During his pre-school years the little child is only beginning to take steps toward independence and responsibility, but these steps are as important a part of growing up as gains in height or weight. The pre-school child is gradually learning that people do take responsibility for themselves. They do wash their own faces, put away their belongings, help with the work around the house, and remember to feed their pets. He is also learning, even more slowly, to be responsible for his own actions. He is learning what things are considered right and what are considered wrong. His father and mother must give him patterns of behavior to follow. The little child was not born with knowledge of what is the right kind of behavior, and what things may not be done. If his parents set an example of co-operative, responsible, happy living in the home, the child, through his affection for them, will copy them. If mother makes a fuss about doing her housework and father hates to clean the yard, the children are not going to grow up wanting to take their share of work, however often they have been made to put away their toys. Even the very young child soon senses the attitudes of his parents toward work. If they take their responsibilities well, the children will become responsible too. But if father tries to argue the traffic officer out of a ticket, and mother delightedly tells of getting the better of the grocer, and both bemoan the amount of work it takes to look after the children or the house, no amount of other training will turn their children into really responsible young people.
By the time the child is around four and a half, he can begin to take more responsibility for his own conduct. Learning to be responsible is a slow process and depends upon the child’s age. For example, if the baby runs into the street, his mother picks him up and brings him back to safety. If the two- or three-year-old runs into the street he is brought back, but mother says, “No, you must not play in the street, because cars will hurt you. You may play here.” It is still mother’s responsibility to see that he is playing in a safe place, even though she is teaching him to stay out o£ the street. He may understand about cars, but if a strong attraction comes along, such as a kitten in the street or a friend on the other side, he may still run across without looking. But by four and a half or five, the child is able to understand that he must never cross a street without looking. He can be expected to take responsibility for this, and, if he forgets, he should be taken into the house or made to play in his yard for a short time as a more forcible reminder that he must look before he crosses a street. The responsibility for his own safety must now begin to be on his own shoulders, as well as mother’s. Naturally, though, mother will not give up all her responsibility for some time yet.
By steadily teaching the child as situations arise, he is gradually led during his pre-school years toward the next step, which is the development of some self-control and the ability to take some responsibility for his actions when mother and father are not with him. This is usually possible somewhere between four and a half and six years of age. (Continue below to page 2)