Chores and What They Mean to Your Child
By: Dr. Gail Gross
Children learn things at the knees of their mothers that they can’t get anywhere else. They learn about life and how to experience it. Parents really are the first teachers – and dare I say it – the home the first schoolhouse. As parents, we have embarked upon the journey of guiding a new member of our species into adulthood successfully.
In the beginning, we want to be sure that we teach our children the life skills that will allow them to take care of themselves when we are no longer around – or not wanted around. But then, we realize that as a lateral benefit, not only is our child learning good housekeeping skills, but also dexterity, task mastery, and self-sufficiency, which leads to a self-actualized child. This is the child that we all hope and dream for – the leader who can withstand peer pressure, rather than “follow the herd” consciousness. Children that feel secure, and valued, as part of a connected group called family are more likely to be positively reinforced rather than perform for approval.
As children are made to feel a valued part of their family, their importance to the group gives them pride and a sense of contribution. When assigning chores, remember Mom, to begin at the beginning. Think back to your youth. That’s right – all the way back. Can you even recall when or where you first learned to make a bed, wash a dish or launder an article of clothing? Probably not! And yet the knowledge of how to take care of ourselves is part of the preparation for adulthood. So while handing out chores, be certain to be realistic with your expectations. You want your child to succeed and have a feeling of accomplishment – a job well done. As a result, be careful and skillful in your job assignments, and see to it that they are both age-appropriate and safe. The aim here is learning, and what you are trying to create is a secure, self-actualized child who is equipped to go out into the world and make a life, in essence modeled after yours, be what you want to see.
Each member of a family should be responsible for different tasks around the house, regardless of outside work. Here are a few guidelines to follow when chores are created:
Chores should be fair. Rotate chores so that one child or another does not get stuck always doing the same chore.
Chores should be safe and age appropriate. We don’t want a three-year-old washing dishes.
Be reasonable in your expectations. While it is important to follow through and give children feedback so that they know that they have our attention – still we do not want to crush any young or fragile egos. This is all about building a sense of competence. Keep in mind; it is not what you say, but how you say it. Home should be a safe haven in which to make mistakes, make adjustments, and learn.
Whenever possible, find a reward system other than money. I prefer tokens, which can be accumulated and traded for things that each particular child holds dear. In this way children don’t develop a feeling of entitlement - that they should be paid for every favor they do around the house. It is better to help your children realize that they are an integral part of a team. On the other hand, there are times when a money reward is warranted, such as a period in which we are teaching our children how to manage money, value it, save it, and spent it responsibly. The key here, as in all other forms of conscious parenting is a balanced approach.
Set a standard for excellence, and keep it within your child’s reach. Don't make the mistake of being too hard to please. We all have memories of jobs not taken for the fear of failure. This is all about teaching life skills. Madam Montessori got it right when she built chores into the daily curriculum of her school. She realized that love and work build a centered child who transfers that feeling of self worth and trust into the outer world.
Engage your child in the discussion. Come together as a family and share intimate time together while planning what chores need to be done around the house so that it runs smoothly for the whole family – who should do what this week and what the reward tokens will be worth when they are cashed in.
One final thought: Distinguish between tokens for chores and an allowance. An allowance is the share of the family income that a member of the team has a part of – not a reward for chores.
In closing – our children are today what they are becoming. Parents have a great opportunity to guide them into a wonderful, confident life.
A former teacher, Dr. Gail Gross is a nationally recognized expert, author and lecturer on juvenile education, behavior and development issues. She recently addressed the national PTA conference (How to Speak to Kids about Drugs & Alcohol) and The Harvard School of Divinity (Women & Spirituality). Dr. Gross and her husband, Jenard, founded The Cuney Home School in partnership with Texas Southern University. Dr. Gross received a B.S. in education and psychology and an Ed.D. from the University of Houston. She earned her master's degree in secondary education with a focus in psychology from the University of St. Thomas in Houston. She is a former teacher in the Houston Independent School District. Visit Dr. Gross at www.drgailgross.com.