My biggest flaw as a mother is that I don't encourage my 3-year-old daughter to be responsible enough. In my mind, she's still "just a baby," and it would be unreasonable to ask her to put away her own toys, brush her own teeth, or even put on her own clothes. I do realize, though, that this attitude is detrimental, and that it's something that I need to adjust promptly to help my daughter be the best she can be.
My goal right now is to enable my daughter's independence by encouraging responsibility even in these preschool years. I know that, by facilitating responsibility now, I will make grown-up responsibilities easier to bear when she's older. Here are five ways that you can encourage your preschooler to be more responsible.
1. Make her dress herself. Many preschool-age children will magically become unable to dress themselves whenever they are asked to go some place unpleasant. My daughter will instantly dress herself when we're going to the museum, but she says it's "too hard" to put her clothes on when we're on our way to the bank. I've had to put my foot down about this behavior to encourage her independence and responsibility.
2. Ask for help with meals. Before, during, and after meals, enlist your preschooler's help with tasks like mixing ingredients, setting the table, and putting dirty dishes in the sink. At restaurants, encourage her to place her own order politely and appropriately. These little tasks will help your preschooler feel and act more responsible.
3. Encourage personal hygiene. This is one of the biggest steps toward independence and responsibility for preschoolers. Encourage your child to take responsibility for tasks related to her own body, such as brushing her teeth, bathing herself, and washing her hands. Remember that you may need to follow-up on tasks like this, but your preschooler should be inching toward responsibility for her own body.
4. Give choices. Your preschooler will behave more responsibly when you give her choice and freedom in her everyday life. She should get to choose whether cheese goes on top of her spaghetti or to the side, or whether she'd prefer apples or grapes as an afternoon snack. Let her choose the red sippy cup over the blue or the butterfly shirt over the train sweater. These little steps in self-sufficiency encourage a greater tendency toward general responsibility.
5. Use peer encouragement. If your preschooler's same-age friends are consistent about cleaning up after themselves, helping their parents, and playing fairly with other children, point this out to your preschooler. Discuss these things as praise for your child's peers, not as condemnation for your child. You might, for example, say, "Aiden always puts his books back on the shelf when he's done reading them. It sure would be helpful to me if you did that." Your preschooler will behave more responsibly when she views it as a normal behavior.
Responsibility is one of the most important virtues you can teach your child. By fostering your child's independence, you help to make him a more solid, balanced, happy individual.
Related Work by Juniper Russo