This is the easiest rubber-meets-the-road way I’ve seen to build responsibility in children that I’ve come across. The idea is that, on birthdays ages 11–18, you give your child a freedom/responsibility in the form of a gift. Read on for “How it works,” as well as “How it’s worked for my family.”
How it works: (as explained to the pre-teen/teen)
(Click to download this explanation.)
Each year, you will receive a freedom in the form of a responsibility. If you handle it wisely, then you will be on track to receive the next gift from the responsibility box on your birthday. If you are not responsible with your freedom, then it may be revoked for a time and/or you may not be ready to receive your next gift. Remember that these are privileges that you earn, not rights.
His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
The Responsibility Box is a reminder that
- We know you want to be independent and we are giving you these steps to help you reach that.
- We want to help prepare you to leave home.
- We are on your side.
- We are rooting for you!
This visual depicts how the responsibility grows as the child ages.
Ultimately, the child will be out of the home . . . and out of the box, having been given the tools to make good choices in handling the freedoms and responsibilities of being an adult.
TIP: If your child is older when you begin this plan, you can make the box with 6-month increments instead of 1 year
Sample Gift Wording
Freedom: No Bedtime!!!
Be ready to be in your room, settled down at appropriate time.
Wake up on your own at an appropriate time.
Get yourself ready on time.
Keep your grumpiness to yourself if you didn’t get enough sleep.
Other “Gift” ideas:
babysitting, staying home alone, bedtime, waking up, feeding pets, choosing clothing, getting a phone, mowing, pumping gas, driving, homework, curfew, shaving legs, managing own laundry, etc.
Jim shared that the most positive feedback he got related to “Allowance.” For example, give them a larger allowance than would be normal, but allow/require them to be responsible for all “personal desire expenses.” (Encourage giving, budgeting and saving—especially for larger purchases.)
Things to consider when picking the “gifts”:
- What issues cause the most friction in my relationship with my child?
- Is there a way to give him “ownership” of something within family parameters?
- What are some small “gifts” (pumping gas) that will help build toward bigger “gifts” (driving a car).
- What is my child ready for according to his maturity?
- What should my child be able to do for himself at this age, but may need incentive to grow?
- What do I want for him to be able to handle for himself when he leaves home and how can I map out these “gifts” through the years so that he can be successful?
- “Lord, please give me Your wisdom for what my child needs?”
How has this worked for my family?
God’s timing is perfect, as always! We were approaching my daughter’s 11th birthday when I went to a parenting class where the concept of the “Responsibility Box” was explained.
Our wonderful Associate Pastor, Jim Allen, and his lovely wife, Trish, had successfully used this approach with their children years ago and have been sharing it ever since. To give full credit, Jim and Trish originally heard about it from a Christian speaker named Ken Poure in the 1960s–70s. Jim built on Ken’s basic idea, including coming up with the helpful visual of the nesting boxes shown above.
It resonated with me when Jim and Trish pointed out that often, the things that cause the most conflict are the areas where the child is needing to stretch his own wings and take on responsibility.
It’s a WIN–WIN! Child gets freedom in the form of a responsibility. Parents get peace and can quit badgering!
Such has been the case in every single instance since we started this 3 years ago.
For example, our sweet Kalli is every bit as much of a night owl as Tim and I are. Bedtimes were always a challenge. I can’t tell you the relief it was to let that rest in her court! We all agreed that she needed to be in her room at an appropriate time, but it was up to her when she actually went to bed. FREEDOM FOR ALL!
When responsibility kicks in . . . painfully –
Then came the year that she got babysitting as a freedom. She had worked hard, taking the online Red Cross babysitting class and making business cards in preparation for turning 12 and being able to officially sit. She could hardly wait and already knew this would be one of the freedoms in her Responsibility Box on her birthday.
However, pretty much as soon as she had her birthday, she lost this freedom. Why? I will protect her and not share the details. However, it related to #1 item under the responsibilities associated with the freedom of babysitting. “Be trustworthy in even the little things so we can trust you with this BIG responsibility.” You may note that this echoes the biblical principle of Matthew 25:23, on which the Responsibility Box is founded.
Therefore, it was no surprise to her that she lost the freedom. And, the beautiful thing was that it wasn’t a battle. It was indeed disappointing, embarrassing, and painful for her to have to tell people she couldn’t currently sit when she was asked (we let her simply say she was grounded so she didn’t have to go into it). But, it helped her really digest that if she couldn’t be trusted with little things at home, it wasn’t at all appropriate for her to be trusted with other people’s children!
As with many growth experiences, I’m thankful she went through this because now I know she’s that much more trustworthy as a result of this trial.
When the responsibility kicks in . . . positively –
After watching his older sister gain freedoms for a couple of years, our son, Jake, couldn’t wait until he turned 11 so he could get his own Responsibility Box. However, as every parent knows, each kid is different! Tim and I struggled and prayed to find things that he would be excited about but were at a level that he could handle. We had to get quite creative. We knew that he was so eager to have great responsibilities and freedoms but didn’t have the maturity yet. How could we help get him there?
We took a look at what we had to pester him most about . . . one of them being watering the dogs. Hmmmm….how could we turn that responsibility into a freedom? Well, we figured he didn’t care to be badgered anymore than we cared to be badgering him! So, we went heavy on discussing with him about how know he was ready to show us the independent dude he could be. We knew this “empowering” kind of talk would appeal to his desire to be a “man”—and sure enough, it worked!
This boy, who previously had to be reminded every. single. day to water the dogs, was now taking initiative to do it on his own! (Insert lots of positive praise reinforcement from parental units here!)
The Responsibility Box has over and over proven to help us back off and help him step up!
I hope this idea blesses you as much as it has blessed our family!