Responsibility sounds serious, especially when we think of children. But what does it really mean to be responsible?
One of the most popular misconceptions associates responsibility with obedience. In other words, we want children to do what we expect or require them to do. However, this approach does not leave much space for real learning and understanding of the world. There is a much more effective and more child friendly way to learn what it takes to be responsible.
By working with the law of cause and effect, we can show children that their actions and decisions have certain consequences not only for themselves but for others around too. The following are 5 top tips on how to teach your child responsibility using the principles of cause and effect and positive pedagogy.
1. Lead By Example
Teaching responsibility begins with yourself being a role model to follow. Your child will always observe you and will most likely do as you do. So, if you leave your clothes around the house, then you should not expect your child to keep theirs neat. By the same token, if you eat loads of sweets, your child will naturally follow you and it will be really difficult to convince them to have their treat only at weekends while doing otherwise yourself. It’s good to always explain why you have different expectations of your children and keep your expectations at a reasonable level so that your child will be able to meet them without feeling disadvantaged.
2. Always Explain Why
If you can do something but your children cannot, then they need to know why. Simply saying “because I’m an adult and you’re a child” does not help them understand why they are disadvantaged. Being honest with children is always better than trying to make up a cover story or giving no explanation at all, and it really helps them understand the world. When you need to say NO, always give the reasons why.
Possible reasons why and how to offer an explanation:
- “You cannot go with me because the place is too crowded – so it’s easy to get lost.”
- “You may not watch this movie as it’s too late – children need more sleep than adults because they still grow up and their body needs more rest.”
- “I’m sorry I cannot buy you this toy as it’s too expensive – we need the money to buy food, clothes, pay bills, etc.”
3. Show Consequences
This is by far the best way to help your children understand the action and reaction principle. In order to avoid putting too much pressure on your child, It’s best when you refer to your family members, the people and things around you too. You don’t want to induce guilt but rather encourage your child to notice the law of Cause and Effect around them. Keep it as fun and relaxed as you can, and look for examples that will make your kids think. You can discuss the situations together and even make a list of possible solutions.
Useful examples include:
- “The floor in the kitchen is wet, so it’s easy to slip. Wiping the floor will help us all to stay safer.”
- “There’s a pile of clothes in your room. Do you think it’s going to be easy to find your favorite T-shirt there?”
- “I just stepped in a dog poo that was on the pavement and my shoe smells awful now. I think we should remember to scoop after Fluffy if we don’t want others to step in our dog’s poo. What do you think?”
4. Encourage Decision Making
If you let your kid choose and decide what’s best for them, they will very soon learn what consequences their decisions have, and whether what they have decided to do is good for them and others or not really. You may help your children to analyze potential benefits or risks of their decisions by discussing them or doing little research together. Try to avoid long theoretical explanations – children learn by doing so experience-based projects will always be most beneficial. The more you allow your child to decide about themselves, the more important and independent they will feel. Start from minor things and once you notice your child is doing well, gradually move on to more “serious” tasks. The best thing to start with is to offer two or three ready-made solutions and ask your child to choose the one they feel most comfortable with at that moment. This way you keep things under control and it’s easier to welcome some out-of-the-box ideas.
Examples how to encourage decision making:
- “When would you like to organize your toys? After dinner or maybe when you finish watching a movie?”
- “Would you prefer to keep your books in a box or you’d like them to arrange on a shelf?”
- “I’ve noticed your hair has been tangled for some time. Do you think you would like to give it a trim a bit, or maybe we shall get this special tangle teaser brush to keep it neat?”
- “You said you wanted to have all your cookies now. We’ve decided to have some now and some later. If you have all your cookies now, then there will be no more left for you for later. Is that OK with you?”
5. Include Children In Your Family Decisions
When possible, share the most important problems and situations with your child, present your arguments, and ask for their opinions. You don’t need to give them all details. Filling them in with some basic information will make your child feel important and appreciated. Let them know you care what they think and they will be happy to come up with new ideas and creative solutions. Also, discussing things with children and asking their opinion will help plan things, especially when you are about to make some major changes in your family life such as moving towns or countries or changing schools. By knowing more details your child will have more time to get used to the new reality, share their fears and expectations with you. This may help you avoid getting the situation even more difficult and will prepare a more child-friendly environment for your little one to face.
By understanding how one’s own actions may positively or negatively affect themselves and other people, children become first more aware, then more sensitive and as a result more understanding of their own and other’s needs and feelings. This will help them become not only more responsible children, but eventually more responsible and understanding adults. And this is what education is about too.