Teaching Responsibility as a Parent

If you realise your responsibility, you will realise your destiny.  -Tasneem Hameed

As part of the journey to adulthood, teaching your child to be responsible is essential. I believe taking responsibility for your actions, mistakes, and behaviour is one of the most significant steps to becoming an independent adult. When your child is young, it starts with baby steps and progressively becomes more complex.

What does responsibility mean?

Many years ago, I was fortunate enough to attend a series of workshops that changed my outlook and life. The teaching of the ‘Responsibility’ chart was at the centre of all. This single concept was a game-changer and one I have worked on upholding for twenty-eight years. Here is the chart.

Teaching Responsibility as a ParentThe Line of Life is central to the concept as it shows that there is always a choice in every situation in life. When something goes right or wrong in your life, you can choose to ‘play’ above or below the line.

Often the default for many people is to BLAME when something goes wrong. We blame our parents, teachers, the government, or ourselves for our mistakes. Next, people will often make EXCUSES. The most common excuse is that they haven’t got time. Yes, life can be very hectic, and time is the only resource every person has the same amount of. Everyone has twenty-four hours a day. Next, many people will DENY the outcome. At some level, you just pretend it didn’t happen. These three states cause us to become a VICTIM of our life or circumstances. People playing ‘below the line’ hold pity parties, often moan and whine that life’s not fair.

The alternative choice is to play above the Line of Life. When something goes wrong, firstly acknowledge it and take OWNERSHIP. This is as simple (although not that easy at times) as saying “I made a mistake” or “I was wrong.” Next is to be ACCOUNTABLE. This means to explain the outcome without blaming or making excuses. It the case of the ‘not enough time’ scenario, to be accountable would be to recognise that perhaps your time management, planning or expectations within the time frame were inadequate or unrealistic. The next step is to take action to improve your time management. This is what it means to take RESPONSIBILITY. To be response-able. This requires effort to make the situation better or learn from it and change your behaviour, attitudes or beliefs. At this point, you become a LEARNER and can grow and develop from the experience.

Living the responsibility chart

This is harder than it looks and sounds! Here are a couple of ideas and information that may help.

Surround yourself with others who take responsibility for their lives. The people you ‘hang out’ with make a big difference to your mindset. If people around you are whingers, moaners and are holding frequent pity parties, spend less time with them. Spend more time with people who are living their dreams, inspiring others. Watch TED talks and read personal development books.

It is a courageous person who takes this chart into their life, family and work. If you are willing to point out that others are “living below the line” and encouraging them to take responsibility, you also have to be willing for them to ‘call’ you on your behaviour. It is often very uncomfortable to see your victim behaviour and have it highlighted. It is, however, a blessing to be able to work through the mistakes and errors to learn and grow.

This is a continual work in progress for all of us. Deep inner work and healing are often required.

An example from my own life is as follows: One of the delights I enjoy is having fresh flowers in my home. I do, however, detest dead flowers! At the time of this story, I had been married to my amazing husband for eighteen years (we are due to celebrate our 25th anniversary this year.) Travelling worldwide to speak at conferences meant I was frequently away. I’d come home from a trip and find the flowers dead in a vase. Petals would be all over the floor and bench, and the water in the vase would smell putrid. I would then go into a rant at my husband. “You knew I was coming home today! You know I hate dead flowers! Couldn’t you have thrown them out, wiped the bench and cleaned the vase?”

He must have heard this ‘lecture’ hundreds of times! He always politely listened and nodded. One day, eighteen years into our marriage, I returned home and walked up the stairs when I stopped. I realised there would be dead flowers in the vase! It suddenly dawned on me. Whose problem was it? The truth was that he did not see the dead flowers, petals or smell the stinky water. If he did, knowing my total disdain, he would have done something about it!

I walked up the stairs, put the flowers in the rubbish bin, wiped the bench and washed the vase. It took me 90 seconds! There was no aggression, no being a victim, just taking responsibility for my needs. Ninety seconds and he still doesn’t know! It wasn’t his problem! It was mine.

Many times these lessons just come out of the blue! What really annoys you in your life, and how might you take responsibility for it?

Ways to promote responsibility

Start by labelling responsibility when you see it. Each time your child helps, picks up rubbish, fetches something for you, tidies their toys, thank them for being responsible.

When our daughter was two years old, I can recall her setting the table. She called to me from the other side of the table, her eyes peeking about the edge of the table, and she said, “Mummy, am I being ‘sponsible?” I smiled and told her she was very responsible.

Another memory is when our children were six and four. I was baking, and they wanted to post a letter they had written to their grandparents. As the oven was on, I could not leave the house, and they wanted to go. The post box was about 400m from our home. They would, however, need to cross the main road using a pedestrian crossing and walk around a corner. I asked them if they could be responsible, to which the reply was a very eager YES! We talked about the road and the crossing and to go there and straight back. I also insisted they held hands! (This was purely for my benefit, as it is so cute, and I know they would not do it much longer.) Off they went without looking back. They held hands all the way there and back – OK, yes, I did sneak out to peek – and both were very proud of themselves once they were back. Again I praised them for their responsibly.

Stop Rescuing

I am a lighthouse rather than a lifeboat. I do not rescue, but instead, help others to find their way to shore.


It is often easy to rescue children when they have learning opportunities, and I have attempted to stand back and allow the lesson to unfold rather than jumping in to be the hero. It’s not always easy.

When your child can’t find their shoes, give them time to look for them before you run to their rescue. If they didn’t complete their tasks, make sure you have a pre-determined consequence and follow through.

If we as parents constantly remind our children, they do not have to think nor take responsibility. Step back and allow them to learn the consequences. If they forget their lunch, they will not die. If they don’t have their raincoat and it starts to rain, they will get wet. They will not melt.

One of the most frustrating parts of parenting is seeing your child have the same experience over and over again until they learn it. This is how the learning process works. Use some coaching techniques and gentle questioning instead of simply telling children what they need to do. Ask, “What do you need today to make your day successful?” or “Have you got everything you need for today.” Again resist the often strong desire to rescue. Your job is to empower.


Published on Wednesday, December 1st, 2021, under Parenting

Karen Tui Boyes is a champion for Life Long Learning across nations, industries and organisations. Winner of the NZ Educator of the Year 2017 and 2014 and the NZ Speaker of the Year award in 2013 & 2019, Karen is a sought after speaker who continually gets rave reviews from audiences around the world. Her dynamic style and highly informative content—which turns the latest educational research into easy-to-implement strategies and techniques — sets her apart from others in her field.

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