By Dr. Jan Hittelman

During the elementary years it is important for children to develop a sense of responsibility. In terms of school, children need to gradually learn to manage their academic responsibilities in preparation for middle school. Each year teachers are very purposeful in increasing the level of independence that they expect from their students. Parents also need to see this as a developmental task for their children and make adjustments accordingly. Depending on a variety of student attributes, which include: intelligence, organizational skills, achievement motivation, learning difficulties, this may prove to be a challenging task. In addition to academic responsibilities, elementary age children need to gradually assume more responsibility outside of school as well.

Too often well-intentioned parents continue to be overly involved in monitoring their child’s academic and other responsibilities. This inadvertently results in their children developing a dependency on their parents to remind and often fulfill their children’s responsibilities themselves. If this pattern continues into middle and high school, the results are often very problematic and the child may experience difficulties meeting age expected responsibilities.

Ideally by the time a child begins middle school he/she is able to complete homework and household responsibilities independently, with at most a reminder. If they need further parental assistance, it is their responsibility to ask for it.

There are several strategies that can be useful in helping your child develop the necessary skills they need to assume more responsibility. These include:
• Ongoing Communication: Instead of springing expectations regarding taking more responsibility, it is important to have open discussions about the importance of learning to be more responsible.
• Empowerment: When discussing increased responsibility, make sure that you provide frequent opportunities for your child to share his/her opinion and offer their ideas regarding an effective game plan.
• Be Supportive: Instead of being the enforcer, try to be the “good coach”. The good coach praises success and provides encouragement and assistance when additional skill training is needed.
• Catch Your Child Being Responsible: Instead of just expecting your child to be responsible, provide positive feedback when you see your child putting effort into taking responsibility.
• Have Realistic Expectations: Every child is different in terms of their level of development as well as their unique strengths and weaknesses. Instead of setting expectations that are too high, try and create a sequence of easily obtainable goals that increase at a pace that your child can most likely achieve.

By using effective strategies to teach responsibility during the elementary school years, parents can help enable their children to thrive not just in secondary school but also in life.