The meaning of responsibility varies from person to person and experience to experience. In general, most of us equate responsibility with being an adult—the job, a mortgage, a family, and all the expectations that go along with being an adult. To me, responsibility means doing things the right way, taking care of myself, making appropriate decisions, and finishing the ‘job’. Again, very adult! Have you ever thought about responsibility and the one year old?
I ask this because being a responsible person requires a lifetime of experiences that began when we were at the ripe age of 1. Each and every experience laid the foundation that made us the responsible adults we are today. Things like carrying a bottle/sippie, putting toys away, finding shoes, or bringing a clean diaper teaches us how to keep a clean space, take care of our needs, and carry our own belongings; all very adult like behaviors.
When it comes to teaching responsibility, I believe it’s more about the child and learning and less about teaching and us. I say this because there is no textbook or online course; just simple every day life experiences through which responsibility is developed. The adult’s job is to monitor each situation and decide when to give advice, when to let the chips fall where they may, or when to step in and tell the child to stop.
So, here’s what I know about helping children learn to be responsible:
I think the most important part of teaching responsibility begins with a person’s belief about the subject. What are the characteristics of a responsible person? What are their behaviors? The answers to these questions describe your picture of a responsible person and identify the traits you want your child to have when they are adults.
Experience after experience after experience! Children learn by doing! Instead of carrying a child’s papers, or taking off a child’s coat, or carrying a child into a building, let the child do the job. We have to show children how to do these things and provide a lot of assistance in the beginning. Based on my own experiences, it’s worth every bit of energy to help one year olds learn about putting toys away. The reality is children don’t know what we mean when they hear “It’s time to clean up.” for the first few times. Once they know what we mean, they want to help.
Making decisions is a responsible trait! I’m not talking about decisions regarding a child’s health or welfare. These are decisions best left to mom and dad or the adult in charge. The decisions I am talking about are choices children make with regards to color of clothes, which fruit or vegetable they want for snack, or how they walk outside; holding mom’s hand or carried in mom’s arms. At 3, children are ready to make choices about their behavior and accept the consequences. I realize there are tears and screams when the results aren’t so good and each situation helps children learn a different aspect of responsibility.
Children are very capable human beings and will do some amazing things! Please don’t be fooled by the thought a child can’t do something because they’re too young. If adults would remember they were once this age and filled with the same strong desire to be independent, they would take a deep breath and give children the time and support they need to complete the task; whatever that is. If I have any question about whether or not a child can do something, I’ll take the assumptive and believe the child can do the job. I will watch the child for signs of frustration and at that point, I’ll offer my help.
Responsibility isn’t something one can start learning at the age of 20 and then all of a sudden be a responsible person when they turn 21. Responsibility is something that takes a lifetime to develop. Along the way there are some really difficult lessons to learn (like the first time a child is told “No.”) and some that are easier to handle. These lessons are never ending! From the minute a child wakes up in the morning until the time they go to bed, they will have so many experiences and the majority of them will have something to do with responsibility. Our job in all this is to be the manager who is ready to offer advice or assistance.
One final thought: Learning how to be responsible is much like learning how to ride a bike. When a child is learning about riding a bike, they have a tendency to fall down and scrape a knee, elbow, or nose. When this happens, we rush to the child, give them a hug and tend to their wounds. Then, after all the hugs and kisses, the child is back on the bike ready to learn some more. When a child is learning about responsibility, they are going to make mistakes and some will have serious consequences while others maybe not so serious. At the end of the day, the child needs to be help accountable for the consequences and at the same time they need to know that mom and dad still love them and want them around. This will give them the confidence and knowledge to take on the next task in a more responsible manner.
This is what I know; did it help?
©2014 Ernie and Mary Batson