How to Teach a Child Initiative

By Sara Ipatenco
Child washing tires of car.
Child washing tires of car.

One of the most challenging jobs of a parent is convincing a child to do something he is adamant about not doing, such as chores or homework. In these instances, parents can begin to wonder how to get their child to take the initiative to be responsible. Initiative itself cannot be taught unless a child is willing to learn what it is and how to apply it in his own life. You can, however, work with your child in ways to boost confidence and responsibility as these character traits are part of what comprises initiative.

Model the Appropriate Skills

Initiative is noticing something that needs to be done and doing it without procrastinating. You can help instill this character trait in your child by modeling the behavior yourself. After all, children learn by watching those they look up to, so taking the initiative can help teach your child the value of doing so himself. Child development expert and author, Robyn Silverman, Ph.D., recommends that parents verbally point out instances in which they take initiative. For instance, you might say to your child, "Look -- someone left litter in the park, so I'm going to put it in the trash can." This models the behavior for the child and shows him that, when something needs to be done, just do it.

Boost Self-Confidence

Allowing children to make some decisions on their own will help build the confidence necessary to take initiative. For example, let your child choose between two or three outfits or let him choose what foods he wants you to pack in his lunchbox. Along the same lines, give your child specific chores that he's responsible for each day. As he completes the chores, he'll get a sense of satisfaction for a job well done, which can translate into a boost in self-confidence. Well-timed praise for your child's efforts will also help instill a sense of self-worth.

Encourage Self-Reliancy

Resist the temptation to do everything for your child, even if it's easier and saves you time. When your child knows you'll take care of her responsibilities, it gives her very little reason to take the initiative to do it herself. Require your child to pack her own backpack, take care of her own dirty clothes, tie her own shoes and make her own bed. Giving your child responsibilities that she must carry out each day also helps her feel like she's a valuable member of the household, and that's key to building confidence, according to pediatrician and author, Dr. William Sears.

Set Expectations and Consequences

While constantly nagging your child about his responsibilities is sure to backfire, there is a necessary place for expectations and consequences. When your child knows what's expected of him and what will happen if he doesn't meet those expectations, he'll be far more likely to take initiative. For example, if your child doesn't get his chores done in a timely manner, he might not have time to watch his favorite television show or play with his toys. This consequence will remind him that there's value in getting things done at the appropriate times.

About the Author

Sara Ipatenco has taught writing, health and nutrition. She started writing in 2007 and has been published in Teaching Tolerance magazine. Ipatenco holds a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in education, both from the University of Denver.