How to Raise a Responsible Child

When children reach late childhood to early adolescence, there is an almost automatic expectation that they will show signs of responsibility. Many parents are at a loss when that responsibility is not forthcoming. Yet, for many families, attempts were not made to teach their children to be responsible for themselves, their belongings, and as members of the family system at an early age.

Children, even at a very young age, are capable of devel­oping responsibilities. This does not take away their childhood or put parents in the category of slave drivers. What it does, however, is encourage self-direction and decision making. In taking responsibility, first for herself and then as a member of the family, a child is able to experience a sense of accomplish­ment and satisfaction. These early responsibilities also lead to later responsibility as a member of a larger community and society.

How, as parents, can you begin to teach your child respon­sibility? First, the earlier children begin to assume family-related responsibilities, the more likely they will accept them as a part of their daily routine. Tasks should be geared to the child's age and ability level. Very young children can learn to be responsible for picking up their toys and keeping their rooms neat. As they get older, children can assist with such chores as sorting laundry, putting it away, setting the table, or putting groceries away. Some children might be able to make their own grocery list or help with cooking. Five-year-old chil­dren are also capable of helping in the yard by picking up leaves or watering plants.

It is important to allow your child to have a say in the decision-making process when you are trying to identify specific chores and tasks. Each of us likes to have some sense of control, and you are more likely to get compliance if your child given a choice of the tasks for which she is responsible. It is also extremely important to be consistent once responsibilities are identified. We live in a very busy society and are often engaged in a large number of activities. Sometimes it is far more easy to complete a task ourselves than it is to remind our children four or five times. The question is, which is more beneficial? In the long run, we would all probably agree that it more beneficial for our children to have the ongoing responsibility than it is to do it ourselves. This may necessitate con­sequences for not completing tasks. Loss of a special dessert or 15 minutes of television time are some suggestions. Making special privileges contingent on completing tasks is also useful, he Saturday rule may be that no one is allowed to go out to lay until all chores are done.

In addition to identifying specific tasks for your child to complete, it is also important to make her responsible for correcting her own mistakes. For example, if something was spilled, have her play a part in cleaning it up. If she broke something, she should be made responsible for attempting to repair it. Keeping in mind your child's age, this may mean having her provide some help while you do most of the work, his still gives her a sense of responsibility and ownership.

When children are given responsibility at an early age, they begin to feel as if they are making a real and important contribution to the family. Making your child responsible is not intended to be a burden on him or on you as parents. It is important for children to know their capabilities and be able to act upon them. Remember the long-term goal: helping your child to become an independent and self-sufficient individual. As you see your child become more confident in her abilities, you will become more confident that you are on the right track.

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