Teaching young children responsibility

A playroom ready for kids

Toddler responsibility.

Clean up clean up

Everybody do your share

Clean up clean up

Everybody everywhere

Making clean up fun started with us by singing this familiar song. I got down with my oldest and showed him how I wanted to clean up by doing it. He soon imitated me. I’d read recently Alfie Kohn’s, Five Reasons to Stop Saying “Good Job!” and instead of the overused and abused Good job. I tried acknowledging what he’d done by simply stating what he’d done. ” You put the puzzle piece back in the box…and another piece. Here. Here’s my piece and we’ll soon have picked them all up..together.” He was beaming. That time everything was picked up.

Whenever it was time to clean up. I focused on:-

  1. helping
  2. making it fun
  3. praising what he was doing without lots of lavish “Good job”
  4. Mention team work and how good it is for everyone to help.

Now, not every clean up time went well. That was Ok because he started to learn that with play ( rights) come responsibilities and one of his was to clean up. If I needed to clean up his play by myself because he refused to help. Help could be small or total but help nevertheless no help, then there would be consequences.

Teaching responsibility and mastering self control are easy activities to find the time to do with toddlers at home. There’s a huge over focus with toddlers on fine motor skills and learning their ABCs.

“Jake and I are going to stick pasta shapes to make this train.” Do we every focus on the personal and social aspect of this activity.

  • Letting Jake pour or scoop the pasta out ( instead of us ready preparing the container)
  • When he spills the pasta- what’s our reaction? anger/scolding or lighthearted encouragement . “Oppsie. You spilled the pasta. Let’s clean it up. Do you want to use your fingers or shall we get the broom? I’ll do these ones here.  Where are you going to pick up? Here or the ones on the chair. Where shall we put them? etc”
  • Part way through Jake’s had enough. It’s pretty challenging for him and now he wants to do something easier else. Do you complain about how long it’s taken to get everything ready? insist on him staying to finish?…. This is one that will differ according to your immediate goal. Are you teaching right now to stick to a task or do you see that nap time or something else is bothering him and it’s better to abandon the activity. Look at it this situation from all angles. Not every teaching moment works out how you expect. Evaluate and be flexible.
  • Time to clean up. Does Jake run and play and you pick up or do you enlist his help encouraging along?

Jake got to play and work on his fine motor skills and creativity But did he have an opportunity to start learning responsibility.

Not every activity will you want to go this way. Another time it will be all about the fine motor skills but another it will be all about the development and the pasta will be secondary.

The home is a rich environment to start the responsibility habit. You can’t just start it once they enter daycare, preschool or group settings with lots of kids. It must be something you nurture, encourage and reinforce. Your family maybe different to other families; that’s ok just be consistent in your approach.

Use everyday routines and habits with your young child to foster growth in responsibility. Here are some ideas but adapt them for your age child.

  • Eating, setting the table, pouring a drink
  • Dressing themselves, washing their face, squeezing toothpaste
  • Bath time, soaping themselves or their sibling’s back
  • Potty training, taking off wet clothes and putting in the hamper, taking off own sheets
  • Laundry, putting clothes in the hamper, loading/unloading the washer or drier. Passing a named item to be hung” Pass me a sock please. “
  • Cooking, finding ingredients ( 2 eggs), washing the veg, stiring the mixture/pot, adding the raisins, Choosing the dinner veg ( carrots or broccoli tonight?)
  • Cleaning up: bedroom, play areas, floor

Toddlers work slowly and inefficiently, and if you are rushing to complete a job, you are likely to feel frustrated. If , on the other hand, you have the time and are not terrible finicky about doing a perfect job, one-year -old help may be welcomed….. think through the pros and cons ahead of time. The inconvenience involved in working with a one-year- old may be considerable, but the rewards can be even greater. You and your toddler will experience a special kind of intimacy while working together.”

Source: Your Child at Play – One to Two Years: Exploring, Daily Living, Learning and Making Friends (Your Child at Play Series) pg 134

Now I have 3 munchkins.  My middle one learnt really quickly that his older brother would clean up for him. A little hand over hand assistance for a long while soon changed that action. Both boys will help each other clean up whether it’s their mess or not. Not always and that’s ok. They also know that I can help and we work together and also that if they don’t pick up there will be a consequence. The middle one’s clean up is very different to his older brother’s and that’s ok too.

Photo credit

I challenge you to focus on responsibilities first in an activity you do this week and the activity itself second. Come back and share what you did. What happened? or share what you’ve done to encourage and develop responsibility at home.

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