Responsibility is a big word to little children. However, that does not mean that they are unable to understand what it means.
In the words of Uncle Ben, Spider Man’s Uncle, “With great powers comes great responsibility”.
Teaching children the value of responsibility is a life-long parenting challenge that many parents have to go through. It starts from the smallest things at home, like picking up after themselves, to bigger things as an adult, like learning to pay bills on time. Without this skill, preschoolers will end up with a lack of appreciation towards the importance of responsibility, which can be frustrating for the people who have to interact with them in future.
Many parents, though, confuse the difference between obedience and responsibility. They believe that listening to instructions and carrying them out as told is the same as taking responsibility. This is obedience and it should not be mixed up with the value of responsibility.
Responsibility, on the other hand, is the act of accepting that something must be done out of obligation whether they like the task or not. For example, completing their homework is an obligation to the school. Their feelings towards their homework, while validated even if it is negative, does not give them an excuse to not complete them. It is their responsibility as a student.
How exactly can a preschooler understand the meaning of responsibility and how do we expect them to demonstrate this value through their actions?
Age-appropriate lessons for children in preschool
It is easy to confuse the behaviour of a misbehaving 2-year-old when they blatantly defy your orders to clean up their toys. Developmentally, a child of that age is unable to comprehend the meaning behind your words.
This is not to say that the lesson of responsibility should be delayed until they are developmentally ready. Basically, this just means that parents need to put in the effort to model the meaning of the instructions and get their preschoolers involved in the tasks that were asked of them.
While you may have a certain way of completing your tasks to achieve your goals, it would be encouraging to allow your preschoolers to have the chance of doing it “their” way with your guidance. This helps to foster a sense of responsibility and pride when they believe they have met your expectations of them.
It would be useful to look at age-appropriate chores that your preschoolers are capable of completing and empowering them to do so independently.
Raise your children with the expectation to always clean their messes
Begin by helping your children to clean up their messes such that they do not view cleaning as a chore. Rather than yelling at your preschooler for spilling some milk on the floor, hand a piece of paper towel over and get one yourself so both of you are cleaning the floor together.
By keeping it positive and light-hearted, your preschoolers are less likely to get defensive and whiny about tidying up their messes. When children constantly hear these words, “We always clean up our messes. I can help you if you need my help,” they grow to realise that this is expected of them and this responsibility is slowly instilled in them through your modelling.
Get your children to do the thinking
Naturally, it is much easier for adults to be in control of situations involving little children, such as packing their bags for them. Tasks like these are not beyond the ability of kindergarteners if they are given the opportunity to think and plan for themselves.
Rather than handing this job to the adults in the house, get your kindergarteners to tell you what is required at school and guide them to organise their school bags themselves. A good method of teaching them this simple task would be to set up a chart with the items they need for school. This allows them to have the autonomy to pack their bags with minimal supervision while developing the confidence to think for themselves.
Teach your children to be responsible in their interactions with others
When your children hurt someone else, whether with words or actions, forcing them to apologise would result in a meaningless exchange of pleasantries which mean nothing to them.
Instead, listen to their explanation behind their actions and ask them what they can do better in future. Through talking, your children may be ready then to make atonement for their actions by means of apologising or doing something nice to the other party. This responsibility in interaction is necessary, especially in a preschool setting.
Oftentimes, children either intentionally or unintentionally hurt their friends and it can result in a negative school environment for them. By tasking the kindergarteners to take responsibility for the way they interact with their peers, you have given them an important life skill to manage their social life. This includes learning to respect another person’s boundaries, personal space, and consent.
The Goal of Instilling Responsibility in Preschoolers
The ultimate goal of the virtue of responsibility is to raise children to show self-control, self-discipline, self-management and self-regulation. When children learn to be responsible for themselves, they will grow up to be adults who recognise that their actions contribute to the consequences they face in life.
Written by Danielle Hee