Many parents spend enormous amounts of energy lecturing their kids about the importance of being responsible. Often to no avail. Despite the lectures, your kid still won’t clean their room, empty the dishwasher, complete their homework, or apologize to their little brother.

To your child, it probably just sounds like nagging. And for good reason. It is nagging. And it’s an ineffective parenting technique.

Let me explain. Constant lecturing to your child gets in the way of his ability to be emotionally separate from you. You think you’re lectures are helpful, but they actually aid his irresponsibility. That’s because he’s functioning in reaction to you instead of being responsible for himself.

Think of it this way. If you jump into your child’s world—his “box” as I like to call it—and tell him what to do and how to act, then how responsible for himself can he become?

Instead, try to stay in your own box, maintain your boundaries, and take responsibility for your actions, not your child’s. Your actions should be focused on clearly stating the rules and holding your child accountable with effective consequences if he doesn’t follow the rules.

Related content: How to Give Kids Consequences That Work

Here’s an example. Let’s say your adult son always shows up at the last minute and expects dinner to be waiting for him. When he arrives, you start lecturing him about how he should call ahead while at the same time you’re scurrying around to get food on the table for him.

You continue to criticize him for his inconsiderate attitude while waiting on him hand and foot.

A better way to handle it is to tell him if he doesn’t let you know he’s coming home for dinner by 4 p.m., you won’t be able to make anything for him. And then stick to your word.

The key is that you’re taking responsibility for what you will and won’t do here and letting him deal with the consequences. No lectures, no preaching, no criticizing, no personalizing.

Respect his ability to make choices, even if you don’t agree with them. Not letting you know he’s coming home for dinner is a choice. Respond to those choices from your own best and most responsible thinking and actions.

Even though it may feel uncomfortable, taking responsibility for yourself will likely earn his respect. The goal isn’t to change him—you can’t. The goal is to become a strong, clear, inspiring individual who he respects.

Here are four tips to help you put this into practice.

1. Pause the Lecture

When you’re worried about your child’s irresponsibility and you’re about to lecture and preach, stop for a moment and breathe.

The moment between your child’s action and your response is your most important parenting moment. It is in this space that you can choose to respond from a knee-jerk reaction or from a more thoughtful place.

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The knee-jerk response often calms you down momentarily, but it’s the start to becoming a nag. When you pause and think about the bigger picture, you can make a better choice—the choice to stay out of your child’s box and to remain emotionally separate.

Although it doesn’t feel as good initially, it results in a more responsible parent-child relationship. Without the pause, it’s easy to let your emotions lead you astray.

2. Focus on You, Not Your Child

Confront yourself with the important questions. Ask yourself:

“What would a responsible parent do in this situation? What are my options if my child is not acting responsibly—and which option do I want to choose? And am I willing to live with the possible consequences of that choice?”

Let’s say you wanted your 16-year-old son to get a part-time job last summer. He kept saying he was looking, but never applied anywhere and ended up just sitting around the house.

Now that the school year has started, he’s not getting his work done, and when he does, he somehow forgets to hand it in. And what’s worse, the angrier you get, the more detached and flat he gets.

First, stop and ask yourself:

“Is there any way I might be contributing to my child’s irresponsibility? Have I set myself up to be the nag, or am I over-functioning for him?”

You’re taking the obligation off of him because you’re serving as a constant reminder about what he should be doing. This gets in the way of your child being able to hear his own voice. Now, instead of learning responsibility, he’s learning to function in reaction to you.

I think it’s more effective to determine what your bottom line is, and then give consequences when your child doesn’t do his job. Always go back to:

“What’s my responsibility here, and what’s my child’s?”

The consequence, in this case, is that your child has to do his school work in the living room and not in his bedroom, or that he can’t watch TV until his homework is done for the evening.

3. Ask Yourself: What Does My Child Need From Me?

Understand that kids with ADHD, ADD, or other learning disabilities may need a different kind of guidance from parents. Perhaps they often forget homework at school or neglect to hand it in, even when they’ve done it.

