We, as humans, are born with certain natural instincts. We all need to eat, we all need to drink, and we all need to sleep. Newborns often need help learning how to sleep effectively or latch in order to eat, but the inclination toward these things is as innate as breathing. Something that isn’t, however, are the skills we possess. These skills include things like showing empathy toward others who can do nothing for us, I.e., people experiencing homelessness and are disadvantaged, or learning how to read and write. Showing responsibility is also something that many struggle. However, is an important part of life that all of us need to work on and display.
In a survey of 1,001 adults in the US, 82% said they had regular chores growing up. A much smaller percent, 28%, required their children to do chores. Chores are one of the simplest and easiest ways that children can learn how to show responsibility, empathy, and care for other people and property. Learning responsibility extends beyond helping the household with chores. Here are five tips that will work when trying to get your children to take more responsibility for themselves, their surroundings, and their belongings.
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Have set chores
Children as young as eighteen months can learn to participate in keeping the house tidy, receiving their first bits of responsibility before many of them can jump on two feet. There are so many fantastic chore charts circulating the internet. Remember, however, the most important thing to remember is that our children are vastly capable creatures who can do so much more than we tend to give them credit for. If our children grow up with chores from when their earliest memories are formed, then it won’t ever be a surprise or something you’re trying to start with your stubborn teenagers.
If we give our kids chores that are consistent and do not change unless we’re discussing it with them, they know exactly what to expect. Little Susie knows that after school, it is her responsibility to unload the dish washer. When she does it every day, it becomes rote, and muscle memory.
Let kids face natural consequences
It is a parent’s instinct and completely natural to want to save our children from every bad thing that could possibly happen to them. We never want to see our children hurt, sad, or disappointed. But these things are a natural, and normal part of life. There is only so much we can save them from without hurting them in the long run.
If your child never learns to care for their own affairs, then it opens them up to the potential for a lifetime of struggling to understand the consequences of their actions. Learning the cause and effect of things is one of the greatest ways to instill a sturdy sense of responsibility. If Jacob forgets his backpack at home after being reminded, Jacob will need to understand what happens when he forgets his things. If an adult brings him his backpack, Jacob will never learn how important it is to remember his things and take responsibility for them, because he’ll never get in trouble with his teachers and there will be no catalyst that will help him to remember.
Start small and incrementally
The key for teaching your child about responsibility is to teach them in a natural way. Each step of it should make sense for your child’s abilities. It does not look like asking your two-year-old to scrub the toilets or getting your newly licensed teenager to drive around each one of their siblings to every single activity they have so you don’t have to.
Children should be taught to do things that are appropriate for their age and their abilities. This should start small. If you’ve been doing this since the beginning or are looking to start off on the right foot with your toddler, have them do simple things alongside you. In the world of child development, this is called scaffolding. Aptly named, it follows the same premise as you would see on an actual scaffold. You are the one to lay the foundation and the building blocks and as your child becomes more competent. Slowly you withdraw some of your support until your child can handle the assignment on their own.
Use positive discipline to reinforce the lesson you’re trying to teach
Positive discipline has become the new form of child rearing and educating recently, though its roots stretch back as far as psychology itself. The basic theory, if you do not already know, is that if you want good and progressively better behavior, then reward the good behavior. Your child will start to learn that they get good things when they do good things. This can be applied to showing responsibility.
If your child remembers to bring their lunch box home, tell them they did a great job. Make them feel good. If they take the dog out, reward them with something nice, something that makes them feel special. Help your child to realize that their hard work is not going unnoticed. When you d this they’ll be more likely to continue doing it. These rewards do not have to be something huge. The simpler, the better. This helps it to feel like more a part of their normal life, the everyday routine, and therefore something that is easier to work in consistently as opposed to something that a parent must save and scrounge for to give to them, and something that can rarely happen.
In this context, we’re applying it to responsibility, however the concept of positive discipline can be applied toward anything. It is far easier to do something if you know there is a reward waiting for you. And then it is easier to keep doing it, getting into the routine of performing this action to the point where it becomes a habit.
Give simple instructions and reminders often, especially at the beginning
As adults we often like to think the children in our lives know more than they do. Their brains, while ever expanding and understanding more and more every day, are still growing. Kids have a lot more on their minds than we as adults realize. Children must contend with going to school, getting homework, learning how to make friends, overcoming learning disabilities, making nice with teachers whom they may not get along with, and eating in the cafeteria or the lunch table. All of this does not even include the physical exhaustion of eight hours of learning. It also does not take into account the fact that this is only the things at school they must live with. When you add things at home to this already strenuous everyday burden, it is easy to see how children often forget things and how they slip through their fingers. Take it easy on your child. Remember that they are humans. They are also are imperfect and still learning. This is especially true when we remember that for many children, chores and responsibilities are not a part of their everyday life.
Reminding them of your expectations is a vital part of the process. If your boss at work gives you a completely new task on top of everything else you already take care of through the day, it might be harder to remember. This is true for our children as well. Carefully phrase your request in a way that is simple and easy to understand. Remember your boss who gave you the new task? Imagine they gave instructions using only local slang from the area of the country they grew up in, spoke quickly and only gave their instructions once. This makes it much harder to understand what to do, how to do it, and when it needs to be done by.
If your children are new to chores and new to taking care of their own things, remind them often. Help them with it when they are struggling. This shows that it is not necessarily about them just doing work around the house, but that you care about them enough to help them to become a better person.
It is well known that schools around the country are facing issues with their students. They are short tempered and stressed, are fighting verbally and physically. There is no one solution for this problem. More mindfulness and social-emotional learning are key, however one thing that cannot be forsaken is the importance of teaching responsibility. This helps students and children to remember that they are not only responsible for their belongings, but for themselves as well. In summation, here are some things to remember about teaching responsibility. First have consistent weekly chores with a reward for completing them. Next, let your children face natural consequences for their actions and choices, don’t give them massive amounts of responsibility and tasks first thing, but rather, start small, reinforce the lessons you’re trying to teach with positivity and things that help your child to feel good about what they’re doing. Finally, express yourself clearly and don’t be stingy with repeating your needs.
If I could impart one more reminder it would be that the goal of raising responsible children is not that your dishes get done and the trash gets taken out by someone else. It is about raising good, helpful, kind adults. Also, It is about understanding how to assist the people in their lives. It is about raising adults who are self-sufficient and understand that they are part of the bigger picture in the world—that we are responsible for ourselves, yes, but taking care of our own things helps others too.