Chores. We all remember them. Some were associated with allowance, others were simply mandatory. For many kids, they were often an intrusion on other more important things we could have been doing. But, chores are important for kids.
As a parent, I’m sure you’ve asked (hopefully without screaming), “Did you take out the trash and clean your room?” In response, you may have received the perfunctory eye roll.
You know what I mean : They’re chores or jobs at home that most of us hated but did out of necessity because we were told to. And our kids pretty much hate them, too.
Reframing Chores As Responsibilities
It turns out chores have an incredibly important role for the developing child or teen. This is best understood, and far more acceptable to children, if they are reframed as responsibilities – as skills that have a great payoff.
Responsibilities can make children and adolescents feel special.
We should think of and present responsibilities to our kids in two major arenas – taking responsibility for the care of others (your social responsibility) and taking responsibility for the care of yourself.
Let’s start with some principles. All children have the desire to be competent, effective, and to master tasks they previously could not accomplish. The acquisition and demonstration of new skills help foster positive self-esteem. When they succeed in mastering more responsibilities, they not only feel that they can do what adults or older siblings do, but earn respect and validation for their competence.
In short, tackling responsibilities helps kids feel that they are growing up. They are fulfilling an intrinsic desire and drive to become independent, autonomous individuals. In addition, they enjoy the pleasure and great satisfaction in taking care of themselves and others.
What Parents Can Do To Teach Social Responsibilities To Children
It’s important for parents to reframe “chores” or “jobs” as responsibilities and to talk with kids about these as skills they can learn, perfect, and use in everyday life.
Our brains are wired to give. Acts of giving to others release neurochemicals that are far more powerful and rewarding than receiving gifts.
Here are some examples of ways to help kids learn social responsibilities.
Pre-school kids are just learning the basics of taking care of themselves, such as dressing themselves, feeding themselves, going to the bathroom on their own, or putting themselves to sleep. They are not capable of complex responsibilities, so parents need to keep chores simple. Responsibilities for preschoolers can include:
- Feed the dog or cat or fill up their water bowl.
- Help set the table.
- Assist in cleaning up after dinner – even carrying their plates to mom or dad to put in the dishwasher.
- Help feed a younger toddler or give them a toy in the high chair if they are getting fussy.
When preschoolers handle these household responsibilities, they really appreciate the praise parents and older siblings bestow upon them.
Additionally, there are things they can do on special occasions, such as making decorations for Mothers’ Day or putting the candles in a family member’s birthday cake. They may also help clean up the house before guests are coming.
There are many more chores school-age kids can do to build positive self-esteem. Responsibilities for this group can include:
- Setting the table.
- Clearing the dishes after a family meal.
- Taking out the garbage or putting recyclables in bins.
- Helping to cook meals.
- Taking the dog for a walk.
- Picking up the newspaper.
- Finding a good family movie to watch for an evening activity.
Again, doing things for others alone makes kids feel special. Sure, they would prefer to watch TV or play a video game. There will naturally be pushback from time to time. But if the culture of the household is one that lavishes praise, validation, admiration, and gratitude, they will feel more motivated to pitch in and contribute.
Some parents may balk at giving praise over and over for what a child should be expected to do. This is a valid point. However, the amount of love, approval, and praise for contributions will never be endless. There will come a time that the ongoing responsibilities the child assumes on a routine basis become a foundation for their identity as mature and responsible individuals.