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Chores, teamwork and high expectations: The 15 habits that raise responsible kids

We all want to raise responsible children. And we all want to live in a world where others have been raised to be responsible, a world where adults don’t shrug off their responsibilities as citizens. So how do we raise our kids to take responsibility for their choices and their impact on the world?


You begin by seeing responsibility as something joyful for your child, instead of a burden.

All children want to see themselves as “response-able”—powerful and able to respond to what needs to be done. They need this for their self-esteem, and for their lives to have meaning.

So, you don't really need to teach them to handle themselves responsibly in the world; you just need to teach them they have the power to contribute positively and relate to them so they want to do so.

If you focus on helping your child take charge of his life, and support him as necessary to learn each new skill, your child will want to step into each new responsibility. Instead of your holding him responsible, he becomes motivated to take responsibility for himself. It's a subtle shift, but it makes all the difference in the world. The bottom line is that kids will be responsible to the degree that we support them to be.

Here are 15 everyday strategies guaranteed to increase your child’s “response-ability” quotient.

1. Raise your child with the expectation that we always clean up our own messes.

Begin by helping your child, until she learns it. She'll learn it faster if you can be cheerful and kind about it and remember not to worry about spilled milk.

Encourage her to help by handing her a sponge as you pick one up yourself, even when it's easier to do it yourself. As long as you aren't judgmental about it—so she isn't defensive—she'll want to help clean up and make things better.

So when your toddler spills her milk, say "That's ok. We can clean it up," as you hand her a paper towel and pick one up yourself.

When your preschooler leaves her shoes scattered in your path, hand them to her and ask her to put them away, saying kindly "We always clean up our own stuff."

You will have to do this, in one form or another, until they leave your home. But if your approach is positive and light-hearted, your child won't get defensive and whine that you should do the cleanup. And when kids hear the constant friendly expectation that "We always clean up our own messes...Don't worry, I'll help....Here are the paper towels for you; I'll get the sponge..." they become both easier to live with and better citizens of the world.

2. Kids need an opportunity to contribute to the common good.

All children contribute to the rest of us in some way, regularly. Find those ways and comment on them, even if it is just noticing when she is kind to her little brother or that you enjoy how she’s always singing. Whatever behaviors you acknowledge will grow.

As your children get older, their contributions should increase appropriately, both within and outside the household. Kids need to grow into two kinds of responsibilities: their own self care, and contributing to the family welfare. Research indicates that kids who help around the house are also more likely to offer help in other situations than kids who simply participate in their own self care.

Of course, you can't expect them to develop a helpful attitude overnight. It helps to steadily increase responsibility in age appropriate ways. Invite toddlers to put napkins on the table, three-year-olds to set places. Four-year-olds can match socks, and five-year-olds can help you groom the dog. Six-year-olds are ready to clear the table, seven-year-olds to water plants, and eight-year-olds to fold laundry.

3. Remember that no kid in his right mind wants to do chores.

Unless you want your child to think of contributing to the family as drudgery, don't make him do chores without you until they are a regular part of your family routine and one that your child does not resist. Your goal isn't getting this job done, it's shaping a child who will take pleasure in contributing and taking responsibility.

Make the job fun. Give as much structure, support, and hands-on help as you need to, including sitting with him and helping for the first thirty times he does the task, if necessary. Know that it will be much harder than doing it yourself. Remind yourself that there's joy in these tasks, and communicate that, along with the satisfaction of a job well done. Eventually, he will be doing these tasks by himself, and that day will come much faster if he enjoys them.

4. Always let children "do it myself" and "help," even when it's more work for you.

And it will always be more work for you. But toddlers want desperately to master their physical worlds, and when we support them to do that, they step into the responsibility of being "response-able."

So instead of rushing through your list, reframe. You're working with your child to help him discover the satisfaction of contribution. That's more important than having the job done quickly or perfectly. Notice that you're also bonding, which is what motivates kids to keep contributing.

5. Rather than simply giving orders, try asking your child to do the thinking.

For instance, to the dallying child in the morning, instead of barking "Brush your teeth! Is your backpack packed? Don't forget your lunch!" you could ask, "What's the next thing you need to do to get ready for school?"

The goal is to keep them focused on their list, morning after morning until they internalize it and begin managing their own morning tasks.

6. Provide routines and structure.

These are crucial in children’s lives for many reasons, not the least of which is that it gives them repeated opportunities to manage themselves through a series of not especially inviting tasks.

First, they master the bedtime routine and cleaning up toys and getting ready in the morning. Then they develop successful study habits and grooming habits. Finally, they learn basic life skills through repetition of household routines like doing laundry or making simple meals.

