Responsibility is about teaching your children to be accountable and follow through. To do this, you actually need to help your child become "response-able," especially when thinking about responsibility from a brain-based perspective.

You see, when children follow through with a commitment, we tend to reward them in hopes that one day they will do these tasks without prompting or reinforcement. When I think of "rewards" from responsible behavior, I think about neuronal and chemical rewards. Basically, when a child or adult feels a sense of reward, specific pathways in their brain are stimulated (i.e. mesolimbic dopamine system) and dopamine is released. In addition, the emotion, memory, and learning areas of the brain are stimulated to enhance the likelihood of that behavior occurring in the future .

In order to stimulate this center of the brain, one must feel intrinsically rewarded. In other words, the reward must be internal, like feeling excited or happy, not external like receiving a toy or sticker for doing a chore. Unless that toy reinforces something which aligns with a child's sense of self (thereby stimulating their reward circuit), the toy will be meaningless. In addition, the behavior will be much less likely to occur again if there is no internal enjoyment or interest.

So how does this fit in with being responsible? Well, one literally does become "response-able." At first, a person may meet a commitment, say take out the trash, and be externally rewarded with praise and maybe even an allowance. Soon, the child may begin to shift that external reward with internal pride and "I help my family by taking out the trash" becomes a core value.

Alternatively, getting an allowance could allow a child to feel more successful, an intrinsically rewarding accomplishment . This will then stimulate the mesolimbic dopamine system, the brain feels happy and reinforced, and the behavior will likely increase. This child just became able to be responsible more often.

With older children and adolescents, this is a particularly important concept. We begin by requiring children to complete certain chores. Then, we provide an allowance, a cool new game, or access to an event or electronic device. These are external rewards. Parents should then attempt to remove the need to earn the game (external), for example, and the child should begin to just feel good about doing the chore (internal).

Statements like, "Thank you so much, that was very helpful" or "I like that everyone contributes to the family" or "You really follow through with your commitments" enables adolescents to start identifying the completion of chores (i.e. commitments) as part of who they are. Overtime, this will begin to stimulate their internal reward system. Adolescents then experience physical changes to their brain that makes them able to, and more likely to be, responsible.

When it comes to the results and successes following responsible behavior, they are twofold. One, a person actually experiences joy and happiness from acting responsibly. Two, he or she is more likely to act responsibly again and get a rush of dopamine when doing it. One could say they have the potential to become addicted to being responsible!

So, what's the best way for parents to get their children to be "response-able?" Here are some tips!

  • Follow your child's natural interests or strengths when introducing an activity. This will naturally prime the dopamine system and increase your chance of success! Have your child help with dinner if she shows an interest in food or cooking. Ask your older child to help the younger one with homework if that's an area of strength.
  • If your child is younger, use their natural desire to please and start small chores as soon as possible. Let them help you put the plate on the table or put their clothes in the hamper before getting in the bath. You'll find you only need to praise them to spike their dopamine response!
  • Pair chores with something fun. Why does the "Clean up" song work? It's so much fun to sing! That increases the dopamine in your child's brain and makes him or her more likely to clean up again

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