Encouraging a Sense of Responsibility

One beautiful middle eastern little girl with pink dress and long dark brown hair and eyes on white kitchen,helping parents to wash dishes and drinking water and smiling looking at camera studio.

Responsibility is best taught in small doses across childhood. Think of gradually increasing expectations, ownership and chores overtime.

Responsible for belongings – A way to build a sense of responsibility is to have them gradually be responsible for their belongings. This means teaching them to keep their toys clean and all the pieces together, keep their floor reasonably clean and keep matching gloves throughout the winter.

This also means they are gradually responsible for their sports and activity supplies. At four and five years old, they should be helping you to pack their ballet or soccer supplies. By six and seven, you should be helping them pack their supplies. By eight and nine years old, they should be packing their own supplies. You might make them a checklist or a picture chart, but it’s important to encourage independence here.

In kindergarten and 1st grade, you can help pack up their school supplies and be sure they have what they need. By 2nd grade, they should be packing and you can check after. By 3rd grade, check every other day. By 4th grade, it’s theirs to do but check in occasionally, and offer more checking if they struggle.

Avoid rescuing them – If they lie to someone, have them talk to that person and fess up. If they take something from a store, even a small something have them return it and apologize. If they get a bad grade, focus the follow up on how they can improve and do better, and check in more as they go. Avoid working to get them out of it – speaking to the person about the lie for them, letting them keep the small thing or taking it back yourself, calling to ask to excuse the grade.

Avoid creating work for other people – This has been a mild mantra in our house. When the girls were little, we’d all spend a few minutes cleaning our mess before we left a restaurant. If you decide you don’t want something when you’re shopping, it has to go back to where it belongs.

Model and encourage work before play – Clean bedrooms before friends come over, and do chores before going out to a matinee.

Model and encourage helping others, even small acts of kindness – This may be shoveling a neighbor’s driveway, helping someone carry groceries or just checking in with a friend who’s been sick or is elderly.

Teach responsibility with volunteering and community efforts – This can be participating as a family with your school’s charity efforts, your church’s outreach programs or finding places and ways to volunteer together. The website our-kids.com has a resource list of places to volunteer as a family in the Northern Virginia and D.C.

Teach responsibility through chores – I like the idea of starting contribution, children being helpful throughout the day, by 18 months to two years old. They can carry small things to be helpful. By two-and-a-half they can match socks, they can set out spoons and napkins. By three-and-a-half, they can pour dog food and water plants.

By four or five years old, I like the idea of adding chores because they are part of the family. This is daily things like putting clothes in the hamper, putting plates in the sink or even helping make the bed, that are just expected and maybe charted, but not paid for. I particularly like pet care as a chore they do as part of the family. It encourages care for a living creature and responsibility to a relationship.

If you start there, by six or seven years old, I like the idea of adding paid chores. Keep contribution and a few chores they do to be part of the family, then, when you are ready, consider chores for allowance. Again, these are daily, otherwise they are things you keep track of and kids get paid weekly. If you lose the contribution and chores for family, it’s hard to get them to be helpful unless you pay them – and that’s not the goal.

As they get older, by nine or ten years old, you might be more flexible about chores. Maybe there’s a chore to do twice a week or a list of chores to pick from. It’s fine to get creative as long as everyone is aware of the new rules.

Prioritize school work, attendance and deadlines – It’s good to put homework or study time on the calendar daily, so kids see it’s importance. Encourage regular attendance. Help children to plan for and meet deadlines for projects and tests.

Encourage self care – Once your child can tie their own shoes, you are done tying their shoes. Have goals for self care. This may be getting dressed by five years old and taking showers independently by eight years old.

Be sure to set a good example – This includes keeping promises, showing up on time, taking care of your own belongings and keeping the house reasonably clean.

Want a Better Morning Routine with Kids?

Family Using Digital Devices At Breakfast Table

Believe me, I know, mornings in a busy house with kids can be tough. There are several guidelines that can help in this hectic transition time.

