In order for children to function independently, they need to be able to take care of themselves. In other words, they need to learn to be responsible for themselves, to take care of their own possessions and to learn to make decisions on their own. Contrary to common assumptions, responsibility is a learnt character trait, which needs to be cultivated from a young age. In order for young children to learn to be responsible, they need to learn about cause and effect and the concept of accountability. These are some things, which you can do at home to help them internalize this concept:
1) Gradually let children take ownership of their own things (toys, books etc.) and explain to them about how they need to take care of something by putting it away in designated place, keeping it clean, keeping it dry, being gentle with it. Also remember to explain that if they don’t take good care of it, they will either loose it or break it and in both cases, they will not be able to play with it or to use it any more. This is a very simple tip to follow except when your child looses his favorite toy and you feel compelled to get him a new one when you see it at the store. When this does happen, it would help to try to remember that fixing his mistakes for him will deprive him of the opportunity to learn one of life’s most important survival skills; to be responsible.
2) Young children also need to learn how to take care of themselves so that they can be responsible for their own welfare in the absence of their parents or caretakers. Take some time to teach your child how to do seemingly easy things such as blowing their nose, washing their hands, using the lavatory or even feeding themselves. These tasks may be easy for adults who have been doing it for years but it may be daunting to young children especially when no one is there to teach them how to do it properly. Remember to go step by step, with demonstration and repetition and make your instructions clear and simple. For example, if you are teaching the child how to peel a banana, you need to explain it in three steps, followed by a demonstration and conclude by letting the child have a go at it till he gets the hang of it.
3) We are all entitled to a freedom of choice. However, not many people know how to make good decisions. Young children start making choices very early on in life. A good way to teach good decision making skills would be to provide children a running documentary every time you make a decision. Speak your mind and let them know how you conduct deductive reasoning, exercise risk taking skills and higher level thinking skills. Given enough opportunities, children will see a pattern and use a set of techniques to experiment with trial and error when faced with a difficult decision. Here’s an example of how I often intentionally report my decision making process: what shall we have for dinner tonight? Maybe we should have beef pie, we love beef pie, don’t we? Oh, but wait, we just had steak yesterday night for dinner. Since steak and beef pie both come from cows, lets not have it for two dinners in a row. For variety, what else can we have? Oh look at that? That piece of salmon looks great. Great! I got it, lets make salmon pasta in cream sauce and we can throw in some mushrooms and asparagus. We love mushroom, don’t we?
Young children can learn to be responsible from a very early age. Given the right guidance and informed parents who provide them with opportunities, being responsible will be second nature to the child.
For more helpful tips on teaching children to be responsible and good decision makers, read up more on ‘Cool Stuff Your Parents Never Told You About Parenting’ (by Foong Kwin Tan). Available on http://www.Amazon.com