Independence leads to responsibility

There’s a lot of work in any family, particularly if there are young children involved. Everyone must be fed, clothed, and organized. Many of us tend to help a child with a task, either because we don’t realize that they are old enough to do something themselves, or because we don’t have the patience to wait around while they do it. I remember when my youngest was two-years old, he used to exclaim “Self!” whenever we tried to assist him in any way. It was great-unless we were in a hurry!

Three- and four-year-olds are old enough to do lots of things: get dressed, put on their own shoes and jacket, and pick up after themselves. But we must show them how, often more than once because they don’t have the experience to have gained that knowledge.

You can help your preschooler in asserting his/her independence by buying clothes that she/he can put on by himself. It is helpful to everyone if you send your young child out into the day with Velcro shoes and pull-up, elastic wasted pants, as it not always convenient to interrupt what we are doing to buckle overalls or put together a complicated outfit. Teach with patience, as many times as it takes, how to use buckles, buttons, snaps and zippers. Most three- or four-year-olds are old enough to learn these things. If we miss the window of opportunity when children are eager to try things for themselves, they become perfectly content keeping you in their service.
As a child becomes older, and is able to do more for himself, he can and should assume some of the load of family life. Here are some ways to get your kids to pitch in:

* Make sure responsibilities are clearly understood. If your children are not used to helping out, have     a meeting to discuss why they must get involved. Involve everyone in the family when assigning jobs.

* Make yours an equal opportunity household. Boys should learn about food preparation and laundering clothes. Girls need to learn how to handle simple tools. Household chores can be a way of giving your kids survival skills for later life. 

* Develop “no-nag” methods of reminding children of their responsibilities. Some families post a chart on the refrigerator. Each day, family members check off their jobs as they complete them. When I add myself and the jobs I am expected to accomplish, it puts things in perspective for everyone else in the family. My sister-in-law told me her secret as I shared my frustration over my children’s lack of willingness to do something when asked: Before the kids get up, write a list of the days expectations for each child, with the admonition that these tasks must be completed before they go out the door, watch TV, or get on the computer. By doing this, it is the paper telling them what they need to do, alleviating much of the nagging noise we are horrified to hear coming out of our mouths.

* Don’t redo chores your kids have done. If a job can only be done your way, then you have to do it. Redoing a job is hurtful to a child’s feelings, and can lead to learned incompetence: the discovery that if I don’t do a job well enough, I won’t be asked to do it! On the other hand, if you are clear with your expectations from the beginning, and insist that the job be done well (not necessarily perfectly) then you are helping to teach them a good work ethic.

* Finally, help your kids learn that freedom and responsibility go hand in hand. As they do more, they should also expect more freedom: the privilege of having a friend over, pick of TV show (within reason!), what to do for a special treat, or choices in how to spend their free time.

Teaching independence and responsibility is a win-win situation for everyone. Teachers say that children who have learned to accept jobs at home are better able to accept being in charge of their own learning. And it will improve your quality of life as well! (RDW 9-17-09)