  • Build a real routine – Many families have a solid bedtime routine, but fewer have a great morning routine. If you are one of those winging it in the morning families, it is time to get a routine. Start by deciding what time you want to walk out the door. Next, list all the things that need to happen before that from wake-up to out, and decide about how much time you’ll need for each step. Working backwards gives you a wake-up time.
  • End with fun so you have something to work towards and a buffer – Now take that well planned schedule and bump everything earlier by 10 minutes. Set aside this bit of time at the end for the kids to do something enjoyable. This may be reading or lego time, it may be time with the puppy. This gives your kids something to work towards, and gives you a 10 minute buffer for sanity’s sake.
  • Get visual – Work with your child to make a chart or a poster including the steps of your new routine. Let them make the decisions to write a chart, draw pictures or take pictures for the illustrations. Give them time to decorate it and make it their own. Put it somewhere easily visible to all.
  • Stick to the schedule – Help your child make it through the routine, and have the 10 minutes for something enjoyable at least a few mornings. Make it your goal to stick to the schedule for a month, a routine only helps if you do it.
  • Think logistics for sticking points – If getting dressed is a battle, put it first rather than last in the routine. Make a rule that breakfast is for dressed people. If you’re really desperate, have them sleep in their next day clothes (at least the shirt, underwear and socks).
  • Give jobs – To keep kids in the routine, it may be helpful to give them individual responsibilities as they go. Make one the toothpaste squeezer, another the cereal pourer. Titles are appealing to younger children. Think to rotate jobs every few days.
  • Give choices – Choices allow the child some power. Here and there, share a bit. Ask, “do you want cereal or oatmeal this morning?” or, “do you want to wear shorts or a skirt?” or, “do you want to get dressed by yourself or with help?”
  • Give challenges – Can they get dressed before you? Can they get to the table faster this morning than yesterday?
  • Do what you can the night before – In our house, homework isn’t complete until it is in the backpack and by the front door with all papers signed. Some gung-ho families make lunches the night before and lay out clothes. Every little bit helps.
  • As they are able, give them more responsibility in the process – If you trust, let them take over the tooth brushing. If they do, let them wake-up by an alarm.
  • Plan with simple and healthy in mind for breakfast – It’s great if you can cook a full hot breakfast every morning. I am not knocking that at all, in fact I’d like to wake-up at your house! I often cook on the weekends, but go the easy route on weekdays keeping health in mind. We do a lot of scrambled eggs, hard-boiled before eggs, whole grain cereal, yogurt, cheese sticks, toast and fruit salad. Things that take just a minute or two, and we can keep well stocked.

Nurturing Independence

Dear Dr. Rene,

My, just turned three years old, son knows his alphabet, colors, shapes and dinosaurs. He is beginning to spell and can manage 48 piece puzzles by himself. He is very interested in learning and listens intently and soaks information up like a sponge when interested. My concerns are when he has to do things for himself such as turning a doorknob, getting dressed or playing independently. In these situations, he always fights it. He resists and exaggerates his attempts. Sometimes he doesn’t even try, he will just lay down and say he is “resting” until I am able to help him. I try to give him more play time alone, but he has a hard time occupying himself. How do I encourage his independence in situations he isn’t interested in?

Sincerely,

Cynthia

Dear Cynthia,

There really are two issues here. The first is learning to play independently. The second is learning to do for yourself and being able to move forward taking on greater responsibilities rather than continuing to rely on others to do so for him.

To build independent play skills there needs to be adequate downtime. Downtime is truely unstructured, go play time. This may be indoors or out, alone or with you and any siblings available. The idea, though, of downtime is you are not organizing for the child, you are not providing entertainment. The child is left time to entertain themselves. They can also be unproductive if they choose. Real downtime means they can watch the clouds or play with dripping water at a sink if that’s what occupies them. To get good at this, most children just need more practice. This means, stop entertaining them. A little boredom here is a good thing as it prompts play.

