It’s never too early to start teaching your child how to be a responsible person. In fact, getting an early start makes it second nature for your child to do their share, show respect and be mindful of the needs of those around them. As long as you have age-appropriate expectations, your child will thrive in an atmosphere where personal responsibility is valued and encouraged. And you will reap the rewards of having a child who takes pride in being a contributing member of your household. Not only that, responsibility is the best way to help your child develop a healthy sense of confidence and self-esteem.
5 Ways to Encourage Responsibility
1. Lead by example! Children learn first and foremost by observing their parents, so it’s more important than ever that you honor your commitments and do what you say you will do. Of course, nobody is perfect and we all make mistakes or circumstances prevent us from following through. One of the most important lessons we’ll teach our children is how to deal with our mistakes and shortcomings. Teach your child how to own up to these mishaps with grace, good humor and an attitude that mistakes are a way to learn, instead of a reason to feel shame or discouragement.
2. Let your child work with you as much as possible. It’s not easy to get the house or garden work done with a little helper, but it will pay off in the long run. You’ll not only be teaching your child how to do these chores, you’ll also be giving them a hands-on lesson on the value of working together, buckling down and getting the job done. Children also learn to see chores as part of a normal daily routine and not a punishment or something that should be avoided as long as possible.
3. Have clear rules and expectations and be consistent about enforcing them. For young preschoolers, that means doing things the same way every time (or as close to it as possible). If you always put away one toy before taking out another or always spend five minutes tidying up the playroom before washing up for super, it’s easy for your child to understand what’s expected of them. When the expectations aren’t consistently enforced, children become confused and will start to push the boundaries, which makes everyone stressed and miserable.
4. A responsibility chart is a wonderful tool. Young children are highly visual learners, so look for one with clear graphics like Melissa and Doug’s magnetic responsibility chart. Not only will using a chart give your child an easy-to-understand way to keep track of their chores, it will also give them a leg up on learning how to stay organized in the future. Charts also give children a way to see how much they’ve accomplished which can be very motivating. You can offer a small reward for completing a week’s worth of responsibilities satisfactorily, but be aware that going overboard can backfire.
5. Let your child experience the natural consequences of failing to live up to their responsibilities as much as possible. As long as you have age-appropriate expectations for your child, the consequences aren’t likely to be too harsh for them to bear and can teach them much more than hours of lecturing, nagging and reminding. For example, a natural consequence of not putting away a puzzle is that baby brother gets a hold of it, loses one of the pieces and we won’t be able to replace it until we’ve earned enough money (or the next holiday roles around). The natural consequence of not putting away your shoes is that we have to spend time searching for them and have less time at the playground.
Do let your child feel a bit of sorrow and remorse and then guide them into thinking of practical ways to avoid the problem next time. Do it in a matter of fact way so that your child understands that we all make mistakes and they are opportunities to learn how to do it better next time.
Helping your child learn how to be a responsible person is a gift that will stick with them through their entire lives. While it might take a bit more work in the beginning, it will pay off in the end many times over.
Authors Jacob and Carol Maslow are the proud parents of five preteen children who have learned from experience that real toys don’t require batteries. Carol works as a therapist, specializing in integrating developmentally delayed preschoolers with their classmates. Jacob works at online retailer Today’s Concept, where parents can find the classic Melissa and Doug Toys.