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Teaching Responsibility to a Toddler Yes, Two Year Olds Can Learn Responsibility

Carol Knopf

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Terry pounded his fist on the table. At two, Terry had already learned the power of a child. Throw a tantrum and get some attention. But Terry's mom was 22 and she knew a few things too. “I know you're hungry and we're going to have breakfast in a minute, just as soon as we make certain Ralphie is fed. " Terry's look of defiance began to wither pretty fast at the mention of Ralphie. For the last two weeks, before breakfast and dinner, Terry had been putting a tiny scoop of food in Ralphie's bowl. Then he poured some water in Ralphie's water bowl. Some of the water always spilled on the kitchen floor but mom didn't get angry. She said it was okay as long as Ralphie had fresh water.

As Terry toddled off on floppy legs to the drawer with the cat food, Gina, Terry's mom, gave him a big grin. When the kernels of dry food hit the bowl and Ralphie ran over to eat, Gina praised Terry, “That's great Terry; now Ralphie can have his breakfast too. Boy, he looks like he was really hungry. " She handed Terry a paper cup with water and Terry dumped it into Ralphie's water bowl, as usual getting about half in the bowl and the rest on the kitchen floor.

With Ralphie fed, it was time for Terry to eat. As he shoveled scrambled eggs into his mouth, Gina looked on with pride. Terry was learning to take care of his cat, a lesson that will serve him well throughout his life.

It takes some work to teach responsibility to a young child. But the time spent is well worth it. When I worked for the courts in Ventura County, I introduced my oldest son to one of the sitting judges. As my son conversed with the judge, I walked over to speak with our mutual secretary. When I returned, my son told me it was time for him to get going; he had a college class that night. He shook hands with the judge, gave me a peck on the cheek and left.

After my son left, the judge looked at me in amazement. “How did you do that?" he asked. “Did what, " I said. “Your son is still in his teens and he's so responsible. He goes to college and has three part-time jobs. Mine's in his twenties and lays around the house. "

I explained that because I was divorced, my kids had to take on a lot of chores. Although even without the divorce, they would have had to take them on. One thing my ex-husband and I agreed on was that our sons would have to pay their own car insurance. That way they'd have to be responsible if they got a ticket or in an accident, not just for the incident, but for the increased insurance. My sons always understood that everyone in the family had jobs to do, including them.

When one of my sons asked for a video game set, I told him I wasn't going to pay all that money for video games. “But you can afford it, " he whined. “Yes, but I don't want it; you do. If you want the game, go earn the money. " And he did. He got a part-time job, earned the money and bought the video game set.

That same son has his own child now. And one of my grandson's jobs, at the ripe old age of 2 1/2, is to feed his puppy. He knows his dog needs food and water, just like he does. Of course, sometimes, my grandson goes a little over the top, like the time he decided it was okay for him to share his yogurt with his dog - using the same spoon. While my daughter-in-law praised the generosity, she nixed the sharing a spoon idea. But too much generosity is rarely a problem.

Actually, my son and daughter-in-law have gone me one better. The last time I visited, I asked my grandson to get a book so I could read to him. He took the toy he had been playing with and put it in the toy cabinet. Then he opened another door and took out a favorite book for me to read him. He closed the door and climbed onto the couch to sit with me. After I read him the book, my grandson took the book and put it back in the cabinet, carefully closing the door. I looked at my daughter-in-law in amazement. “He does that all the time. That's what we taught him. "

So the next time you find yourself picking up after your kids, take a moment and think; what will they do when you aren't around to pick up. And why should you be picking up after them anyway?

Carol Knopf holds degrees in journalism and law and spent over 20 years in the legal and corporate worlds. In 2004, she was forced to leave work after being diagnosed with a life-threatening lung disease. At the urging of family, friends and people who have collected Carol's photography over the years, Carol opened a website to sell her work. Carol's Fine Art Photography currently has multiple galleries, selling landscapes, seascapes, animals, florals and foliage at


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