Teaching children responsibility is key to helping them develop positive habits as they grow into dependable, mature adults. Some parents and teachers might find the task difficult, however.
Matt Devereaux, a child development specialist and associate professor in the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences, offers these tips to parents and teachers as they work with children, especially those in elementary and middle school.
“Responsibility helps with self-confidence, teaches necessary life skills, and how to prioritize their time,” he said. “Before we can help them with their grades, we have to help them with themselves.”
Provide opportunities—Tasks could include doing chores or projects around the house, or even having a pet. An allowance can teach children how to have a little budget, Devereaux said.
“In giving a kid responsibility, it gives the teacher or parent a chance to say, ‘good job,’” he said.
For more challenging children, giving them a leadership role is key. Children who tend to be more difficult to manage need extra praise and extra responsibilities to keep them motivated and involved.
“When you don’t give children responsibilities, you are communicating the message, ‘I don’t trust you,’” Devereaux said.
He added: “Comment on good behavior up to five times a day. People get sucked into looking for the misbehavior.”
For other children, Devereaux suggested asking them what responsibility they might enjoy having.
“They might not know, but give them the chance to respond,” he said.
Don’t expect perfection—They’re learning, so expect that they might fail.
“If they’re not doing it right, give them positive feedback as you help them improve,” he said.
Give rewards—Rewards should be different for each child, based on their interests. They could range from books to toys to one-on-one time with an adult.
“If you start them early enough, the rewards can be nonmonetary,” he said. “Kids love their parents and want to spend time with them, whether they say it or not.”
This is especially true of students in kindergarten through sixth grade, he said.
Set a good example—Parents and teachers should be good role models by following through on their own responsibilities.
“They’re watching,” Devereaux said.
Avoid the trap—”Since families are so busy, parents should not fall into the trap of saying, ‘it’s just easier for me to do these chores for my children,’” he said.
Lola Alapo (865-974-3993, firstname.lastname@example.org)