starts with the small things. Finding age-appropriate
tasks your child can do will add to his sense of responsibility
to pull his weight in the family unit. A two-year-old
can generally put away his own plate once he has finished
a meal. A one-year-old cannot.
five-year-old can pick up his toys before bedtime
and put his pajamas away in the morning. Make these
simple tasks routine for your children. If you do,
they won’t think twice when you ask them to
take out the trash when they are older.
don’t have to be Buddha to teach your child
compassion. While your oldest child may not feel much
compassion for his younger brother who breaks his
block towers or favorite toys, you might want to start
out with animals as an example.
a household pet is one way to teach your child about
responsibility and compassion. You might not be ready
for that commitment, so here are some other ways to
achieve the same thing.
you see a ladybug, have your child hold it and talk
about respect for all living things. Encourage your
child to make a nest for the ladybug and to care for
it. My children started a snail farm for a time. After
they were finished with the activity, they carefully
placed the snails back into the grass. Through this
exercise, they learned snails live in a different
environment than they do, but they could still “convene”
with them for a short time.
your child treats another unfairly, ask him or her
how it might feel to be treated that way, too. A simple
sentence such as “How would that make you feel?”
can go a long way in teaching your child about respecting
your children in situations where they can decide
which way things will go. Giving two-year-olds choices,
for instance, has several benefits. First, you are
avoiding a tantrum by allowing them to decide between
carrot sticks or an apple for their snack. Second,
you are guiding them to make wise choices by offering
them healthy alternatives.
your child grows, expand the areas of choice. To avoid
unnecessary battles at bedtime, for instance, ask
your child if he or she wants to brush teeth now or
in five minutes. Either way, the goal of brushing
teeth is clear.
a strong decision-maker does not mean being permissive.
Allowing your toddler to eat chocolate every
day for breakfast may not be the right choice. Setting
boundaries and allowing them freedom within those
boundaries will aide their self-esteem and sense of
security. Children like to know what to expect. Boundaries
are the guidelines by which they can live.
with the example above, asking the child whether he
or she wants to brush teeth immediately or after the
timer goes off offers choice within a specified boundary.
It reduces the amount of balking your child does and
takes the pressure off your shoulders, too.
your child questions about the choices they make (and
then listening to the answers) gets them to think
critically about their own behavior. While their standard
answer might be “I don’t know,”
it will give them cause to assess what just happened.
Trying to slice her younger brother with a pair of
scissors may have been my daughter’s impulsive
reaction to her pesky three-year-old sibling. Asking
her why she chose to do it allowed her to think about
her actions, even after the fact.
are great mile markers for your children to take on
a bit more responsibility. Sit down with the birthday
boy or girl and ask him or her questions about what
they would like to do this year. Have your child write
down some goals such as learning to swim, ride a bike,
or to drive. Make a list of family goals you might
share. Developing such skills early on will help your
child gain the confidence he or she needs for the
future. At the same time, you will gain the satisfaction
that you have laid the essential groundwork for years
Louise Hohlbaum, American author of Diary
of a Mother
I Am: Tales of a Stay-at-Home Mom in Europe (2005),
lives near Munich, Germany, with her family. Subscribe
to her weekly newsletter for empowered parents