Teaching your kids to be responsible, and giving them more important responsibilities as they get older, isn’t always easy, but it’s always worth it! By teaching children to do things for themselves, you’re not only getting a little break. You’re teaching them to be people who have confidence that they are capable and competent.
If you’re not ready for them to make a complete dinner or take over big chores totally, that’s OK. Here are a few examples of how to get started building your child’s responsibilities.
If your child has never cooked before, ask him to join you as an assistant. Before you get started, talk about what you’re making, what you need to do, and what you’ll need help with. Having a sense of what’s expected will help your child be less nervous about messing up.
Have your child help gather the ingredients and get out the equipment you need. As you put the meal together, show him everything you’re doing. Ask him to stir the pot, measure the flour, and do anything else he can.
Start with simple meals, and let your child take on more and more of the responsibility each time you cook together. Of course, safety is key in the kitchen, so keep a close watch when a child is near knives or fire, especially if he’s a beginner at these tasks.
If your child has a big school project to do, you may not be comfortable saying, “This is your responsibility” and leaving her on her own. Instead, you can teach her how to take control of the project herself, while still keeping an eye on her progress.
Ask her to explain the project to you, as though she were the teacher giving the assignment. Let her do the talking. This will help you both figure out if she understands what she has to do, and when. If she’s confused about part of it, you can read together (out loud) any explanations the teacher may have sent home. If there’s still confusion, make it her job to ask the teacher for help.
If she’s clear on what to do but you suspect she’ll have trouble actually doing it, have her write down a list of the days she can work on it, and what she wants to accomplish each day to get done on time. This will teach her to take control of her own schedule. (To help organize your child’s work, use this handy homework chart.)
Your child may find all this difficult, so check in with her regularly: “Did you follow your plan for your project today?” If so, great. Tell her what a good job she’s doing at being responsible for her work. If not, remind her that it’s her plan, and she’s the only one who can follow through to get it done.
Taking care of themselves
Wouldn’t it be nice not to have to spend your morning reminding your kids to get dressed, bugging them to brush their teeth, and frantically packing their backpacks as the bus pulls up? Teaching your kids to take care of their daily needs is a gift to you as well as to them.
If there are a lot of things to get done before leaving the house, use a chore chart listing each chore. Brush teeth, get dressed, pack lunch, put homework in backpack, for example. What seems obvious to you may seem like a lot to remember to a child — and learning to make lists is a good way to learn to handle responsibilities.
Then you have to let your child do it. This is hard for parents who want their kids to look a certain way when they walk out the door. Let your kids pick out their own clothes (if you can get them to do it the night before, even better!). Remember: If they leave home without socks or a coat, they’ll be OK. Plus, they’ll learn whether or not this was uncomfortable.
The first few days you can check to make sure they have their lunch and homework, but most kids are capable of doing this by now, so let them at it. If they forget either for a few days, they’ll learn the natural consequence (being hungry with no lunch, having to explain to a teacher why they don’t have their homework). Don’t bail them out by running a forgotten lunch or assignment over to the school. After one or two times forgetting, they’ll become more responsible about remembering for themselves.