The concept of responsibility is foreign to young children who are still learning that their actions have an impact on those around them. It takes time and some coaching from parents for children to gain a broad perspective of what it means to be responsible for themselves and the world around them. The process of learning to respond appropriately to the people and environment around them is called self-regulation. In time, your child will learn how to asses a situation and react based on what he already knows. Self-regulation is about remembering that he will get a turn and that waiting in line to go on the slide is more acceptable than pushing his way to the front.
It’s important to teach your child to stop and think before reacting to frustration or uncomfortable situations and how to avoid impulsive decisions. Giving your child the option to make decisions about her behavior fosters independence and empowers her to think for herself. Talk about how the completion of tasks, such as setting the table or making sure the family pet has food and water, has an impact on others. This will let her know that her role is important and will teach her accountability in reaching a common goal. Be sure the assigned tasks are age appropriate!
Here are some other tips for helping your child learn the importance of responsibility and thinking before acting:
Set an example. Children are always watching their parents, so be sure to set a good example. If you are asking your child to pick up after himself and to put things away where they belong, be sure you make a habit of doing the same.
Relay the message with a book. Books offer stories, characters and pictures that your child can relate to, so pick up a book about responsibility and start reading together. Here’s a book list to help get you started!
Offer praise. When your child sets the table without asking, tell him thank you and connect his help back to the big picture (e.g. your family can now enjoy dinner together). This will reinforce his decision to carry out his assigned tasks and is likely to resonate with him the next time he’s asked to complete something.
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