Kids and Chores – Teaching children to be responsible for their actions

If you have children and you have tried to ask them to do chores, you may have encountered the same problems that we often face in our house: battles, yelling, frustrations, etc.  Why is it so difficult for kids to do their chores?  Well, I believe that one main reason is because kids (and many adults!!) do not take responsibility for their acts.

I think that most people would agree that a chore is an excellent way to teach a child responsibility or to hold them accountable for their actions.  Unfortunately, it’s not that simple to convince a child to do a chore.  Asking children to do chores is usually an important source of frustration for most parents.  For example, our 12-year old son needs to be reminded quite often that he is responsible to do certain household tasks, including set the table before meals, put the garbage out, and make his bed before going to school.  Why cannot he remember these tasks by himself? Why does he need us to remind him that? I mean, we don’t need to remind him when to charge his IPod or any other of his electronic devices. 

Household chores are boring!
Let’s face it, the main reason kids don't like doing chores is the same reason that we, adults, don't like doing chores: household tasks are generally boring.  The satisfaction of getting the dishes done does not match the one of reaching a new level in a video game! Most kids do not care about whether or not the dinner table is set or their bed is made before they go to school.  Of course, we have tried many things to convince him to do his household chores, including positive reinforcement, allowances, prizes, etc.  None of them worked well because our son does not seem to register the reasons why doing chores or being responsible for certain tasks is important.

Discuss the importance of the chore
Many experts suggest that when deciding to give a child a chore, it is essential that we discuss with him/her the importance of the chore as well as the skills that will be gained by doing this chore.  I think that in order to do this, we first need to ask ourselves “why is it important that my child do this chore?” "What will he/she learn by doing this chore?" If we have trouble answering these questions, then, this may be one reason why we are experiencing trouble convincing our children on the importance of performing a given chore.  

According to this idea, when we ask our 12-year old to set the dinner table, I should first know what I am trying to teach him when asking to do the chore.  Or, if you prefer, which skills I want him to gain by doing this chore?

Well, I did the exercise and thought about all the reasons why do we want our son to set the dinner table.  I should, first, say that meals are a family affair in our house.  With the exception of breakfasts (except those taking place during the weekend), we eat dinner and sometimes lunches as a family.  A meal is a social event in our house and it is an opportunity to show and practice social etiquette and good manners.  We love to take the time to eat and to enjoy each other’s company.

I believe that it is essential for children to have good manners and know basic social etiquette because they learn to behave in a polite manner in society.  So, why do I want our son to set the dinner table? Because dinners are special family moments and we should all help to make these moments special.  Besides that, I also think that knowing how to set the dinner table or how to behave properly at it during meals is important for kids, so they know how to behave at other people’s houses or at restaurants.  

Although I feel that the arguments presented in the previous paragraph are compelling, I know that I need other arguments if I want to convince my son to set the dinner table on a regular basis.  Now, if I only use the argument that he will gain important social skills that can help him in the future, I feel that it will even be worse (my son is not really thinking about the future yet!).

Team work or collaboration strategy
Lately, we have been using another strategy with our children when it comes to household chores. It is called the “team work or collaboration strategy”.  The idea is simple, our family is a team and because of that we all need to help by sharing the chores.  Household chores are not always fun, but they need to be done and we all need to participate in this.  If they (kids) don’t do their chores, well, they are not doing their part as team members. 

Of course, this strategy does not work 100% of the time.  But, at least for us, it is working better than the allowance or the bonus approaches.  I think that one of the advantages of the team strategy is that kids understand a little bit better the notion of accountability which is so essential in life.  In other words, kids seem to take responsibility for their actions and realize that if they don’t do a given chore, there will be a consequence for that choice that could affect the whole team.  For instance, if the dinner table is not properly set and there are not forks or spoons, well, dinner will be delayed and there may not sufficient time to watch TV or play a game that night.

Knowing that each one of our actions has a consequence is an important lesson that kids need to learn.  I believe that it is a parent’s job to teach kids to be accountable or responsible for their actions because it is an essential skill for life. It takes practice and patience, but it may be a good strategy for some kids and some parents.  Again, I don’t think that it could work in all situations, but it is worth a try!

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