No matter how hard we wish them to be, children aren't responsible by nature. It is something they have to learn from caring adults. It is something they have to be taught. Lucky for parents and caregivers, children can be taught to be responsible very early in life.


Even an infant can learn to feed himself while he enjoys the company of hisfamily at the dinner table. From that simple chore he gains satisfaction in being able to reach for, and actually succeed in using his hands to get that delicious piece of fruit from his bowl and into his mouth. Give him a piece of paper towel and an encouraging smile while you wipe up his spills, and he'll be more than happy to help you clean up the mess. He may make things a little tougher on you, but what you're teaching him in those extra few minutes is that a family that works together can accomplish anything.


Toddlers too, love to feel that they are able to do things. Ask a two year old if she would kindly help you put the plastic glasses on the dinner table and watch her face light up. Give her a lot of encouragement and praise when she does a simple thing like put her pajamas back in the drawer in the morning and she learns the value of doing something to help without having to be asked.

As they get older and their abilities increase, so too should their level of responsibility. Preschoolers, for example, can do, and if they are given the task of being in charge of simple things like emptying the wastebasket on garbage day, bringing in mail, or using the handheld vacuum to clean up the crumbs around the table, actually love being helpful. Now, give your child a star for each task that gets done on their weekly chore chart, and they become more than willing participants in the household duty roster.

Teaching children responsibility at an early age:

    * Builds confidence as a child learns that she can do a new task.
    * Shows them that they are valued members of society, that
      in their own little way they can do simple things that make a difference in their life, and in the lives of others.
    * Builds work ethics. When a child knows he is expected to
      follow through and complete a given task, he gains a healthy attitude toward work and more importantly, teamwork.

But as we all know, even though we have capable little beings in our midst, getting them to keep up their end of the chore list is not always an easy task. In her article Teaching children to be responsible, Diane Banner, a School Psychologist in Clay County, Florida offers parents this advice:

   1. "Set an example of respect: Be on time for appointments, return extra change to a cashier, finish necessary chores before relaxing, and speak respectfully to children. If we do not model responsible behavior, there is a very strong likelihood that our children will not either.

   2. Communicate effectively: Expectations and rules should be stated clearly and positively to children. The reason for rules should be given so that children develop an awareness of their helpfulness and the respect they gain when acting responsibly.

   3. Allow children to set goals, make choices and solve problems: Children need experience in being responsible decision-makers. Involve them in setting household maintenance goals and chores. These can be displayed in a chart on the refrigerator. Encourage children's responsible participation in decisions by presenting them with acceptable choices clothing selection, television viewing and free-time activities.

   4. Allow for natural and logical consequences: Children who do not act responsibly should experience the effect of their actions. If toys are not put away, they may be taken until the child demonstrates better care for them. Saying "no" and setting limits may be the most responsible of parental behaviors."


Of course doing chores need not be all work and no play. Elizabeth Pantley, author of Perfect Parenting and Kid Cooperation suggests parents host a Bonus Day! "Once in a while, just for fun, have a "Coin Collection Day," writes Pantley. "Prior to having your child complete her chores, hide pennies, nickels, or dimes around the house under the items that need to be cleaned. When all the chores are done to your satisfaction, the child gets to keep the bonus!"

Pantley also says that parents should take the time to teach their children new chores. "Don’t assume that since your child has seen you do the task that she can do it herself. Be very specific in your instruction and demonstrate step-by-step as your child watches. The next step is to let your child help you, followed by your child doing the chore as you supervise. At the point you feel that your child has mastered the job she can take over responsibility for it."

Finally, to help keep those adorable children on task, many parents find that chore charts work wonders. A chore chart allows your child to place a sticker, or use a marker to check off those chores that have been completed. Make the chore chart a family affair, and the child can see that not only are Mom and Dad responsible for things such as laundry and cutting the grass, that big brother has to pitch in too by sweeping the floor and taking care of the doggie dodo in the back yard.

Children at the child care centre can also learn about responsibility and gain that sense of accomplishment and self-matters. The chore chart can be used for such things as putting the toys away before story time, sharing the table setting duties, and checking off the chart before they leave to ensure they have all their belongings before they head out the door.