7. Teach your child to be responsible for her interactions with others.

When your daughter hurts her little brother's feelings, don't force her to apologize. She won't mean it, and it won't help him. Instead, listen to her feelings to help her work out those tangled emotions that made her snarl at him.

Then, once she feels better, ask her what she can do to make things better between them. Maybe she'll be ready to apologize. But maybe that will feel like losing face, and she would rather repair things with him by reading him a story or helping him with his chore of setting the table, or giving him a big hug.

This teaches children that their treatment of others has a cost and that they're responsible for repairs when they do damage. But because you aren't forcing, she's able to choose to make the repair, which makes it feel good, and makes her more likely to repeat it.

8. Support your child to help pay for damaged goods.

If kids help pay from their own allowance for lost library books and cell phones, windows broken by their baseball, or tools they've left out to rust, the chances of a repeat infraction are slim.

9. Don’t rush to bail your child out of a difficult situation.

Be available for problem solving, helping him work through his feelings and fears, and to ensure that he doesn’t just sidestep the difficulty. But let him handle the problem himself, whether it requires offering an apology or making amends in a more concrete way.

10. Model responsibility and accountability.

Be explicit about the responsible choices you're making:

"It's a pain to carry this trash till we get to the car, but I don't see a trashcan and we never litter.”

“This sign says parking is reserved for handicapped people, so of course we can't take that spot."

Keep your promises to your child, and don't make excuses. If you don’t follow through when you promise to pick up that notebook he needs for school or play that game with him on Saturday, why should he be responsible for keeping his promises and agreements with you?

11. Never label your child as "irresponsible"

Never label your child as "irresponsible," because the way we see our kids is always a self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead, teach him the skills he needs to be responsible.

If he always loses things, for instance, help him develop the skills he needs. For instance, teach him to stop anytime he leaves somewhere—his friend's house, school, soccer practice—and count off everything he needs to take home.

12. Teach your child to make a written schedule.

It may seem like overkill, but in our busy 21st-century lives, all kids need to master this skill by high school, or they simply won’t get everything done.

Begin on weekends during middle school, or earlier, if their schedule is busy. Just take a piece of paper, list the hours of the day on the left, and ask your child what he needs to get done this weekend. Put in the baseball game, piano practice, the birthday party, and all the steps of the science project—shop for materials, build the volcano, write and print out the description. Add in downtime—go for ice cream with dad, chill and listen to music.

Most kids find this keeps their stress level down since they know when everything will get done. Most important, it teaches them to manage their time and be responsible for their commitments.

13. All kids need the experience of working for pay.

All kids need the experience of working for pay, which teaches them real responsibility in the real world. Begin by paying your 8-year-old to do tasks you wouldn’t normally expect of him (washing the car, weeding the garden), then encourage him to expand to odd jobs in the neighborhood (walk the neighbor’s dog or offer snow shoveling service in the winter), move on to mother’s helper/babysitting jobs when it’s age appropriate, and finally take on after school or summer jobs. Few settings teach as much about responsibility as the world of working for pay outside the family.

14. Create a no-blame household.

We all, automatically, want to blame someone when things go wrong. It's as if fixing blame might prevent a recurrence of the problem, or absolve us of responsibility.

In reality, blaming makes everyone defensive, more inclined to watch their back and to attack than to make amends. It's the number one reason kids lie to their parents.

Worse yet, when we blame them, kids find all kinds of reasons it wasn't really their fault—at least in their own minds—so they're less likely to take responsibility and the problem is more likely to repeat.

Blame is the opposite of unconditional love.

So why do we do it? To help us feel less out of control, and because we can't bear the suspicion that we also had some role, however small, in creating the situation.

Next time you find yourself automatically beginning to blame someone, stop. Instead, accept any responsibility you can—it’s good practice to model this by overstating your responsibility, without beating yourself up. Then, just accept the situation. You can always come up with better solutions from a state of acceptance than a state of blame.

15. Teach your kids that, as Eleanor Roosevelt said, they not only have the right to be an individual, they have an obligation to be one.

Studies show that people who take responsibility in any given situation are people who see themselves as willing to be different and stand out.

That's the kind of kid you want to raise.

Who said motherhood doesn't come with a manual?

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For the first couple years of a child's life, their feet grow so rapidly that they typically need a new shoe size every two to three months (so, no, you're not imagining how many shoes you've been buying lately!).

Fortunately, things tend to slow down as they start walking and hit school age. Even so, it's important to make sure they're wearing the right size for maximum comfort and healthy development.

That's why we teamed up with the experts at Rack Room Shoes for tips on helping the whole family get back to school on the right foot.

