Children who go through their school years without any family responsibilities aren't lucky--they're spoiled. It's a harsh statement, but far too many children are skating through their elementary, middle school, and even high school years without a work ethic.
Teaching children to be responsible should start as soon as a toddler is able to understand phrases like: "Put your blocks back in the box." It's never too late, though. Here are some ways you can help school-age children assume responsibility.
Daily and Weekly Routines: Children need to understand that everyone has certain dull, routine chores that have to be completed every day and every week. Assign them daily and weekly chores as family responsibilities that must be accepted and completed.
Personal Hygiene checklist: There are certain personal hygiene routines that all of us need to follow every day, such as washing hands and face, brushing and flossing teeth, and combing hair. Instead of reminding your child to do these things, list each item on a checklist (a write-on, wipe-off plastic board is ideal) and make it your child's responsibility to complete and check off each item daily--without being reminded.
Life Skills: While small children can be assigned "safe" jobs, like emptying the trash, you can help older children learn essential life skills through chores like cooking, helping with the laundry, washing dishes, sewing on buttons and caring for a pet.
Homework: Parents need to be involved in their children's day-to-day education, and checking what homework has been assigned and completed is a great way to do it. But remember, completing homework must be your child's responsibility.
Punctuality: Children need to understand that being on time is important. Let them know that it's not acceptable for them to be late, or to turn assignments in after the due date. By being punctual yourself, and not tolerating their attempts to dawdle or delay, you'll teach your children a responsibility trait that will be valued for the rest of their lives--by teachers, employers, and friends.
Following Through: A key to teaching children to be independent is to make them responsible for completing their work. This means that they also must suffer the consequences if they fail. To help make "following through" second nature, emphasize it in everyday situations: no TV until they finish all their homework; no friends over on Saturday until they've completed all their chores. And make sure they understand that half-done is the same as not done.
Read About It: Look for children's books that teach responsibility. For example, Keep the Lights Burning, Abbie tells of a girl's struggle to keep a lighthouse lit during a fierce storm, while Aesop's Fables are full of morals on responsibility. Ask your librarian for suggestions.
Model Responsibility: Let your children see you do things that need to be done, pitch in without being asked, and take the blame when you've made an error. Children learn what they live with.
This article was produced by the National Association of School Principals.