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Teaching Responsibility

Even very young children can be loved and taught responsibility. They have to be, or teaching them becomes increasingly difficult with every passing year. 


00:07 All children need to be loved and taught.

01:43 Teaching responsibility to younger kids.

03:13 Is two too young to set expectations?

04:45 1: Limit the toys.

08:00 2: Show him how to put away his toys.

08:44 3: He has to clean up until you say the job is done.

09:55 4: Do not ever again help him with the task.

10:15 5: What if he refuses?

11:23 The child's responsibility and consequences.

12:26 Another example with an 11month old child knocking food to the floor.

Partial Transcript:

A mother writes to me and she says, "My two-year-old won't put away his toys after playing with them. His toys are littered from wall to wall in whatever room he uses and then I have to help him put them away. It's just overwhelming to him. And it's a real bother. Some days when I'm busy or tired, but I wonder how capable he is of cleaning up a mess that big. Is it too much for me to expect him to do that and to teach him to do that? Help."

Two is Not Too Young for Teaching Responsibility

First, let’s talk about age. You’re wondering if age two is too young to set an expectation for a child to put toys away. NO. If a child can stack blocks—to a level of 2-4 blocks, which happens at 15-18 months—then that child can put away toys. Trust me. When instructed, the child will ACT baffled, puzzled, or resistant, but they DO understand—especially if you just show them what you mean by “put away the toys”—and at that age, they ARE capable of executing the task. Now, let’s go over some responsibilities and consequences for you AND your child.

Your Teaching Responsibilities and Consequences

Now, let’s go over some responsibilities and consequences for you AND your child.


  1. If your child can, in your words, “litter any room with toys from wall to wall,” your child has access to FAR too many toys. Several times too many toys. Solution? Put the toys in 5, 6, 8 plastic containers, and put them all away—far out of his reach and awareness—leaving just one of the containers out at a time. You’ll figure out whether to leave the same container out for a day, a week, several hours, whatever. When he’s put toys away for a particular container, he can have another one. What if he’s playing and realizes that a particular toy isn’t in the container you gave him for that day? He cries. “Oh no,” you might be tempted to think, “I’m traumatizing my little boy.” Nah. You tell him that when he picks up and puts back in the container every toy on the floor, you’ll get the other container. OR you tell him that he can have that toy another day (although really young kids do not understand “another day”). 
  2. You SHOW him how to pick up toys. Once.
  3. You tell him that he has to clean up until you say the job is done. If he claims he’s finished cleaning up the toys, but the job isn’t done, you say you’ll come back to check on him later, to see if he’s really finished.
  4. You do NOT ever again help him do the work.
  5. What if he refuses? Then you lead him by his little fingers to his room, sit him on his bed, and tell him that he can come out when he’s ready to clean up the toys. As I’ve said elsewhere in the training about whining (Chapter Zero) and other behaviors.

Your Child's Responsibility and Consequences

So first we talked about YOUR responsibilities here. Now, what is your CHILD’S responsibility and consequences?

It’s your child’s job to trust you and follow instructions, which is possible only as you loveandteach him as described in the Ridiculously Effective Parenting Training. Love, teaching with words, then teaching with consequences.

At the next meal, little Tony knocked his food off the tray and onto the floor. Mom calmly removed the tray from the high chair and set it on the kitchen counter.

She took Tony’s hand and helped him down from his seat, and then helped him climb a step stool that brought him up to the level of the kitchen sink.

She helped him wet a couple of washcloths and then showed him how to clean up all the food on the floor.

It was slow because Tony had never cleaned up anything. Mom could have done the job much faster by herself but cleaning up the mess wasn’t the point—not by a long shot. She was teaching her son responsibility.

Mom showed Tony how to put more food from the refrigerator and cupboards back on the tray, and then Tony sat in his chair with the tray in front of him. After a couple of seconds, he knocked everything on the floor again, and Mom repeated the same process with him.

Tony sat in front of the tray a third time. He looked thoughtful for several seconds, sucked on his lip, and then ate his meal. He never knocked food on the floor again.

Even very young children can be loved and taught. They have to be, or teaching them becomes increasingly difficult with every passing year.

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