“Responsibility in kids,” begins Audrey Monke, consists of “learning to do tasks for themselves without requiring constant supervision, needing to be reminded, needing to be watched or needing someone else to keep track of things for them.” It could be simple tasks they complete on their own, like brushing their teeth, knowing their routine, or keeping track of their belongings. “It’s really just learning to do it for yourself. It’s contributing and helping out with your family and community, without having to be ... externally reminded.”
The author of Happy Campers draws on impressive personal experience in her understanding of, and helping children develop responsibility. She’s owner and director of Gold Arrow Camp, a youth summer camp in California. She also operates SunshineParenting.com and runs a podcast wherein she interviews parenting experts, authors and youth development professionals. Happy Campers is an acclaimed parenting guide that offers parents nine secrets from summer camp they can implement at home. Her professional insight comes from over 30 years of first-hand experience with thousands of children, young adult staff, and parents, work that began with a Masters in Psychology focused on youth wellbeing and social skills.
She sees her job now as “working with parents, teachers and camp counsellors and giving them simple tools to create the connection and happiness that we create at camp.”
How to develop responsibility
Responsibility is a skill children develop over time. Typically, they’re taught responsibility by watching their parents, counsellors and teachers model this trair. However, children learn even more fully, when given duties of their own.
Monke illustrates from Gold Arrow Camp how responsibility can be developed within a child. One summer, she saw that whenever camp counsellors told campers to grab their bathing suits to go swimming, many campers didn’t know where their bathing suits were or couldn’t find them in their bags. “It was there,” she explains, “but it had been very carefully packed by their parents who weren’t there.” From then on, she’s requested that parents let children pack their own bags. Parents can coach, support and check their children’s bags to ensure they have everything they need, but this simple task will begin to develop responsibility within a child.
“It’s a very unsettling feeling,” she says, “to not know where your things are or to feel like you can’t find something. Ultimately, kids feel better knowing that they can be responsible for themselves.”
At camp, she always encourages children to ask, “what else can I do?” She’s seen campers finish up an activity then leave their supplies behind without cleaning up. Rather than assuming you’re done with an activity and can leave, it’s important to ask the person in charge what else you can do to help. “What eventually happens [after asking this],” she says, “is that [kids] get to the point where [they] start seeing all the things that need to get done and [they] may not need to ask it anymore.” At camp, she sees children adopt and develop these responsible behaviours for themselves.
Camp gives children models they can follow. They’re given tasks and they see consequences of not following through with responsibilities. A welcoming environment is necessary to ensure that the child feels supported as they navigate through their decision-making processes.
What is an example of responsibility?
Sherri Cully, parent of a camper at Radiant Girls camp, agrees with Monke that responsibility is “key in life.”
She believes it’s necessary to be accountable for your own actions to function in society. Her daughter, Hailey, has become more responsible since attending Radiant Girls. There, she was made aware of the repercussions of her actions, and developed a sense of accountability.
“Because [Hailey was] given specific things [she] had to do,” she learned responsibility, “not only for specific chores … but also to own her actions.” Camp focused on the notion that every action had a reaction and Sherri believes this mentality helped her daughter foster and nurture her own sense of responsibility.
Why is responsibility important to children’s development?
“Probably the most important thing is that you’ll have a better life,” Monke begins. The benefits of responsibility are endless. “Kids will have better relationships, they’ll do better in their career, they’ll be able to manage their home, their finances, everything.” When parents teach children responsibility from an early age, they have a solid foundation to grow on, as they get older.
Responsibility is a key trait people look for when they’re considering someone to work with or someone to be friends with. Monke attests to the fact that people are drawn to “someone [who] is dependable and responsible and will follow through on something that is their job or duty, whatever that may be.” This can, in turn, be foundational to developing other valuable traits.
When a child learns responsibility, they learn about perseverance, patience, hard work, time management, accountability, and more. They learn the importance of following through with their tasks, developing this as a habit, without being told. In turn, they develop independence and feel needed as others recognize their reliability.
What we teach camp counsellors ... is to allow the kids the time they need to figure it out. It’s really hard to do this as a parent.
When they develop responsibility at an early age, children gain experience in thinking through options in challenging situations. They learn personal accountability, grow problem-solving skills and improve decision-making. These all help children later, in real-world scenarios, as they face academic challenges, navigate the workforce and grow into adulthood.
Monke sees that when children exercise responsibility in camp, it gives them empowerment and confidence. She believes that, “increased responsibility and becoming more capable [helps kids] gain confidence by actually doing things.” Give children independent tasks like vacuuming or putting their toys away, and they “feel so grown up ... they take the task so seriously.”
How do social environments accelerate the growth of responsibility?
The singular aspect about camps that encourages responsibility “is that your parents aren’t there,” says Monke. Knowing they can’t run back to their parents for help, they learn to figure things out on their own. “And also, the adults in charge have more children that they’re watching so by default, kids need to do more for themselves. It’s actually really good for kids to be in environments where they’re asked to be responsible for more than themselves.”
Something as simple as hanging a sweatshirt is an act of responsibility. At home, a parent might be more likely to do a task like this for them. “A default behaviour for parents is to just do [things] for [their] kids, especially when it’s expedient,” Monke explains. Of course, “default behaviour for kids is to wait ... and see if someone else is going to step in,” she adds. “What we teach camp counsellors ... is to allow the kids the time they need to figure it out.” She emphasizes that these tasks might then take longer to complete, but that’s necessary, to give children personal lessons in responsibility. ”It’s really hard to do this as a parent,” that’s why it benefits them to let children go to camp, she says. The thing to remember, though, is that these "experiences are really helpful for kids," as unique opportunities "to take responsibility.”
Want your child to enhance their responsibility?
If you find it difficult to step back and allow your child to learn responsibility, camp is a great teacher. At camp, children learn on their own, listen to instructions, work as a team, develop leadership skills, work as a team, and follow through with duties. The independence of camp fosters responsibility as they respond to situations without parents present.