The cleaning fairy that once lived at my house has disappeared. Her bags are packed, her tasks complete and her devotion to the cause was relentless, but happily her services are no longer required. She is greatly missed, but in her place, I have a family of helpers, both big and small. This merry team, can be unruly, loud and a little lazy from time to time. We are best described as a work in progress , but as a teacher and mother I am determined that my children recognise the role they play in contributing to our household and in developing a sense of responsibility from an early age.
As working parents, our lives are based around our children, but with a clear set of expectations that we are not the live in fairy helpers. It is a role we all share, and while at times it would be easier to find my fairy wings, it is ultimately in their best interest to develop responsibility, respect and a sense of routine. It is each parents goal to raise children that become adults we truly like. Why then do we find it challenging to set clear expectations, assign small jobs and to hand over responsibility? Let’s start to recognise how capable our children are and consider five top tips( and three bonus tips) for raising responsible children. Practical, useful and age appropriate tips to get you started …so let’s begin.
Routines are your Friend
Young children thrive on routine and this is a great way to provide consistency and a degree of predictability in a busy household. Even the youngest of children can develop responsibility when they are supported to recognise that small jobs are simply routine expectations. Picking up toys before dinner is served, placing bags near the front door each morning or helping to feed a pet, are all small tasks that can be built into your child’s day. It is about creating the expectation of helping and taking some responsibility simply because it is needs to be done. Making helpful the norm and not the exception is essential. Modelling the way this needs to be done is important. At Ganeinu we see examples each day of children following an educators lead in working together to tidy up the room, set tables for a meal or pack away their own belongings. Lead by example and children will quickly learn to contribute to routines. Routines teach responsibility , but also develop skills in following up, listening to directions and task completion.
Reinforcing, without the reward trap.
It is easy to fall into the parent trap of rewarding a child when simple day to day tasks are completed. What then happens when there is no reward? Children are intrinsically motivated to want to help and it is all about how we sell it! The way we ask for help and provide praise determines a child’s reaction. “ When you are finished picking up the blocks, we can play outside”. You are creating an expectation but also a clear understanding of what will happen when the child has provided help. Positive praise enables children to understand your motivations and to have clear directions and expectations. “ Thank you for collecting your shoes, they will be easy to find in the morning”. Explain, rationalize and empower children to make good choices and to think about how and why they are responsible. Recognize their efforts, without reinforcing unwanted behavior.
Reward trap revisited
But what if you have gone down the bribery and reward pathway? Is it too late to pull on the breaks and call time on helping only for handouts…….?
No, is the simple answer. Children should be doing small age appropriate tasks just because they have a need to be done and not simply with an expectation of a reward for participation. Would an occasional treat or small acknowledge be the key here and not a regular reward? Maybe thank you, a cuddle or an “ I am so grateful for your help” comment would suffice. Have you suggested to your children that you require a reward for driving them to school, making dinner or providing clean clothes and toys? If that were the case, I am owed years’ worth of stickers, gummy bears and chocolate frogs. Still waiting……….
Some jobs just need to be done and no reward is required or should be offered. That is just honest, real world and genuinely good parenting.
Resilience – a little at a time
It will not always be easy and at times all children will need support to make an effort, complete a task or to take responsibility. Realistically we need to develop a child’s ability to overcome frustration, disappointment and a need for immediate gratification. In each household there are simply tasks that are everyday jobs, sometimes jobs and just because jobs. Pick your battles and try and be consistent with which tasks you feel should be done and why. It is OK to say no and to place limits on what behaviours, reactions and outcomes follow. Setting clear boundaries on what you define as responsibility, helps children understand and regulate their own behavior. Try and try again ……sometimes what works today is not what will work tomorrow, just be consistent and as parents support each other with clear limits and behaviour expectations. Just like children, we will not always get it right. Parenting is a tricky business at times!
How can we expect our children to understand responsibility if they never see, witness or experience reasonable consequences? I must stress the importance of age and developmentally appropriate consequences as a good learning tool. If children never experience a consequence for their own actions, then how can we expect them to understand and rationalize why a task or job is important. It is not a punishment, but a natural reaction to a lack of responsibility or effort. “ The Lego was not packed away, so we will leave it in the cupboard until Friday”. Having honest and realistic consequences help children to see the reason and value in their helpfulness. My own children long remember the day I ate their donuts at the shopping Centre because their behavior was simply rude and unacceptable. I had forgotten how lovely a warm donut is … especially with three cranky and surprised children watching every, single bit. Oh well… consequences! Delicious ones!
Recognising independence and children’s capabilities
As a parent, our primary goal is to develop independence, proactive social behaviours and enable our children to journey into the world with every confidence. This then means that we need to be prepared to recognize how capable they are and to provide children with age appropriate tasks. It can be all too easy to finish a job “because it is quicker”. Our children need real world opportunities to undertake roles that promote responsibility. When children feel valued and trusted, they are more likely to help, offer to be responsible and take on the role with a positive attitude and a degree of enthusiasm. Help children to recognize consequences for their actions too. It is never too early to start developing their habits. It is always a joy to visit our Tiny Treasure room at Ganeinu and to see our youngest children helping each other, taking on roles to tidy up their belonging and to care for the garden with watering cans. Real life experiences offer genuine learning that matters to children, as they become part of a community of learners together.
Respect – responsibility as an attitude
Fundamental to a responsible attitude, is a respectful attitude. When we thank a child, offer support or take the time to explain a reason, we are modelling this respect for children and creating an expectation of respectful behaviour in return. Helping children to understand that we all have a role to play in our family, our community and our world, is essential to developing respectful ways of speaking, interacting and socializing. A simple please and thank you goes a long way in life and it is so often the exception and not the norm. Manners and kindness really do open doors and enable our children to be those people we like as adults. It is heartwarming to see our Ganeinu preschoolers modelling this respectful manner and thankfulness when we visit the Bupa Nursing home for community service visits. Community values need to be taught and demonstrated to children, if we are to raise well rounded children who understand their rights, but also their responsibilities. Compassion, empathy and kindness go hand in hand with responsibility, as core values we promote at Ganeinu. We are so proud of our children’s attitudes and community focus.
Remember you are the parent!
My last tip is a gentle yet timely reminder that we are not supposed to be our children’s best friend, playmate and all round yes person. Providing children with instant gratification, a lack of rules and few boundaries, offers then a very unstable basis for your relationship and therefore their relationship with the social world. Children need parents who guide, nurture and support and with predictable, consistent and clear parameters, love and encouragement. They do not need a family fairy to make it all magical, they need you and your wisdom, guidance and reasonable expectations. Actively parenting is a full time, 100% job and you do not win prizes for popularity or poise. It is all about the hard yards, but the results are certainly worth it. Put your wings away and dust of that glitter.
There is no magic formula for raising responsible children. The truth is it takes a great deal of effort, support and love from dedicated parents across many years. It is not an overnight achievement and at times your pathway will be less than magical. No fairies here my friend! But it is worthwhile and is a gift to our children. Sending them out into the world as kind, responsible, respectful and compassionate individuals, is by far the most precious thing we could empower them with. I wish you well on your own parental journey and I hope the tips offer you guidance, a realistic perspective and a renewed sense of your own child’s amazing capacity to be responsible.
In summary the top five tips ( and three bonus tips) are:
Routines are your friend
Reinforcing but avoiding the reward trap
Reward trap Revisited
Recognising the capabilities of our children
Respect – a respectful attitude promotes a sense of responsibility.
Remember you are the parent.