1. Get professionally fitted at least once a year.

We love online shopping as much as anyone, but for the health of your child's feet, it's worth it to make at least an annual trip to a store to get them properly sized on a Brannock Device (yep, those old-school sizers you remember as a kid are still the most reliable indicators of foot length and width!). Back to school is a great time to plan a visit to a store with trained associates who can help ensure your little one is getting the right fit.

2. Remember not all feet (or shoes) are created equally.

Most babies have naturally pudgier feet that thin out as they get older, and many kids need a wider or narrower shoe than their peers. Visiting a store and speaking with a trained associate can help you gauge which shoe brand will best suit your child. Once you have that benchmark, shopping online will be easier.

3. Get good closure.

Shoe closure, that is. Nowadays, there's a variety of ways to fasten kids shoes, from slip-ons to velcro to elastic laces. Provide your child with a few options to find the closure that works best for you both.

4. Watch for tell-tale signs your child has outgrown their shoes.

Children will often be the last ones to tell you their favorite shoes are uncomfortable. If your child is tripping or walking funny, it may be time to size up.

5. Try the push-down toe method.

Think your kid has outgrown their kicks? Push down on the toe of their shoe with your thumb to see how much wiggle room they have. The ideal size is to have about half a thumb's width between the tip of the toe and the end of the shoe. (That space equates to about half a size.)

6. Pick a style they'll want to put on. (Here are some of our favorites!)

Most moms know the struggle of getting kids out the door in the morning—the right pair of shoes can help cut down on the (literal) foot-dragging. Opt for a fun style (consider shopping for their favorite color or a light-up design) that they'll be begging to wear every day. (But feel free to buy a second pair that's more your style too!)

You'll love that they're classic converse. They'll love the peek of pink.

Converse Girls Maddie, $44

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7. Don't forget the sneakers.

Whether they're running through the recess or racing in P.E., school-age children need a pair of well-fitting, durable sneakers. Be sure to get them professionally fitted to ensure nothing slows them down on the playground.

8. Understand the size breakdowns.

Expert retailers like Rack Room Shoes break up sizing by Baby, Toddler, Little Kid, and Big Kid to make it easier to find the right section for your child. For boys, there's no size break between kids shoes and men's shoes. Girls, though, can cross over into women's shoes from size 4 (in girls) on—a girl's size 4 is a women's size 5.5 or 6.

Looking for more advice? Step into a Rack Room Shoes store near you or shop online. With a "Buy One, Get One 50% off" policy, you can make sure the whole family will put their best foot forward this back-to-school season. (We had to!)

In the moments after we give birth, we desperately want to hear our baby cry. In the middle of the night a few months later it's no longer exactly music to our ears, but those cries aren't just telling us that baby needs a night feeding: They're also giving us a hint at what our children may sound like as kindergarteners, and adults.

New research published in the journal Biology Letters suggests the pitch of a 4-month-old's cry predicts the pitch they'll use to ask for more cookies at age five and maybe even later on as adults.

The study saw 2 to 5-month olds recorded while crying. Five years later, the researchers hit record again and chatted with the now speaking children. Their findings, combined with previous work on the subject, suggest it's possible to figure out what a baby's voice will sound like later in life, and that the pitch of our adult voices may be traceable back to the time we spend in utero. Further studies are needed, but scientists are very interested in how factors before birth can impact decades later.

"In utero, you have a lot of different things that can alter and impact your life — not only as a baby, but also at an adult stage," one of the authors of the study, Nicolas Mathevon, told the New York Times.

The New York Times also spoke with Carolyn Hodges, an assistant professor of anthropology at Boston University who was not involved in the study. According to Hodges, while voice pitch may not seem like a big deal, it impacts how we perceive people in very real ways.

Voice pitch is a factor in how attractive we think people are, how trustworthy. But why we find certain pitches more or less appealing isn't known. "There aren't many studies that address these questions, so that makes this research especially intriguing," Hodges said, adding that it "suggests that individual differences in voice pitch may have their origins very, very early in development."

So the pitch of that midnight cry may have been determined months ago, and it may determine part of your child's future, too. There are still so many things we don't know, but as parents we do know one thing: Our babies cries (as much as we don't want to hear them all the time) really are something special.

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I can vividly remember the last time I remember feeling truly rested. I was on vacation with my family, and my dad and I had started a tradition of going to sleep at 10 p.m., then waking up at 10 a.m. to go for a run. After five days of twelve hours of sleep a night, I remember actually pausing and thinking, "I am truly not at all tired right now!"

That was probably 15 years ago.

