Children are little sponges, and if you’ve been a parent for any length of time then you know that they love to mimic us. You only have a small window to mold a child so they can strong, free thinking, individuals and good citizens. If you think about it, your preschooler only has 15 more years before you send them off to college--while that sounds far away, it's never too early to begin their moral training.
While play is still the most important thing for children, it is time to start introducing small actions that teach the idea of responsibility in a fun and consistent way.
The Definition of Responsibility
Responsibility is the key ingredient to raise a confident, happy, and contributing citizen. It’s doing the right thing even when it's not fun, popular, or convenient to do so.
While children won’t have to worry about adult-sized responsibilities now, they are at the perfect age to start learning that they have to be responsible for their actions, that there is right and wrong, and that the world expects certain behaviors. Even though their little brains are soft and young, they can still find comfort from the structure found in responsibility. Laying groundwork for their adulthood starts as soon as they can begin to understand sentences. For example, if you make a mess, you are responsible to clean it.
Be careful when teaching responsibility. You might have a child who develops the following:
-Higher Self Esteem
-Strong Work Ethic
-Doing Their Best
-Persevering When Life Gets Hard
-Being Accountable To Authority
-Contributing To The Team
Let’s dive into some strategies that are appropriate to set the ground work for preparing your child to learn responsibility.
1. Teach Them How To Clean Their Room
You know your child and your child’s limits, but most children starting from preschool are able to pick up toys and put them away in the toy box, place pillows on the bed, and toss dirty clothes in a hamper. This teaches them to respect their personal space and encourages clean and healthy hygiene that they will carry into teen years.
2. Make A Chore Chart
Who says learning about responsibility can’t be fun? Making a chore chart can be motivational, rewarding, and plain fun for any child! Have them place fun stickers in the box when they finish each task. Chores that are appropriate for preschoolers and up include, but are not limited too:
-cleaning their room
-picking up toys and dirty laundry
-putting their trash in the trash can
-sweeping (they probably won’t do a good job, but practice makes perfect, right?)
-brushing their teeth
-water the plants
-wipe down the garbage cans
-clean out the car of their own toys and shoes
-dust all the places you don’t want to bend over to reach like bookshelves
-folding towels and washcloths while you fold laundry
3. Encourage Your Child To Give Back To Others And Contribute To The Common Good
Talk to your children about others who don’t have any toys, friends, or parents and help them donate or do an act of kindness. Have them draw a card for a sick person or spend time with an older, lonely person. Teaching your child to recognize the needs of others is a great way to teach them to be responsible for the people in their life and to practice empathy.
4. Provide Routines And Structure For Chores
No child naturally loves chores (or responsibilities, for that matter.) But once you make it part of their routine and it becomes a habit, taking care of their space will become commonplace. They won’t even realize that you are making them responsible little citizens because it will be as natural as taking their nighttime bath. Make their chores a routine (they have to clean their room before bedtime everyday.)
5. Teach Your Child To Repay When They Break Or Lose Something
Did your child lose a library book? Did they break their sibling’s toy? Help them find a way to pay the item back. Give them chores to earn money, for example. This teaches your child boundaries, respect, and accountability. Remind them that, “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”
6. Working For Pay
All kids need to experience working for money--it’s a right of passage! Giving an allowance to children without earning it sets a child up for a self entitled mindset. When a child grows up with an allowance they don't experience gratefulness, thankfulness, work ethic, or appreciation compared to a child who works for their money. Humans tend to not appreciate what they don’t earn, so teaching your child how money works is a great way to teach responsibility.
If you want to take responsibility to the next level, some parents teach their children how to budget what they earned. You can tell them that 10% of all their earnings always goes into their piggy bank for savings. You know your child best, so if your child is mature enough to understand, try teaching them to save and they will appreciate all their hard work in the future when they need money for something. Teaching money responsibility is a life skill that many children are never taught and they later grow into adults who cannot save and only know how to spend above their means.
7. Let Them Do Hard Things
As a parent, we naturally have a desire to protect our children. We know we can do it better and safer, but if we do, it only handicaps their growth. Children need to fall down, get dirty, and make mistakes--that is how they learn to be responsible for their actions. If a child can’t be self-sufficient, they will never spread wings and fly. When it is safe to do so, allow your child to undergo hard things. When you see them about to make mistakes, let it happen (if it is not unsafe.) This will teach them how strong they are, enable them to become self-thinkers and problem solvers and show them a sense of self-reliance.
8. Have A Conversation About Who They Are And Who They Will Become
This is a quote taken from ahaparenting.com on teaching children responsibility:
“Teach your kids that as Eleanor Roosevelt said, they not only have the right to be an individual, they have an obligation to be one.”
Studies show that people who take responsibility in any given situation are people who see themselves as willing to be different and stand out. That's the kind of kid you want to raise.”
Part of becoming a responsible individual is having meaningful conversations with your children. Remind them of the great things they can do. Talk to them about who they are and who they want to be. Tell them stories of brave people and inspire them with the stories of heroic people in years past. When your conversions are inspiring, children will have a standard of which to live up to ad responsibility will more attainable.