Teaching kids responsibility is an important task. Read four real benefits they get (plus parenting tips to put into action).
I had a problem: I was doing everything for my kids.
The day would go by much quicker, after all. Tying their laces? I could do it in five seconds. Pulling up their pants? They’d get their undies all tangled. And leaving my eldest to do the dishes on his own meant finding soap residue on the plates.
For the longest time, I even thought I was supposed to be doing everything. That I’m doing a great job by being a hands-on mom. The parent who’s involved in her kids’ lives and knows every detail of their day. Doing everything for my kids came natural to me.
If it weren’t for my husband, I’d likely still be cutting my six-year-old’s meat and bathing him in the tub.
The benefits of teaching kids responsibility
Now I know better.
And at first, the benefits seem obvious. We want kids to pitch in. Parents are tired of nagging, and kids of being nagged. Kids are “supposed” to do chores.
But teaching kids responsibility have hidden benefits, not just for parents but for children too.
#1: We’re not raising kids—we’re raising future adults
We all need to try, fail and learn throughout our lives. Kids need the opportunity to practice during childhood—when the stakes aren’t so high. Forgetting to finish homework is one thing. Forgetting to complete a job application is another.
By not teaching kids responsibility, we’re not doing our primary job: raising future adults.
Think of childhood as the testing ground of life. Everything our kids learn and do gears them up for even more complex scenarios and higher stakes.
Giving them responsibilities now helps them fine tune the skills they’ll need when those responsibilities bear more weight.
What you can do now: Give your kids chores. This list includes age-appropriate chores starting from age two.
#2: Kids learn to take feedback
In college, I had a knack for writing poetry, but couldn’t bear the thought that I had to try hard. I assumed I either had it in me, or I didn’t.
So when I won a few poetry competitions, I figured I was a natural. But when I entered and lost a huge poetry show, I gave up. Just like that, I stopped writing poetry.
I don’t want my kids to feel like they either have talent or they don’t. I want them to believe that effort trumps any sort of supposedly inherent skills they have.
So, what does this have to do with teaching kids responsibility? They learn how to take feedback. Because they won’t get it right the first time. They’ll spill water all over the table the first time they try pouring their own cup. They’ll leave soap residue on the dishes.
But they’ll also learn how to take feedback as a positive critique. We shouldn’t micromanage every mistake, but we can get them used to hearing constructive feedback on their work. Teaching kids responsibility starts with showing them how to do the task and correcting it if need be.
What you can do now: Give your child useful feedback, correcting only her actions, not herself as a person. And only give feedback for important things. Leaving oil and soap residue on dishes is important—how she stacks the plates is not.
#3: Kids rise to our expectations
I’ve learned that kids will rise to our expectations, whether we set them low or high. Imagine a child who only hears he can amount to a certain level and no more. She replays that message in her head over and over and will behave as others expect of her.
Now, imagine a child who hears that the sky is the limit. She, too, will replay that message and will act accordingly.
By teaching kids responsibility, we trust their capabilities and know they can do it. We might think we’re doting on our kids by tending to all their needs, but these actions only convey that we don’t think they can do it on their own.
What you can do now: Give your child a responsibility that’s a notch above what she’s currently doing. Stretch your own expectations and see whether she can handle the task on her own. You might be surprised at what she can do.
#4: Kids develop their own organizational methods
Every week, my six-year-old’s class goes to the school library where each child borrows a book. He did this last year in kindergarten and continues to do so in first grade. The only difference? This year, he’s responsible for everything.
Last year, I was the one who knew which day he’d be going to the library. I’d look for the library book at home and tuck it in his backpack. If I didn’t, I’d remind him the night before to do it.
This year, I’m determined to be hands off and let him take the lead. And not only has he remembered to bring the book every week, he’s also developed ways to remember.
For instance, he wrote his own chore list that includes anything from making his bed to—you guessed it—returning his library book. He also remembers that library day is the same day as his class reading party—both events that happen to be book-related.
All on his own, he’s found ways to organize his responsibilities. He would never have done that if I continued to do these tasks for him.
What you can do now: Don’t save your child all the time. Allow her to experience the consequences of not being responsible for age-appropriate tasks. She may just devise her own ways to remember next time.
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How to teach your child a task
So, how can we encourage autonomy and give responsibilities? How do we balance doing a job well and learning to let go? It comes down to four steps:
- Do the task while your child watches: Describe what you’re doing as your child watches and observes.
- Do the task together: Doing the task together gives your child the chance to try it with your help.
- Let your child do the task while you watch: Now you’ve switched. Let your child do the task while you watch. Having you nearby provid instant feedback and instruction while still giving her full ownership of the task.
- Let your child do the task on her own, unsupervised: Finally, the ultimate goal. At this point, your child should be able to do the task on her own without your help or supervision.
In the first few days, it took my eldest a good five to ten minutes to practice tying his laces. This is a long time when you’re trying to get out of the house on time. I bit my tongue each time I was tempted to grab the laces and tie them myself.
But as the days went by, he learned how to loop and tug the laces quicker. He realized he has to tie them tight if he doesn’t want them to come undone. And now, he can tie his laces almost as quickly as I can.
All because I backed off.
The best part when parents give kids responsibilities? They feel proud, accomplished. What was once foreign is now something they do, all on their own. And they feel like a contributing member of the family, doing things that previously only their parents had done.
I’m learning the real benefits of teaching kids responsibility. After all, I think about my three-year-old twins and can’t imagine pulling up their pants in kindergarten.
I might as well start teaching them now.
Get more tips:
- Tell Your Kids You Love Them, Even when It’s Hard To
- How to Enjoy a Restaurant Meal with Kids — Even without Screens or Snacks
- What to Do when Your Kids Refuse to Do Chores
- How to Get Your Kids to Clean Up After Themselves
- Time Management Tips for Your Evenings with the Kids
Tell me in the comments: What responsibilities do you give your kids? What is one task you were surprised your child can do on his own?
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