Gail Joan Cohen
Teaching responsibility is very important and probably given the least attention in our society. As adults we need to take responsibility for our families, our community, our world and most importantly, for ourselves. For most of us, this is a learned trait and did not come naturally. If we were not sufficiently taught, we have difficulty as adults coping with many life situations.
A child at two can start helping with the housework and is usually very willing to do whatever we are doing. Be sure to use child safe products. Many of the cleaning products today have chemicals in them that are not safe for children. There are other products that are. Look into health food stores and other alternative markets. When you are dusting, give your child a rag or duster to help along with you. Do not expect much to be accomplished in the way of cleaning. Praise for helping. At two a child can help in picking out which outfit she wants to wear today. Give a choice of two that you have pre-selected. Do you want to wear your sneakers or your shoes? It is cold today. We will need a coat and mittens to go outside. Do you want to put your mittens on first or your coat on first? Making decisions is an important part of learning and responsibility. At age two we start to see the first signs of this developing. Usually if you tell a two year old to do something, he will say, “no”. This shows that he is becoming a real person. It also shows that the responsibility trait is developing. It is now up to us to guide him to make this a positive trait. Giving choices helps develop responsibility and gives children the feeling of being in control. We all want to feel that we have control.
By three or four we can instill the idea that home belongs to the entire family. Therefore it is up to the entire family to keep the home running smoothly, keeping it clean and keeping it straight so that the family can function and focus on the more important things in life. What those things are depends on the values of the family. Have a family meeting and review chores. Give children choices. There may be some chores that children (and adults) would rather do or not do. Where possible give everyone a choice. Explain that by everyone helping we can leave sooner for the beach (or shopping or the playground, or fishing, etc.)
Certainly by three or four a child can make his bed, help with the dishes and put away toys. At first this may seem like more trouble than it is worth. We can do it ourselves faster and time is important. Take the time now to teach. You will be rewarded tenfold later when children are old enough to really make a difference and have learned the sense of responsibility. A teenager, who keeps her room clean and neat, hangs up her clothes and remembers to call if she cannot be home when promised, is well worth the extra time you spent in training when she was young.
Helping others is another important responsibility. It begins in the home with the parents helping each other. It extends to the children by parents helping children and children helping parents. It will follow then as children learn to help each other and then help those outside the immediate family; teachers, friends, and those less fortunate. Giving is a valuable lesson to learn. It makes people feel good and also helps others. We have all been on the giving end and the receiving end at different times in our lives. I like the idea of passing on good deeds. If someone does something kind for you, you may not be able to repay that person, but you can do something kind for someone else.
It is our responsibility to take care of ourselves and to ask for what we need. For some people this is not easy and some children may need to be taught this as a separate life skill. If this is true for you or your child, pay attention and work on developing this important lesson. We need to care for ourselves and asking for what we need is part of this. Ask without anger or emotion. Do not expect your children or your spouse to know what you need automatically. Some do not possess this ability. Most importantly, we are each responsible for our own happiness. It is easy to blame another person. But, ultimately, it is our responsible to find what we need.