Life

Teaching Elementary-Age Kids Responsibility

isted in the article are seven ways to help your elementary school-aged child develop responsibility

Elementary school-aged children are constantly absorbing their surroundings and modeling what they see from adults. Prior to beginning Kindergarten, elementary school-aged kids rapidly developed basic executive functioning skills. These skills entail the ability to plan for the future, set and reach goals, maintain self-control, follow directions, and stay focused.

Appropriate to their stage of development, children ages 6 to 8 are focused mostly on themselves. They are curious, often competitive, and sometimes demanding in getting their needs met. While seeking to establish independence, they also rely on routines and consistency.

From 9 to 11, many children start puberty. They are energetic and enjoy participating in group activities. They start to think logically, assert their independence, and actively seek out opportunities to be responsible. They still need boundaries and validation for when they feel self-conscious.

According to the United States Department of Education, a responsible person:

  • Keeps their promises and commitments — others can depend on them
  • Accepts the consequences of their words and actions — devotes time to developing their potential and taking charge of their own lives
  • Thinks things through and uses sound judgment before taking action — they take into account their personal, professional, and community obligations before making a significant decisions
  • Makes plans and sets goals for nurturing their talents and skills.
  • Shows resilience in overcoming obstacles

Listed below are seven ways to help your elementary school-aged child develop responsibility — how they approach the challenge will look differently based on the child’s developmental stage, which typically corresponds with age.

Highlight role models from your child’s life

Whether reading a book together, tuning into a movie or TV show, or watching a YouTube video, use the people and situations to discuss teachable moments related to taking responsibility. Explore how the characters navigated a problem, stood up for themselves, or achieved a goal. Ask your child how they would have solved the problem differently. Help them make connections to their own lives and goals. If your child does not have someone they look up to as a positive example, the next suggestion may be helpful.

Encourage your child to develop personal role models.

Their exemplars can be real, fictional, or imagined! Cartoon characters can model responsibility just as effectively as living humans. It may be helpful to start within the family. Consider which family members have stories they could share about taking responsibility. If they do not have a positive adult role model outside of the home, consider enrolling your child in a local mentoring program. Significant research shows that mentoring can create positive outcomes for youth, including improved attendance rates and attitude towards school, improved peer interaction and communication with parents, and improved chances of seeking higher education.

Create opportunities for your child to set goals and solve problem

Through one perspective, any household conflict can be turned into an opportunity for problem-solving. When parents can remove blame from the equation, the child is less concerned about preserving their integrity and more open to reexamining the conflict and coming up with a more effective response or solution. If the child desires a significant purchase, create an opportunity for them to “earn” it through making a plan, following the plan, revising steps if they need to, and following through. Make sure to validate when you observe your child demonstrating responsibility when they attempt to set goals and problem-solve in real time.

Experiment with routine and autonomy

Reinforce opportunities around the home where your child can assert their identity while also showing responsibility: in managing their personal appearance, designing their room, organizing their items, etc. Elementary school-aged children are certainly old enough to assist with simple household chores like setting and clearing the table, making the bed, folding their clothes, etc. Encourage your child to experiment with different routines — do they prefer to prepare the school the night before or the morning of? When they get home from school, do they like to have a snack, do homework, and have the rest of the afternoon to play? Or would they prefer to play and snack first, then do homework after they have gotten some energy out? By coming to learn their bodies and natural tendencies, children can take ownership over their routines rather than feel nagged or limited by a parent.

Promote healthy eating habits

Encourage your child to manage what they eat and set appropriate boundaries with food. It is easy, with so much food-related advertising, for children to associate junk food with positive emotions like joy, excitement, and comfort. Help your child form positive associations to trying new foods, eating healthy foods, and balancing their meals. Let your child choose the vegetables for the week’s grocery list or even assist with cooking a healthy meal.

Provide strategies for regulation emotions and dealing with emergencies

Help your child balance assertiveness with accountability. It may be helpful, particularly for introverted children, to anticipate moments when they might need to assert themselves, and role play different ways of responding to a situation. If a child is struggling within a friendship dynamic, support them in voicing their feelings and sharing their feelings in productive ways. Assist children in seeing how they can use breathing and wait time to manage intense emotions, when they inevitably come up. There will be times when your child might have a tantrum, say or do something unkind, lie, or hurt someone. Showing children the importance of “cleaning up their own mess” is critical if they are to learn responsibility. By seeing the implications of their actions, children can develop responsibility for others’ wellbeing.

Make the effort to pay it forward

Children can learn responsibility through contributing to society in some way. Whether they share personal items, time, or effort, it is a good idea to set up opportunities for children to learn how they can give back and improve the environment. A particularly savvy child can even take the lead on a charitable project like a lemonade stand, bake sale, or book drive.

The key to teaching responsibility is to separate it from blame and punishment. When young minds perceive that they may be in trouble, their brains go into fight or flight self-preservation mode. Learning responsibility through curiosity and exploration is much more effectively done than through fear and compulsion.

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