If this is the situation in your family, your job is to help your child create a structure for himself. You will likely have to stay more involved and check in more often.

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Also, don’t ask generally “What do my kids need?” Instead, be specific. Ask “What does this particular child need?” And then determine what your responsibilities are and aren’t.

It might be that you have to help your child design a chart to keep track of what he has to do. But he should then be in charge of putting a check next to those things when they get done.

4. Recognize When You’re in Your Child’s Box

Most of the time we’re not necessarily aware that we have crossed boundaries. There are usually signs that you have stepped into your child’s box. These signs include feeling frazzled, at the end of your rope, and frustrated.

Typically, when you feel calm and engaged in your own interests, you’re probably in your own box. Know what the triggers are that cause you to jump from your box to his. Try to increase your awareness of yourself.

Most of us think we’re teaching our kids responsibility. In reality, we are preaching, not teaching. And guess what? This only creates more dependency. And dependency in relationships doesn’t encourage kids to be responsible for themselves.

If you can do this then you will create a healthy emotional separateness between you and your child. Why is emotional separateness important? The more emotionally separate you are, the freer your child is to see himself more clearly. You’re no longer in his box or in his head, telling him what to do all the time, which gives him the opportunity to become responsible for himself.

Related content:
Learned Helplessness: Are You Doing Too Much for Your Child?
How to Create a Culture of Accountability in Your Home
Chronically Late Kids: Let Them Pay the Price


For more than 25 years, Debbie has offered compassionate and effective therapy and coaching, helping individuals, couples and parents to heal themselves and their relationships. Debbie is the creator of the Calm Parent AM & PM™ program and is also the author of numerous books for young people on interpersonal relations.

Comments (14)
  • Aimee
    Excellent advice, thank you so much and it applies to kids in England too! I find that to take an interest in school work and the topics they are covering, can lead to really interesting conversations and the kids are keen to enlighten and keep me a 'modern' Parent. IMore really look forward to your news letters.
  • Bcross
    I have a question - "The consequence, in this case, is that your child has to do his school work in the living room and not in his bedroom" This would be great - but what if they refuse to come out of their room and do their homeworkMore which is online. Is it that the wifi is just shut off to that device - so they either do it in a common space or they don't do it...and then aren't I now the reason they aren't doing their homework? I want to do this -but can't figure out how to implement - which likely means it isn't the right consequence for the situation or my kid..but struggling.
    • KZS
      If your child knows that he must do his homework in the living room, so he knows that this is the rule...then if he doesn't come out to do it, it is HIS choice...so if the homework is not done, it will be HIS responsability, not yours...so if you turnMore off the wifi so he can't do other stuffs on the Internet I think that is OK...the wifi will be turned on when he accepts the rule and conforms, and when he is ready, he can use the wifi for other purposes too. I can see no problem here.
  • Mom
    Excellent article, really helped me after a morning of lecturing. Thanks!
  • Pet
    I suffer the consequences of my kids carelessness. If they go to school late, don't hand in homework I ultimately suffer the consequences. If they go to school late, they get a lunchtime break taken away. I get to sign the school late book and be late for work. PersistentMore lateness leads to me being reported to the truancy officer. When they ignore my nagging about jumping up and down on furniture then end up breaking the sofa, I pay for it.
  • Greg Winter
    Very informative
    The problem with this is that many parents try to teach this lesson at someone else's expense. I used to run a small business that offered music lessons to children. I was constantly amazed at the inconsiderate behavior of the parents trying to teach their kids a lesson by notMore supervising their attendance. I understand that they were trying to encourage their children to be independent but I was the one that was left holding the bag when they didn't bother to show up for their scheduled appointments. I was just trying to make a living but these self-important narcissists were too busy congratulating themselves on being such progressive enlightened parents that they never bothered to consider how it was affecting others.
  • NatalieDavis
    I'm having the same problem as Momo3. My daughter is almost 17 and has zero understanding of responsibility. She doesn't do anything unless I force her. For 2 years I've been trying the "reward" system. Letting her be free to choose which chores she is going to do instead ofMore telling her which ones. With the understanding that if she chooses to do nothing, she gets no reward. She always claims she wants to do things like get a job so I took her around to collect applications to local places. I even sat down with her and helped her fill them out and taught her how to write cover letters so she would stand out. But I left it up to her to take the initiative to hand the apps back in. She never did. She said she wanted to start running to get in shape to try out for track so I set up the treadmill. She has never once used it. I am very good at sticking to my guns. Now I'm too the point that she has no phone for months. I do not give her any money to go out with friends. Took away the ipod. She has no access to my computer. She rarely goes out with friends because she does no chores through the week. I've resorted to making her sit alone in the basement if she fails to meet expectations and nothing phases her. I've told her 2719 times that she is free to hang out with her friends as much as she wants and have her phone back and do fun things but she has to take the initiative. I could easily force her to do any chores I want and she will actually do them but I keep trying to reiterate to her that if she sees a sink full of dishes or a basket full of clothes and decides to take care of them on her own,there will be a reward. If she ignores them, I can make her do it anyway and there will be no reward. She never does anything. I'm quite literally running out of things to take away. I am at the end of my rope.
    • RebeccaW_ParentalSupport
      NatalieDavis I hear you.  It can be so challenging when you have a teen who is irresponsible and lacks initiative.  At this point, I wouldn’t recommend looking for more things to take away from your daughter, because consequences by themselves do not change behavior.  This is because simply taking thingsMore away for months does not teach your daughter what to do differently the next time she sees a sink full of dishes or a basket full of clothes.  It could be more helpful to focus more on problem-solving with your daughter about specific actions she can take to help herself follow through on tasks.  You might find some useful information in our article series https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/why-consequences-arent-enough-part-1-how-to-coach-your-child-to-better-behavior/ and https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/why-consequences-arent-enough-part-2-making-child-behavior-changes-that-last/.  Please be sure to write back and let us know how things are going for you and your daughter.  Take care.
  • AnusmitaDutta

