All parents want their children to be responsible. They want them to be considerate of others, do their schoolwork carefully and on time, take care of pets, follow safety rules, and clean up. When children don’t act responsibly, parents become frustrated. “When will he ever learn to do the right thing?”
It’s helpful to know that responsibility is tied to a number of other traits, such as thoughtfulness, common sense, generosity, and empathy. Responsibility requires maturity, alertness, and a social conscience. A child under the age of five or six is too young to consistently show responsible traits and too young to consistently think about the consequences of his actions.
In order to become responsible, your child needs good role models. You set the standards your child will gradually follow. If you emphasize the importance of doing a good job and caring about others, your child will pick that up.
The process of learning to be responsible is neither quick nor smooth. Three to five-year-olds need many reminders, particularly about picking up their toys. Since a child rarely enjoys or cares about this task, he isn’t motivated to put his toys away.
Kids also don’t understand the reasons for many tasks. Even when parents explain why jobs are necessary, their child might resist. “Why should I put the game away? Shannon took it out.”
You may feel less frustrated if you accept that constant reminders are a necessary part of teaching your child to be responsible. Reminders are important in all areas of responsibility. Children need to be told about safety, consideration for others, sharing, cleanup, and schoolwork. For some responsibilities, a chart might be useful. Each day, a child checks off the jobs he’s completed. Even with a chart, though, most kids still need reminders. Young children just can’t consistently keep track of too many obligations.
If your child continually fails to be as responsible as you’d like, re-examine your expectations. You might be asking him to do too much. Try eliminating one or two of the less important tasks he struggles with, and see if he doesn’t become more responsible about the remaining obligations. Also, be sure to leave him free time to play and pursue creative projects; if he has to spend a big portion of his time on tasks that don’t interest him, he’ll be too frustrated to do his best.
In teaching responsibility, as in many other aspects of parenting, you’ll find your child becomes most cooperative when you get involved. Help him straighten his room, or offer to trade jobs so he can water the lawn while you pick up the toys.
If your child’s able to behave somewhat responsibly after you’ve given him reminders, he’s on the right track. Although you may wish he’d learn more quickly, be assured that as he grows, you’ll continue to see progress as long as you patiently continue to reinforce responsible behavior at home.