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Teaching our children responsibility is one of the foundations for raising healthy, independent adults.

One of the first and best ways to teach children responsibility is by having them contribute to the family by doing chores. If not much is expected of children when they're younger, they'll have more difficulty taking initiative, completing basic life skills or handling school work. Even if your children are older, there's still time to help them learn responsibility.

Why Responsibility is Important

Responsibility through chores contributes to a child's self-esteem, showing them they have worth and the ability to complete tasks. Work gives our lives purpose and children need that sense of purpose as well.

Responsibility helps develop a work ethic which will be an asset to them throughout their lives.

The family unit is strengthened by completing chores. It shows children that they're apart of something bigger than themselves and everyone needs to contribute to make the family household work.

Before You Begin

Completing chores is going to come as second nature to you, but it won't for your children. Before you begin, keep these things in mind:

Set Your Expectations

Don't expect perfection. Children at a young age will learn the basic concept like how to sweep, but there may still be crumbs on the floor when they finish. It's ok. It's more important they're learning how to contribute.

Practice Patience

Plan for tasks to take extra time. What's a simple, quick task for you will take longer when your children are first learning. Think of it as a long term investment. When they are teenagers, you'll be thankful that you took extra time to teach them when they were younger. They'll be taking care of their own laundry and cleaning up after themselves.

Teach at Their Level

Teach them what a finished job should look like, but realize it may take several times and a few years before they reach your understanding of finished. They'll be proud of completing their first tasks, so try to not "perfect" their job in front of them because they may not want to try again. They may surprise you though. Our kids are capable of more than we realize.

Genuine Praise is a Strong Motivator

In our own jobs, having our boss notice the work we put in goes a long way to our self-esteem and our willingness to put effort into our work. Cheer your child on when they complete a task, when they master it and when they complete a task without being reminded.

How to Teach Kids to Do Their Chores

When children are younger, they learn life skills through play. We may think of chores as work, but if you can teach them that their chores are part of their play, they're more likely to learn and want to help. Here are a few ideas that may work for your family.

Ready, Set, Go!

Find ways to turn chores into games. It gives you a chance to spend some time with your kids in a fun way while working on that household to do list. It will take some more time, but they'll also stay interested in the tasks a little longer.

  • Set a timer and see how fast they can complete a task.
  • Play favorite music and dance your way to completing the chore. This may take longer, but you'll get your heart rate up too!
  • Building on the Easter egg hunt idea, hide a favorite toy somewhere around the house and in order to find it they have to pick up items and put them away.
  • If you have a child who loves to play pretend, have them pick a character and pretend to be that character who is completing their chores. A pirate or a cowboy or an astronaut would be pretty funny.
  • For kids who enjoy photos and video, film a commercial or a how-to video for completing their chores.

Be creative!

Their Own Cleaning Supplies

Younger kids want to do everything mom or dad does. Create their own special cleaning kit complete with their own dust rag and spray bottle filled with water. They'll have fun spraying the water on the floor or windows to clean those areas.

Make it Visual

Help younger children visualize and learn their daily routine with a chore chart. Each morning, all of us have to complete basic tasks like getting dressed, making the bed, eating breakfast, brushing our teeth and putting shoes on, but kids have to learn what those daily routines are. A chore chart with picture icons will help them learn the tasks. Each time they complete the task, they get a sticker or use a marker to show they've completed the task for the day. This will also help them learn the days of the week.

Rewards, Allowance, Commissions

At first, visually seeing chores completed may be enough incentive, but as they get a little older, rewards of some kind may also be helpful. If they complete an entire week's worth of chores, give them the chance to earn a reward like building a fort and sleeping in that one night, having a friend over, a trip to the movies, getting to feed the giraffes at the zoo, etc.

Every family is different in how they view completing the responsibilities in the home. Some want their children to earn an allowance for the work they complete like one would get paid at a job. This gives children the opportunity to learn finance skills. Others see chores as every family member's job to contribute to running the house. Mom doesn't get paid to make dinner — why would the kids be paid for helping with the dishes?

One middle ground approach some families have taken is giving their kids commissions for completing tasks they would pay someone else to do. Such as watching the younger kids, mowing the lawn or washing the car.

You know your kids best and you'll be able to find a system that works for your family.

Expectations and Consequences

As your children get older, communicating what you expect from your children is important. Let them know what chores they are responsible for and when they are to complete them by. Also, communicate the consequences associated with not completing tasks. For example, they could be expected to clean the bathroom and take the trash out every week. If they don't complete those tasks, they won't earn their allowance or they won't be able to access the internet over the weekend. Changing the internet password until they complete the tasks is a good motivator.

Types of Chores by Ages

Every family will be different in what's expected of their kids, but here are a few basic age guidelines for chores.

2 - 3 Year Olds

  • Make the bed
  • Take dirty clothes to the laundry
  • Help match socks
  • Put clean clothes away
  • Clean up their books and toys

4 - 5 Year Olds

  • Load the dishwasher
  • Set the table
  • Help with dinner prep
  • Water the plants
  • Help care for pets
  • Clean up their room

6 - 9 Year Olds

  • Sweep the floor
  • Sort the laundry
  • Wipe counters
  • Make their school lunch
  • Empty the dishwasher
  • Pull the weeds
  • Pick up sticks in the yard

10 - 12 Year Olds

  • Take out the trash
  • Fold laundry
  • Vacuum
  • Mop
  • Rake and Shovel
  • Clean the bathroom
  • Make easy dinners

13+

  • Help make and plan meals
  • Grocery shopping with parents
  • Clean the fridge
  • Watch younger siblings
  • Mow the lawn

When to Talk to Your Doctor

If your child is having trouble completing tasks at home, and if it's carrying over to school, you may want to talk to your child's pediatrician about what's normal at your child's age. The pediatrician may recommend talking to a child psychiatrist or child psychologist. It could be that procrastination isn't the issue but that your child is having trouble concentrating and treating an attention deficit would help.

It takes time and patience, but teaching children responsibility isn't only helpful for completing everyday chores in the family but for also raising confident, capable adults.

Elizabeth Walenz, MD

Methodist Physicians Clinic Regency

Dr. Walenz answers your questions about child health and parenting. Dr. Walnez loves seeing kids grow and helping them lead a long healthy life. She is especially interested in nutrition, growth and development. She believes in a team approach when caring for children. She thinks it is important to listen to the patient, the parents as well as her health care team when deciding the best care for her patients. She always tries to talk to the children directly and ask them how they are fe ...

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