How Do You Teach Responsibility?

I lost a LOT of stuff in my youth. I forgot my purse in classrooms so often in high school that they jokingly made me my own shelf in the Lost-n-Found cabinet. I lost a windbreaker I loved one time, never found it, and never told my Dad, and I STILL DREAM ABOUT THAT WINDBREAKER. I lost several things I did had to save up money to replace simply because I was terrified to tell my Dad because I LOST SO MUCH STUFF. This made him CRAZY and very angry many many times. I also locked my keys in my car about 50 times and locked myself out of my house half of a dozen times.

But…when he wasn’t angry about it, he had a very reasonable explanation for this: I had too many things on my mind at any given moment in time.

I guess I got out of this habit in my mid-20s. I still sometimes forget things but relatively speaking? I’m better. MUCH better.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t help me at ALL with Wesley who has chosen this year to be the year he demonstrates the same habits I had. Not a day has gone by this week where he’s not forgotten something at school. EVERY DAY something was left behind. EVERY DAY. And what he does bring home is chaotic and disorganized. He just crams papers in his bag if they even make it home. I had to return the same form to school THREE SEPARATE TIMES and even got a frustrated note from his teacher about how I hadn’t turned it in and he couldn’t tell me what had happened to ANY of the previous forms after I put them in the folder in his bag.

My question for the crowd is: How do you teach responsibility? Do you punish the child for forgetting things? Do you find some magic method to help him remember? How hard do you work at trying to conform the child to YOUR method of remembering v/s helping them find their own? What are some ways to help kids remember things? I NEED HELP PEOPLE. I’ve tried everything in every way and I can’t tell if anything is even remotely close to working.

Or do I just reassure myself that he’ll figure it out in about 20 years and make sure to never buy cars we can lock with the keys inside?

8 thoughts on “How Do You Teach Responsibility?”

  1. I can’t tell you how to teach children responsibility…I am a child-free adult. But I can commiserate with you- I have always been especially bad with this- especially locking myself out of my car or my home or my office because my mind was thinking ahead of itself.

    While yes I have gotten a bit better with age- I did do it as recently as this last Sunday lock my keys in my car. I panicked just a little bit because this time- I didn’t just lock my keys in the car but my whole purse (inclusive of my wallet), my phone, and my keys. At a gas station in the middle of nowhere. All I had was my gas card and about $12 in my pocket. Long story short the people at the gas station were kind and let me use their phone twice (once to find out the number for onstar and once to call onstar for the unlock- it’s the main reason I have onstar).

    I think part of it will come with age, when Wesley starts paying for more of his things and having that financial responsibility to go with it. You might be able to force this issue a little bit by making a jar and having him put a set amount of money in the jar every time he “forgets” something and needs you to bail him out (going back to school to get something, etc) and see if that helps? Also making an emphasis on being more “mindful” of things?

    PS…AAA knew me by name because I locked my keys in the car so many times in college I couldn’t count.

  2. Another child-free adult here, so of course take this with a giant grain of salt. But I was kind of like this as a kid and one of my (3) brothers was even worse. Our parents probably tried a kazillion different things. As an adult, I swear by checklists and sticky notes. I don’t know how that could transition to Wesley unless you have a white board checklist type of deal by the door that he has to check on his way out every morning. That transition could stink but maybe the visual would be good. Otherwise, our parents also made us take some responsibility for things even when young. For example, if we missed the bus and had to get a ride from someone (grandparents and neighbors all did this job for us at some point or another) we were the ones to pick up the phone and call and ask for help, not our parents. Same deal, if we locked ourselves out, we had to walk down the street to the neighbors’ for a spare key. Although I do recall as teenagers they got one of those magnetic boxes and hit it in one of the millions of spare cars in our garage. Timers were big, too, because associated with forgetfulness was lollygagging. Maybe something like that could help – when this timer goes off in twenty minutes we are going to go look in your bookbag and make sure you have everything, and then we are leaving in xx minutes after that. Ask affirmative questions like, what time do you need to leave to be on time? How can you help yourself remember to bring forms home/to school? It’s great you remembered your lunch today or it’s awesome you remembered to bring this permission slip to your teacher. Okay now I’m remembering how forgetful I was and need to go hug my mom for being patient. Times 4 kids. Good luck, and have a great day!

  3. Ohhh, and this didn’t happen to me, but I distinctly remember one of my brothers had to miss a school field trip because he forgot to bring the permission slip back to school on time. It stank and he pouted BIG TIME but he never did that again!

    (Also I noticed a typo in my comment above – hid, not hit, the spare key. Whoops.)

  4. My daughter is almost 4, so soon we will be dealing with school and forms and backpacks, but I think that if my kid forgot something, I would need to teach the consequences (like we do with all other behaviour) aka now you don’t have that particular item. We do the same with the weather. You don’t want to wear your raincoat? Alright, we will leave the house without and you will be soaking wet. Usually that only needs to happen once…

  5. I am also childless but recall my brother having this problem as a kid. My folks just had him experience the consequences. Like no field trip (and we went on a lot, with my mom as one of the drivers, usually). And if it was something like a note from the teacher about schoolwork, then he had to stay after school, even as a first grader. He got better ever time.

  6. I have no idea. I am hoping to read some good comments here to help out. I have a kid who is like this too. Just a big mess all the time. Disorganized, messy, head in the clouds, not great motor skills to get things arranged and put in places etc. It drives me CRAZY because I am not and have never been like that and I just do not understand. I think I’m perpetuating the problem too by being so organized myself that I just follow behind her organizing her (without even realizing it) and not letting her suffer consequences from it. I am trying to back off and let her do it on her own, but I swear…it makes my eye twitch.

  7. I don’t think it’s necessarily teaching them responsibility — especially for people like Wesley (and me) who may have a touch of ADHD. You just need to teach them about “external supports” or organizational structures that will remember these things for them, so they don’t have to hold it all in their heads. For example, check lists, routines, timers, a set-up like a labelled tray that shows them where to put each thing, so they can put it there every single time and not lose it. Donald Norman wrote a book called “The Design of Everyday Things” — he talks about memory, and how we can try to keep things in our minds (like phone numbers, names, dates, etc.) or we can put the work of remembering “outside” our minds, like in an address book, sticky notes, etc. The latter is especially helpful for me.

    Also, check out any books about ADHD and structuring the environment for people with ADHD. Lots of good strategies out there. Good luck!!

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