The primary task for us as parents is to raise responsible and competent adult human beings. Losing sight of this job is a disservice to us and our children. In failing to teach kids responsibility, we communicate to our child that we don’t think he or she is smart enough or capable enough to do an age-appropriate task. This robs them of the opportunity to do real work and internalize that they are capable, important and valued. Teaching responsibility to kids leads to happier, more capable adults.
Are You Using Methods Guaranteed to Fail?
A lot of us go wrong when we think that we are “teaching” responsibility. We might nag at our daughters to pick up their dirty laundry. We might yell at our sons when they forget to pass on a phone message. It’s easy to let frustration get the better of us in these situations, especially if it is the millionth time you’ve picked up dirty socks from the living room floor! We need to keep in mind that nagging and yelling do not teach anything except bad interpersonal behaviors – and the children will reflect these bad behaviors right back to us, probably in the form of whining and temper tantrums.
Like The Paparazzi, Kids Are Always Watching
All of us have our own home-grown paparazzi, also known as our kids. They watch every move we make…and then, in Academy Award-winning performances, they imitate us. This includes how we handle our own responsibilities. They see us cook dinner, do the laundry, go to work. Granted, sometimes they think these are our hobbies and may need to be reminded that folding their underwear is not, in fact, your favorite pastime!
It is our job to help our children grow into adult-level responsibility, and we have about 18 years to do this. Just like responsibility is a given in our lives, it should be a given in theirs. Being responsible is what we do, who we are – just a fact of life.
Teaching Kids Responsibility In An Age Appropriate Way
The key to making responsibility part of our child’s being is starting early. Even a toddler can have responsibilities she can do, with supervision. Here are some basic examples of things young children can do to become more responsible, and contribute to a healthy family environment.
A toddler can:
• Help with basic laundry task. What child doesn’t want to help you match up socks?!
• Put her empty cup on the dinner table; she can even help to set the table, or at least where she sits.
• Put all the toys and blocks in the bin after playing with them.
• Push chairs back under the table after finishing a meal, or coloring a picture.
Responsibilities for 3- to 5-Year-Olds
- Help you dust the furniture, at least the lower pieces of furniture that don’t have much clutter.
- Help you fold and put away her clean laundry; this can help to learn colors; you may even make up some new names!
- Pull weeds in the garden, and plant new flowers.
- Pet and brush the dog; that’s a win-win situation for both!
Responsibility for 6- to 10-Year Olds
Older children can be responsible for:
- Putting her clothes in the hamper, and later hanging up or putting clean clothes away.
- Keeping his room neat, including vacuuming.
- Helping you rake leaves (and sometimes you just have to let them jump back in that raked-up pile!)
- Making herself breakfast, but nothing fancy.
- Feeding and giving fresh water to your pets.
You can not escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today. -Abraham Lincoln
Teach, Rinse, Repeat
As children grow and mature, the level of responsibility we give them can increase. But even as they get older, we need to keep in mind that they are still practicing and won’t always get it right. When the inevitable slip happens, I take a deep breath and remember most of the time everybody does the best they can. Then I point him towards the vacuum and remind him for the 100th time not to track mud across the carpet. I know that repetition is the key to developing the good habits that will serve my kids well the rest of their lives.
I hope you found these tips for teaching children responsibility useful. What methods do you find most effective for teaching kids responsibility?