Raising Responsible Children

Give them tools. Set a time for cleaning rooms. Making beds is easier if the child simply pulls up a duvet. Deconstruct tasks. Children get just as overwhelmed by tasks as adults. A pile of toys can look overwhelming so help by giving them one toy and reminding them where it goes, start with the next, and so on. Trade off. Tell a child you'll put away their toys if he or she will bring you the baby's diaper bag so you can go out.

You've got to walk the walk yourself. "My philosophy has always been to teach by example," says Peter Alexander, Jake's dad. He believes in accepting your responsibilities, being honest and working hard, tries to do that himself and believes his kids share his values. Doe suggests parents look in the mirror. If you've committed to work on a committee, do you go to meetings or cancel at the last minute because you're tired? If your child wants to take class that requires attendance five Saturdays in a row, do you allow her to stay home when her interest flags or require her to stick it out? (Doe notes that sometimes, a child will have conflicts — say, attending a club meeting or finishing studying for a major test — and cancellations have to be made, but those are exceptions that parents and children can make after careful evaluation.)

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