Helen O’Callaghan hears advice on giving age-appropriate tasks.

YOUR eight-year-old has a habit of forgetting – his jacket at his friend’s house, tidying up his toys after a play date. 

You’re constantly stepping into the breach — tidying up after him, rushing out to collect the jacket — and thereby missing great opportunities to teach him responsibility.

Registered psychologist Niamh Hannan (www.mindworks.ie) says if your child doesn’t experience the problems created by his forgetting, he won’t have any incentive to change his behaviour. 

“It’s a parent’s job to gradually bring the child up to be a responsible adult. Parents must constantly coach their children, from toddler age, to take responsibility for their belongings, their territory.”

On a basic level, this means children dress themselves, brush their hair, tidy up their toys, clear away their plate and cutlery after eating, make their bed and put their clothes in the laundry basket. 

The golden rule, says Hannan, is never to do for children what they can do for themselves. Parents have to let go some of the control issues, she says. 

“Children need help and guidance with a new skill. But then you gradually hand it over to them, even if they don’t do it as well as you — your child not doing it ‘right’ is not a reason for you to jump in and do it for them.” 

What’s important, she says, is to leave a gap.

“If a child steps back from responsibility and the parent steps forward all the time to cover that, there’s no gap — the child doesn’t have to step forward. 

"If you allow the gap to happen — the mistake to be made, the thing to go a bit wrong — the child learns from that he needs to step forward and take responsibility.”

And responsibility isn’t just about looking after number one. In an age- appropriate way, children need to be coached and encouraged to contribute to the household — putting the shopping away, helping with hoovering or feeding pets.

Reward charts have a place when getting your child to take on a new routine. 

“They might get a sticker at the end of each day and a ‘prize’ at the end of the week. Put this in place for two to three weeks to instil the habit,” says Hannan, who suggests using pocket money to teach older kids responsibility.

“Set out what the pocket money might be and what they have to do to earn it.”

Ultimately, helping kids take responsibility is about teaching them life-skills, so they can be self-sufficient as adults. 

It is also hugely confidence-building for your child.

Top tips

* Start teaching responsibility from when kids are young — pre-school age.

* Avoid doing things for your child that he can do for himself.

* Lead by example. If you make a promise, keep it. Show up and do what you said you’d do.

* Let child experience the consequences of his not taking responsibility (taking safety issues into account). This allows learning to happen.


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