To encourage independent play, you might also give them things to do that are like or nearby what you are doing. Meaning if you are cooking, give them pots, pans and spoons with a bit of water. If you are on the computer, give them a leap-pad on the corner of the desk, so they can do their work beside you. You might also give them things you start together such as a big puzzle. Sit together for the first few pieces, and then make trips away.

Encouraging a child to take ownership and increasing responsibility for life tasks is a harder thing. I think the first thing to do is focus on teaching them to do for themselves. If they struggle with parts of getting dressed, which may sink the entire effort, sit and practice that piece. Give them ample practice when you are there to help. Once you know they are capable, move back and give them space to work through. This may mean you are out of the room to avoid doing for them. Think of each challenge as opportunity for them to master the task and to at least learn from the experience.

When they are frustrated, give hints and suggestions to get them back on track. Avoid doing for them. Be sure to give lots of empathy for the frustration and encouragment for the task. Focus your praise on their effort and process rather than the outcome. Notice the hard work and the additional attempts, comment on the time and energy required to get it right. When available, give them opportunity for decision making. Children are much more likely to buy into doing if they are in charge of the process.

Sincerely,

Dr. Rene

Allowance by Age

The general guideline here is a dollar per year of life each week, meaning a four-year-old earns four dollars a week. I know this sounds like a lot of money, but from the beginning it’s suggested that you help your child divide their allowance into three categories including saving, spending and charity. You might start with a a dollar in saving, two dollars in spending and a dollar in charity.

The saving money is to save for a big purchase. My daughter’s first purchase from saving was a Groovy Girl car. This is just teaching the idea to set aside money and watch how it grows. The spending money is just that, they can spend it on little things, save it for a few weeks or add it to savings to grow that faster. If you are going to put limits on their spending money such as no candy, it’s best to do this up front. The charity is for the change-drive at their school or the offering at Sunday school. If children are interested, you might help them to pick a charity they are interested in and donate there.

Chores by Age

It is helpful to introduce the idea of household chores early. I tend to think children are ready to manage a chore or two just because they are part of the family by three or four years old. Many young children are still willing helpers at this age and it’s good to capture that enthusiasm when starting chores. By four or five many of them are realizing you spend money and buy them things, another reason to have them start earning early.

Three to Five year old chores

  • pouring the dog food in the dog bowl
  • putting shoes in the closet
  • hanging towels on the rack
  • putting clothes in the hamper
  • setting out silverware
  • carrying plates to the sink

Six to Eight year old chores

  • dusting furniture
  • carrying out trash
  • making a bed
  • cleaning a mirror or window
  • unloading dishwasher silverware
  • sorting laundry

By eight years old, you can include chores that happen once or just a few days a week. You might also throw in opportunities to earn extra through bigger jobs like helping to clean out the garage or wash the car.

Nine to 12 year old chores

  • vaccuming a level of the house
  • loading and unloading dishwasher
  • folding laundry and putting away
  • cleaning a bathroom

Chores for Earning Allowance

When it comes to teaching children about managing money, there are two camps that are split along the line of how they actually earn the money. Camp one gives children allowance for chores. Camp two, which doesn’t like the chores tied in as it is a reward system, just gives children money each week and then teaches them how to manage. I am firmly in camp one. If you just give children the money, they are missing half the lesson as there is no effort towards earning it. To a camp two child, spending four dollars is the same as spending eight dollars you just have to wait a while to collect it. Life doesn’t work this way, in life people have to earn it.

That said, the worry of camp two includes the notion that if you pay your children for all their work efforts, you won’t be able to get them to do much of anything else. There should be responsibilities they are not paid for, they participate just because they are part of the family. I completely agree here. In my house, we started with chores you do because you are part of the family and then gradually added chores for allowance. Even now, their chore chart reflects this split.

When you start chores, aim for daily activities as this is easier to manage. Keep a chart to organize the list and encourage children to track their own progress. In the beginning, and as you add new chores to the list, help children to be successful at meeting the goals. As needed, do the chores with them, teach them how to use the chart and congratulate weekly successes.

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