Growing Responsibility

In today’s society children often have fewer opportunities to develop responsibility. We no longer need them to be important contributors to the family’s economic survival as we once did. Parents often do too much in the name of love, not wanting their children to experience sadness or disappointment. Teaching children responsibility for tasks, belongings, as well as for their actions helps build a sense of capability and self-reliance that counteract the sense of entitlement that parents often report. Completing tasks is only one part of learning responsibility. It’s also about making mistakes and learning resilience. This comes from an environment in which it is safe to make mistakes and where there is an expectation to fix the mistake (with no punishment or shame attached).  (How did this happen, what did I learn, how could I do this differently next time?)  Try this: make a list of all the abilities and qualities that you would like your child to have by age 20. Now work backwards and think of the tasks and responsibilities that will help your child gain these skills.  If your child adds a significant responsibility each year, then they will become a capable young adult. Sounds easy, right? Wait until your child is fifteen and they really want to be responsible for “everything”. Here are some ideas for different age groups.

Toddlers can:

  • turn off lights when they leave a room (have a stool near light switch)
  • hang up towels
  • put toys away
  • wipe up a spill

Preschoolers can:iStock_000005516589Small

  • set the table, load the dishwasher
  • feed a pet
  • dust a room or use a dust buster to “vacuum” after dinner
  • wipe out the sink after brushing teeth

Ages 6-11 can:

  • wash mirrors, vacuum, dust, load dishwasher
  • take clothing to laundry, sort colors, operate washing machine
  • put laundry away moving toward doing own laundry
  • help make dinner (younger children)
  • plan and make dinner once a month/week (older children), make cookies, breakfast
  • pack own lunch
  • be responsible for their own homework, getting backpack ready for school
  • have a library card, check out books, be responsible for late fees

Teenagers can:

  • volunteer at a senior center or food bank
  • wash car and fill the tank with gas, replace a tire
  • responsible for their own budget (have a clothes allowance, buy own clothes)
  • earn some of their own money
  • manage their own schedule and arrange own transportation
  • help out with sibling care
  • follow agreements (come home on time, do share of family work as agreed upon)

Challenge: What are you doing for your child that he or she can do for him/herself?  How will you move the responsibility to your child?