Even Toddlers Can Take Responsibility

In a recent post, I noted how helpful it can be for parents of adolescents to insist that their children take responsibility for their behaviors and make amends when they break family rules or make mistakes. The same can be true for parents of much younger children, even toddlers.

Lessons in taking responsibility can start young, even as toddlers

Diane Wagenhals, Program Director, Master Trainer, Curricula Writer, Researcher, Mother and Grandmother

This past weekend I watched some young friends of mine, who have an almost 2-year-old, respond when she accidentally knocked a toy with several small pieces onto the floor, at which point all of the pieces scattered.

Instead of the parents just letting their child sit there while they cleaned up the mess, they invited (and I think would have insisted) that she join them in picking up the pieces and putting them back where they belonged. There was no condemnation, disappointment or shaming directed at this child for having accidentally spilled the pieces onto the floor. At the same time there was an expectation that she be a part of the cleanup.

No responsibility is a form of overindulgence

It can be very easy for parents to inadvertently start a pattern of overindulging their children by not including them in the day-to-day activities around the home. Children are able to be involved in keeping things neat, clean and in order, and to almost automatically take responsibility for cleaning up the inevitable messes of life.

When parents do for children what they are capable of doing for themselves, even if it is in limited ways as with the almost 2-year-old I just described, they deprive their children of opportunities to learn about ways to contribute to the family.

So what is overindulgence?

Overindulging children (or really anyone) is more than just buying them too many material things.

In their book, How Much Is Too Much, and on their website, http://overindulgence.info/, researchers Clarke, Dawson and Bredehoft, help parents and other caregivers appreciate what they call “soft-nurture,” which is really a form of overindulgence.

As I watched my friends’ little girl get down on the floor and join in the process of cleaning up the pieces she had spilled, she was learning an invaluable lesson about being part of the team work needed in a family.

Moreover, she looked like she was actually enjoying the process and could experience the moment of satisfaction when everything was all cleaned up because she was part of it!

 Invitation to reflect:

1.      How often when your children make a mess or neglect to clean up after themselves do you decide it’s just easier to clean things up yourself rather than having to deal with your child’s protests? Are there times when you just do the cleaning up because you know it probably will take much longer if you ask or make your child clean up a mess? Have you ever considered that these “kindnesses” on your part are actually a form of overindulgence?

2.      Consider how important it can be in nurturing your children’s sense of responsibility to consider if a child is capable, even in a limited way, of cleaning up or helping in the cleanup of a mess he or she created.

Diane Wagenhals, Director of Institute for Professional Education and Development, Lakeside Educational Network


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