner/make small meals on own
  • help wash the car/wash car
  • make bed
  • help with yard work
  • shovel snow
  • wash dishes/load or empty dishwasher

More are at free printables in the sources below

Encourage, remind, praise

It has been my experience that the more whys answered for the children the more ready they were to take responsibility for their own actions, inappropriate behavior issues were less frequent.

  • Emphasize making wise choices.
  • Emphasize thinking before acting. These are children but they can be taught to act before reacting. It takes work but it can be done.

Out of these two steps will morph a child who is self-disciplined. Take time for it to happen. Encourage, remind, praise.

That is your goal: To teach the children to learn to be their own true north. They will learn to take responsibility for their actions, make wise choices, and become self-disciplined. You will no longer need to make all of the decisions about behavior. You can now ask the child what are the choices she or he should make that will lead to a positive result.

This process takes time and frequent class meetings or family meetings initially. You will not be sorry if you invest time up front to let everyone know expectations

Discipline was never really an issue for me when I was a teacher for forty years. I think it was because I listened to others who were successful and tweaked and retweaked to make it work for our classroom and in our home.


© 2012 Patricia Scott


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    • pstraubie48 profile imageAUTHOR

      Patricia Scott 

      5 years ago from sunny Florida

      Thank you shruti...I so agree. Learning self discipline as an adult is far more difficult I think than as a child. I am working on some areas of self discipline myself.

      Thank you for stopping by again.

    • shruti sheshadri profile image

      shruti sheshadri 

      5 years ago from Bangalore, India

      Brilliant! this not only applies for children, but also adults like us, in our day to day lives. A very interesting way to express you thoughts on self discipline :) well done indeed!

      voted up and shared :)

    • pstraubie48 profile imageAUTHOR

      Patricia Scott 

      5 years ago from sunny Florida

      Hi ShiningIrishEyes...I imagine you became quite adept at praising for that reason. I too did a LOT of contemplating while standing in the corner---amazing what staring at a corner can do to cause a redirection of behavior. love the humor.

      Thank you for stopping by.

    • shiningirisheyes profile image

      Shining Irish Eyes 

      5 years ago from Upstate, New York

      You are a wonderful guidance for parents everywhere.

      Although I have to add some humor - I spent many hours facing the corner of various rooms within our home while contemplating my actions. I have to say, sitting with my back to the room and my Social Studies book on my lap gave me two choices: 1. I could finish my home work, or 2. I could reflect on why I was in the corner in the first place.

      Although it may not be the course many would take in this day, my parents were absolutely wonderful people and I readily admit "I had it coming.".

      Great write AGAIN!

    • pstraubie48 profile imageAUTHOR

      Patricia Scott 

      5 years ago from sunny Florida

      Good afternoon, Carol,

      Thank you for your kind words. My parents taught me early on to be self reliant and to be self disciplined. I can say that I tried hard to be. My parents did not expect perfection and neither did as a parent or teacher. Just having the foundation was important; knowing that I could make wise choices and knowing how to problem solve was important. And that was what I mainly wanted children to learn. Thank you for stopping by.

    • carol7777 profile image

      carol stanley 

      5 years ago from Arizona

      Though my kids are grown we worked to get our kids to have discipline and take responsibility for themselves. This is a great hub and everyone with young kids should read it. Voted UP and Shared.


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