    Great article. This is a

    really informative piece. Though my daughter is a baby now, going ahead I will

    certainly keep some of these points in mind. I agree that as parents we have to

    lead by example. I also like the point about being emotionally separate from

    the child. It is not easy to implement these instantly at least in my country

    but reading such informative pieces are an eye-opener.

  • Momo3

    I like this and try my best to parent in this manner. ..not reactive.

    Trying to meet their needs to be a responsible adult, asset to society.


    There are consequences for actions. This article does not address that.

    Today my 16 y/o said I was being an a**hole for reminding him to do his chores for the 3rd time in 5 hours. He said he couldn't because he had to be somewhere in 5 minutes and I said you should hurry then.

    He handed his phone over. You cannot have the phone if you do not use your mouth kindly and if you haven't earned it.

    Now what

    • RebeccaW_ParentalSupport


      You make a great point that consequences are an important piece of holding

      kids accountable for their actions, both within the family as well as in the

      greater society.We actually have many articles,

      blogs and other resources which outline https://www.empoweringparents.com/article-categories/parenting-strategies-techniques/consequences-rewards/.Here is one you might

      find helpful in determining your next steps with your son: https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/how-to-get-your-child-to-listen-9-secrets-to-giving-effective-consequences/.Please let us know if you have any additional


  • John
    I am the step parent of Older teens and it's just much easier to just do the 5 min of chores that are just a cause for a power struggle I have not always believed this. I used to struggle tooth and nail with their mother and them toMore teach them discipline. all it got me is labeled a jerk. Not worth it. Besides they can always talk to their school councillor they seem to have everything wrapped up pretty tight.
  • KehkashanKiran

    Thanks a lot for your sincere advices.

    I belong to a society where we are not too much open about our relations. We absorb a lot instead discussions and finally we burst up. Only religion supports us to cope up with these issues. But in extreme cases we lose our potential to get guidance from religion. Right now I m passing through a very hard phase in my life. I really got very relaxed after reading your article. I pray Allah S.W.T for u and me as well to guide us in all phases of our lives. Aameen.

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