Raising Responsible Children

I was folding laundry the other day, when my five year old expressed an interest in helping me out.  She actually wasn’t looking to assist me, but instead wanted to fold the three loads of laundry strewn all over the bed by herself.  She has watched me fold endless amounts of laundry, so the teaching part had already been done and she was ready to go.  My first thought was “absolutely not”, knowing that I would have to refold every item when she was done.  But after thinking about it a bit more, I changed my mind.  For one thing, I realized that she would not be volunteering her services forever.  But more importantly, I wanted her to feel good about herself for pitching in and having an accomplishment.  Letting her help out was hopefully a great beginning for her to become a responsible and confident person.  Let me add that she worked very hard to fold every single item with care and precision, and in the end, I did not have to do much refolding. 
This incident got me thinking about raising responsible children and how important it is for young people to be given chores and expectations in order to feel good about themselves and their contributions to the family.  It may seem insignificant to have a child make their bed, clean up their toys, take out the trash or feed the family dog, but I believe that having tasks to complete goes a long way in building character and a strong work ethic.  Raising responsible children is the main goal of many parents.  We all want our children to develop the skills necessary to be productive, healthy, competent and independent people. 
Many experts say that giving children chores is a great way to start.  Marty Rossman, associate professor of family education at the University of Minnesota, finds that the best predictor of a child’s success – defined as not using drugs, quality relationships, finishing education, and getting started in a career – is that they begin helping with chores at age 3 or 4.  Chores make children active members of a family and help children develop a sense of pride in their accomplishments.  According to Janis Keyser, coauthor of “Becoming the Parent You Want to Be”, the strategy of giving children family responsibilities works because it gives them a sense of belonging to a team and being a contributing member of that team.  
Giving children responsibilities goes beyond household chores.  Responsibility means doing what needs to be done to take care of yourself, your family, your friends, and the greater community.  Teaching young children things like dressing themselves, brushing their teeth, and focusing on their schoolwork (and then giving them the space to do it) will build self-confidence.  Children who are proud of the work they have done will be more willing to take on new challenges as they grow.  It is so tempting to take over and do everything for our children, but it is doing them a disservice.  Even when you sense they are going to make a mistake…let them.  Teach children that mistakes are an opportunity to learn.  Making mistakes and working out problems is how we learn how to make better choices.  When you let children do things for themselves, they feel confident and important, and learn to be independent and responsible. 

And remember through it all…praise their work and tell them you value what they did.  We all want to be appreciated for helping out and for a job well done.  I will tell you that my daughter and I now have regular folding sessions (she allows me to fold along with her) and it’s time well spent.