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Helping children to accept responsibilities

By Karen HoeneckeSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / August 6, 1984



When I was teaching third grade a mother once asked me, ''How can we get our child to accept responsibilities?'' She sighed softly, adding, ''He's so dependent on me.''

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As our children grow and mature, we tire of having to remind them that they have certain jobs to get done. We expect them to acquire the process of accepting responsibilities - an essential skill that will help them as they approach adulthood.

Enforcing our word and remaining consistent are key factors when dealing with this process. As parents, we often find it easier, less frustrating, and not as time-consuming to take over and accomplish tasks for our children. And we're confronted daily with situations where we'd like to just take charge.

When a parent tells a child it's time to clear his puzzles from the "loor, he might object with a number of excuses: ''I will. ... I can't right now. ... I'll do it later. ... I'm too tired. ... You do it, Mom....''

Parents may often be tempted to give in, but that would show the child they have little respect for his responsibility. And if parents do it this time, the child might get the notion they'll bail him out the next time, reinforcing the idea that if he gives a flimsy excuse, his parents will probably give in. After assigning tasks and responsibilities, we should fight the temptation to do them for our children.

One idea is to begin by giving a daily chore at a young age, making certain the duty is within reason for the child's ability. Expectations can be increased gradually as the child matures. Our preschooler is responsible for filling the dog's dish, and for the past half year he's been doing that chore without fail. Sometimes he complains and at other times he does it with great care and pride, but he knows that particular job is his responsibility. We've found, too, that it's more reasonable to put a few demands on children and make sure the chores get done than to load them with too many expectations, then follow through only when it's convenient for parents or children.

Keep directions simple and enforce them with consistency. Young children are capable of handling one direction at a time, but with older children the number can be increased. One would expect a two-year-old to follow the simple direction of putting away his shoes, whereas a four-year-old could be directed to bring his shoes to the closet and then put away his crayons.

Some parents give children allowances or some other reward, such as stickers, for performing their responsibilities. In this case, the reward is viewed as an added incentive to get things done. This method can be most effective when the parents are consistent in making sure their expectations are met and in giving the rewards accordingly.

Other parents believe that children are a part of the family and therefore they should be assigned duties and chores without any use of rewards. If an allowance is given, it is basically a separate family practice that has no strings attached. This method, too, can be a learning tool for children, showing them that the completion of responsibilities is an integral part of family life. Either way, an occasional pat on the back or a thank-you from parents is probably one of the most satisfying reinforcements that a child could ever receive.