Of course, being tired pre-kids and being tired post-kids are two entirely different beasts. Pre-kids, tiredness was almost a badge of pride. It meant you had stayed up late dancing with friends or at a concert with your boyfriend. It meant you had woken up early to hit a spin class before gliding into work, hair still damp from your shower, for a morning meeting. Being tired meant you were generally killing it at life—and I was still young enough that, with a little concealer, I could look like it.

Tired post-kids is a whole other animal.

Tired post-kids means you probably still went to bed at a reasonable hour, but you're still exhausted. Maybe you even slept in past sunrise... but you're still exhausted. You may not have worked out in weeks... but you're still exhausted. And staying out late dancing with your girlfriends? (I mean... is that real life? Was it ever?) Nope, didn't do that. But—you guessed it!—you're still exhausted.

Sometimes I look at my husband and say, "I think if I could sleep for about five days, then I would feel rested again."

But considering the average new mom loses almost two months of sleep in her child's first year of life, even that is probably a low estimate of what I really need.

Because being a mom is exhausting.

It's exhausting always putting someone else's needs above your own. I often find myself actually giving my daughter the food off my plate (because, when you're two, mom's meal must be better even if you're eating the exact same thing).

Or I'll sacrifice sneaking my own nap to lie uncomfortably with her on the couch because it means she sleeps an extra 30 minutes.

Or I'll carry her up and down flights of stairs she is perfectly capable of scaling on her own because, well, she's tired or it's just quicker than nagging her to hurry up all the time.

I often end the day bone-tired, shocked at the physical exertion of just keeping this little person alive.

It's exhausting remembering all the things. The mental load of motherhood is so real, and sometimes I'm not sure it won't crush me.

I schedule and remember the doctor appointments, keep the fridge stocked and plan the meals, notice when my husband is low on white shirts and wash and fold the laundry, add the playdates and the date nights to the calendar, and add any assortment of to-dos to my day because, well, I'm the parent at home, so I must have time, right?

And when I drop one of the thousand balls I'm juggling, I writhe under the guilt of failing at my responsibility.

It's exhausting not getting enough sleep. The sleep gap doesn't end after baby's first year.

Studies have shown that parents lose as much as six months of sleep in their child's first two years of life. That sounds unbelievable at first...but I completely believe it.

Because sometimes I stay up later than I should just to get a few minutes of "me" time. Because sometimes my sleep-trained daughter still wakes up in the middle of the night with a nightmare or because she's sick or for no real reason at all and needs me to soothe her back to sleep.

Because sometimes I'm so busy trying to keep it all together mentally that I don't know how to turn my own brain off to get to sleep. And because sometimes (almost always) my daughter wakes up earlier than I would like her to and the day starts over before I'm ready.

It's exhausting maintaining any other relationship while being a mom. I try not to neglect my marriage. I try not to neglect my friendships. I try to make time for friendly interaction with my coworkers. I try to be there for my congregation. I try to keep all these connections alive and nurtured, but the fact is that some days my nurture is completely used up.

It's exhausting doing all of the above while being pregnant. Okay, this one might not resonate for every mom, but we all know being pregnant is hard. Being pregnant with a toddler? I'm shocked it's not yet an Olympic event. (I'm not sure if we'd all get gold medals or just all fall asleep at the starting gun.)

Most days, I'm so tired and busy I honestly forget that I am pregnant, only to be reminded at the end of the day when I finally collapse on the couch and the little one in my uterus wakes up to remind me. My body is doing amazing things, sure—and I have the exhaustion to show for it.

Of course, I know that this is just an exhausting season of life. One day, one not-so-far-off day, my children will be a bit more grown and be able to get their own breakfast in the morning. One day, they'll actually want to sleep in, and I'll be the one opening their curtains in the morning to start the day (maybe before they're really ready).

One day, they'll always walk up and down the stairs themselves and will stop stealing my food and I'll be able to nap without making sure they are asleep or with a sitter. One day, they won't need me to remember all the things.

And the really wild part? Just thinking about that day makes me miss these days, just a bit.

So, yes, I'm tired. I'm always tired. But I'm grateful too. Grateful I get to have these days. Grateful I get to have this life.

But also really grateful for those days I get to nap, too.

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Who knew Amazon had so many dreamy nursery must-haves? Maybe you have a friend or family member about to have a baby or you're preparing for your new bundle of joy—either way, you can save tons on grabbing some essentials on Prime Day.

We've rounded up our favorite nursery items from basics, like cribs and changing tables, to the essentials you never knew you needed (hint: lots of storage!).

1. 6-drawer dresser

This gorgeous dresser has plenty of space for baby's clothing and accessories—and will transition seamlessly to a big kid room one day. Even better? The top is large enough to be used as a changing table. The shade of white is great for any gender, too!

Dresser, Amazon, $239.99 ($329.99)

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