Teaching Kids a Sense of Responsibility
Being responsible means that we do the right thing even when no one is looking. We do the right thing because it is right and not because we will get credit or praise for doing it.
—West Virginia University Extension Service, “Character Counts!—Responsibility”
“It’s not my job.” Ever heard that?
Too often, kids and parents tangle over who’s responsible for what chore around the house. But experts say to look beyond the individual chore at hand. That’s because behind every chore is a primary lesson of life: that taking responsibility means contributing to something larger than yourself and respecting yourself for the contribution.
Within our families, we develop a sense of ourselves as unique persons with unique contributions to make to the world. The family teaches a child how to be part of the larger world—a classmate at school, a friend in the neighborhood, an employee later in life. A child first learns to “do his part” by taking responsibility for his own chores within the family.
Whether large, like bringing in an income, or small, like dusting a tabletop, all tasks help the family to function. When one person doesn’t do her job, the process can break down. For example, a family may divide up the specific tasks required to clean, fold, and put away laundry and assign each task—from taking the basket to the laundry room to matching the socks—to a family member.
But if one child doesn’t take the empty clothes basket back upstairs, the rest of the family can’t put their dirty clothes in it. If someone else doesn’t bring the basket down to the laundry room, mom can’t wash and dry the dirty laundry. Then, dad can’t fold it, and everyone will be upset because they won’t have clean clothes to wear.
When teaching responsibility, remember that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. And a functioning family is just that—greater when each member is responsible and contributes to the whole family. When all of the parts are contributing to the smooth functioning of the whole, laundry gets put away, food gets prepared, and burned-out light bulbs get replaced.
And more important, each time your child completes a task, another small building block of his character is put into place.
Consistent responsibilities help your child learn to be accountable, show self-restraint, and pursue excellence.1
Reprinted with the permission of the National Mental Health Information Center.
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