Building a foundation for the responsible child

Help your child learn about responsibility with these tips.

Most 5-year-olds can begin to take out the trash.
Most 5-year-olds can begin to take out the trash.

In the early 90s, the Search Institute released the framework of 40 Developmental Assets for Adolescents which outlined a “set of skills, experiences, relationships and behaviors that enable young people to develop into successful and contributing adults.” The framework helped adults learn how to support youth in many different areas. The Search Institute has now developed a framework of 40 Developmental Assets for Early Childhood (Ages 3-5). These assets can help support children as they develop and build a strong foundation to be healthy and contributing youth and adults.

Responsibility is a hard concept to teach to young children because it is not something you can see, smell, touch or taste. However, it is vitally important that young children begin to learn and understand about the concept of responsibility. How can you as a parent or early childhood provider support young children as they learn about the concept of responsibility?

First, let’s start with what responsibility means. According to the book “Great Preschools: Building Development Assets in Early Childhood,” responsibility is “an internal asset because it involves the child’s acceptance of a task and their own motivation or desire to complete it.” Responsibility can not only teach young children to be compassionate and have concern for others, but it also helps develop their sense of self-esteem and self-reliance. It teaches them that they are important, useful and competent and can contribute to their world.

Michigan State University Extension recommends the following tips to help your child learn about responsibility with your help and support:

  • Model responsibility for your child. Let them see you do your chores or help with things like picking up litter at the park.
  • Most 3-year-olds can begin to:
    • Dress themselves.
    • Brush their teeth.
    • Wipe up spills.
    • Set the dinner table.
    • Pick up small amounts of toys.
  • Most 4-year-olds can begin to:
    • Pick up their belongings.
    • Put their clothes away.
    • Make their bed.
    • Help fix a snack.
  • Most 5-year-olds can begin to:
    • Dress themselves with reminders.
    • Clean up their bedroom.
    • Take out the trash.
    • Feed a family pet with reminders.

Building a foundation for responsibility will help give your child a great start. For more ideas about activities and articles on child development, academic success, parenting and life skill development, please visit the Michigan State University Extension website.

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