Kids Can’t Learn Responsibility…

…if They’re Never Not Responsible for Anything

Do you remember The Music Man? It’s my favorite musical of all time. My favorite part (other than 76 Trombones at the end) is the “Think Method” – whereby Professor Harold Hill instructs students to learn to play their instruments without ever actually playing the instrument. He says if you THINK the Minuet in G, you can PLAY the Minuet in G.

If you want to waste some time, I’d give this one a shot.  But all thinking adults (sorry, River City parents) know that in order to learn something, you have to practice it.  That goes for a musical instrument, a sport – or responsibility. Yet, somehow, we still expect our children to learn responsibility without ever allowing (or requiring) them to be responsible for something significant.  I’m reading a book on parenting right now entitled Rite of Passage Parenting: Four Essential Experiences to Equip Your Kids for Life*.  Before you start asking why I’m including a parenting post on a financial blog, I want to make it clear that the two things are very much related.

Raising responsible kids includes teaching them to be responsible with their money.

Parenting is overwhelming.  I mean, you’re responsible for an entire life. Whether or not they turn out right is your fault.  That’s scary.  But sometimes, it just doesn’t have to be that hard.  Some of the suggestions I’m fixing to offer are very easy and doable – common sense, even.

One of the things I’ve been thinking about is the way I talk to my kids about their jobs around the house.  Usually, we call them “chores.”  They dread that part of the day and put if off as long as possible.  When they do finally get around to doing their chores, they rush through them as quickly as possible and complain about them as loudly as possible. (I’m exaggerating a little bit. All of my kids don’t complain every day. but when you have five of them, there’s bound to be someone complaining about something on any given morning.)

Today, I thought about it a little differently. They were still required to do their chores, but I also gave each one of them one area that they were “responsible for” today. The oldest is responsible for the bathrooms. Our girl is responsible for the play room. The 6-year-old is responsible for the laundry. The 4-year-old is “responsible” for gathering the dirty clothes.  (That’s in quotes because he’s, well, four.)

Just changing the way I talk about it has completely changed our mindset. Instead of “do it and get it over with,” they now have areas that they are responsible for taking care of – throughout the day, not just once.  Each of them has cared more about that area of the house, and have been interested in seeing that it stayed taken care of.

I’m not saying that this is a “magic fix.” It will still take some teaching on our part. But giving children a significant task is an important part of teaching them responsibility.

How does that translate financially? First of all, learning responsibility in other areas of their life will help kids to be better financial managers.  Like running helps your heart as well as your legs, learning discipline and responsibility in one area will benefit you in all areas of your life.  Secondly, this same mindset can help us think of ways to make our children more aware of their financial responsibilities as they grow. All of these ideas won’t work for everyone, but here are a few:

  • Putting one child in charge of sorting the bills from the junk mail.
  • Teaching children to write checks, or older children how to pay online bills.
  • Giving one child the task of reading the electric or gas meter to calculate what the bill will be for the month.
  • If you’re saving for something, give a younger child the job of tracking how much money has been saved. An older child might be able to present some ideas to the family on how to cut costs or raise extra money.
  • A teenager can have the task of researching a potential investment, a new bank, or a credit card for the family.
  • Give each child their own allowance for their clothing (and food?) for them to manage for the month.

Get the idea? Those are just a few “significant tasks” in the financial realm of responsibility that could allow your child to feel more important to your family and teach them more responsibility.


Just to throw the opposite viewpoint out there, some people are dead-set against children “growing up too soon.” How does that fit in with teaching them responsibility?






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One Response to “Kids Can’t Learn Responsibility…”

  1. Allison says:

    Great post! And so very true. We've been working on adding responsibilities to the kids day, too. I've been thinking about trying the "responsible for one area" thing as well!

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