Parenting In Focus: Learning and teaching responsibility

Teaching your child about responsibility is an important lesson. It cannot wait until the child is ready to go out into the world — it has to begin now.

Responsibility is such a big thing it sounds overwhelming to teach it to a child. But like most things in life, it comes in little steps.

Children learn to be responsible by:

• observing responsible adults

• having specific tasks assigned to them

• by doing and having trial and error being their greatest teachers

Your elementary-aged child is beginning to take greater responsibility for himself. He brushes his teeth, showers, combs his hair, and hopefully he picks up his clothes. He may even be so responsible that he helps others, too. He can feed the cat, help with his younger brother and set the table. These are all responsible things for him to do.

Make sure he knows you value his taking responsibility for helping you and also for his schoolwork. Give him the chance to earn your praise. Help him understand the connection between responsibility and privileges. Comment on what he does, tell others of his help, and always give him a big hug. He may be growing big enough to be more responsible, but he isn’t so big that he doesn’t like a hug (see “Guide to Raising Great Kids”).

When your child wants to try to do things of her own, encourage it. Maybe she wants to make brownies by herself. Why not? If there isn’t a good reason, pull back a bit and let her try. Independence is something each child needs to gain slowly just like responsibility. Let the reins out when you can while keeping your child safe.

At times we think of privileges as a thing. We think of rewards as money or gifts. Privileges and rewards are most important when they show love and respect not money.

So encourage your child by your behavior. Demonstrate your own responsibility that your child can see it is important to you also.

Come up with chores that your child can do. Your child may have some ideas what these chores can be or you need to be able to come up with them. Make them chores where your child can see the results. If he is picking up his toys, he can see the room become cleaner or more organized. If she is setting the table she can see how nice it looks.

Give her or him a chance to see if there is a good result of what he or she has done. Let your child learn from what your child has completed. Give your praise after your child has evaluated what he or she accomplished. Then be sure to give the praise or the hugs. Let your child hear you praise her or his work to others. Let your child see the value of being a responsible person.

Make sure you learn to see the value of teaching responsibility because this is an important parenting responsibility.

Cynthia Martin is the founder of the First Teacher program and former executive director of Parenting Matters Foundation, which published newsletters for parents, caregivers and grandparents.