Nurturing Personal Responsibility In Young Children

Developing a sense of responsibility in children means teaching them how to be dependable, honour commitments, take responsibility for things and accept the mistakes, contribute as a family member and so on

After playing with her toys for 10 minutes, six-year-old Priya was bored and wanted to read a comic book. She went to the other room to get her book and started reading, but without organising the toys that she had strewn all over the place. Seeing this her mother Madhu instructed her to clean the room and then continue with her reading. Instead of listening to her, Priya threw a tantrum and started crying indicating that she doesn’t want to do it. Seeing this, Madhu did not say anything further to Priya and instead cleaned the room herself. 

Parents and teachers witness such incidents quite often while interacting with younger children. 

Why do you think that the child behaved in this manner? Who do you think is responsible for this? How as a parent or a teacher do you think you can ensure that your child or student does not act like Priya?

To get answers to these questions, we first need to understand the concept of personal responsibility. Personal responsibility is concerned with people taking individual accountability for their decisions and actions, together with the outcomes they create and its impact on others. 

In this context, developing a sense of responsibility in children means teaching them how to be dependable, honour commitments, take responsibility for things and accept the mistakes, contribute as a family member and so on. 

Now comes the question as to what makes children irresponsible? 

Some parents tend to go above and beyond when displaying their love and affection for their child and in the process do everything for them. This can restrict the child from learning age-appropriate life-skills in an organic way. 

For example, taking care of his/her own belongings, learning simple chores like grooming or self-dressing are the skills that give them a chance to learn and contribute in a constructive way and ultimately cultivates responsible behaviour. However, parents can sometimes themselves become a roadblock in making this possible. 

Developing a sense of personal responsibility doesn’t come to a child as naturally as learning to ride a bike or swimming. Just like other age-appropriate life skills, personal responsibility needs to be taught to them by their parents. Basically, children will be responsible to the degree that parents support them.

Let us look at some effective strategies to nurture personal responsibility in children.

Support and be kind to them in the process of teaching responsibility

Children tend to do things that excite them whenever they want to. Doing tasks like keeping toys in place, clearing the plate can come across as boring and unexciting to them. As a result, they come up with excuses or throw tantrums to avoid doing these chores. On the contrary, they learn faster if you remain cheerful and help them until they learn. For example, if they have spilled some milk on the floor, encourage them to not worry and help by giving them a sponge as you pick up one yourself. In Priya’s case, her mother can hand her the toys and ask her to put them away, conversing with her kindly and in the process ensuring that she learns that everyone needs to clean up his/her own mess. 

You being non-judgemental about it will help them not get defensive about the mistake. It will instead motivate them to rectify it.

Give them an opportunity to participate

There are two types of responsibilities that children need to learn. First is their own self-care and second one is contributing to the family welfare. Research suggests that children who contribute to household chores are more likely to help in other situations as compared to those who only participate in self-care. 

However, you cannot expect your child to develop a helpful attitude in a matter of a few days. It is a process where you need to steadily increase their responsibility quotient with an age-appropriate approach. For example, a five-year-old child can be involved in putting books back on the shelf, a six-year-old can clean the table while a seven-year-old can water the plants. But be mindful of the fact that by making them participate in helping around the house you are not burdening them. 

Invite them to think instead of giving instructions or orders

Children are more likely to resist being told what to do, when they are given an order. The objective here is to keep them focussed on their daily tasks or schedule every day, till the time they internalise and incorporate them and start managing themselves. So, instead of ordering your child to have a bath and asking whether their school bag is ready, you can instead ask what needs to be done next to get to school.

Help them set a routine for themselves

From the behavioural management standpoint, a daily routine can help children cooperate. Routine also gives them a sense of security and help in developing self-discipline. Having a routine creates repeated opportunities for them to manage themselves through a series of tasks that aren’t necessarily very exciting. Even though a child may not understand these tasks as their responsibilities, allowing her to build a structure, a set routine will surely give them the tools to do necessary things without any need for pestering. 

Give them choices

“Responsibility is fostered by allowing children a voice and wherever indicated a choice in matters that affect them.” — Haim G Ginott.

Responsibility always comes with a choice, whether it is a personal responsibility or a shared one. When children are given opportunities to make choices, they get better at it. And as they understand how making a choice is benefiting them, it positively impacts their ability to take responsibility. 

For example, when the child puts a book on a bookshelf, they find it quickly the next time they want to read it. When you make them realise that making this choice is helpful, they will be positively motivated to continue doing it.   

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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Personal Responsibility Young children

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