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 is 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.

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. 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 that is, in essence, modeled after yours.

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:

Rule number onechores should be fair.
Rotate chores so that one child or another does not get stuck always doing the same chore.

Rule number twomake sure that all chores are safe and age-appropriate.
We don’t want a three-year-old washing dishes.

Rule number three: 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, we also 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.

Rule number four: 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.

Rule number five: always set a mastery level – a standard, if you will – for excellence, and keep it within your child’s reach.
Don’t make the mistake of being too hard to please. We all may have memories of jobs not taken for the fear of failure. This is all about teaching life skills. Maria 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.

Rule number six: 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. Remember: our children are today what they are becoming. Parents have a great opportunity to guide them into a wonderful, confident life.


  • Dr. Gail Gross

    Author and Parenting, Relationships, and Human Behavior Expert

    Dr. Gail Gross, Ph.D., Ed.D., M.Ed., a member of the American Psychological Association (APA) and member of APA Division 39, is a nationally recognized family, child development, and human behavior expert, author, and educator. Her positive and integrative approach to difficult issues helps families navigate today’s complex problems. Dr. Gross is frequently called upon by national and regional media to offer her insight on topics involving family relationships, education, behavior, and development issues. A dependable authority, Dr. Gross has contributed to broadcast, print and online media including CNN, the Today Show, CNBC's The Doctors, Hollywood Reporter, FOX radio, FOX’s The O’Reilly Factor, MSNBC, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Times of India, People magazine, Parents magazine, Scholastic Parent and Child Magazine, USA Today, Univision, ABC, CBS, and KHOU's Great Day Houston Show. She is a veteran radio talk show host as well as the host of the nationally syndicated PBS program, “Let’s Talk.” Also, Dr. Gross has written a semi-weekly blog for The Huffington Post and has blogged at since 2013. Recently, Houston Women's Magazine named her One of Houston's Most Influential Women of 2016. Dr. Gross is a longtime leader in finding solutions to the nation’s toughest education challenges. She co-founded the first-of-its kind Cuney Home School with her husband Jenard, in partnership with Texas Southern University. The school serves as a national model for improving the academic performance of students from housing projects by engaging the parents. Dr. Gross also has a public school elementary and secondary campus in Texas that has been named for her. Additionally, she recently completed leading a landmark, year-long study in the Houston Independent School District to examine how stress-reduction affects academics, attendance, and bullying in elementary school students, and a second study on stress and its effects on learning. Such work has earned her accolades from distinguished leaders such as the Dalai Lama, who presented her with the first Spirit of Freedom award in 1998. More recently, she was honored in 2013 with the Jung Institute award. She also received the Good Heart Humanitarian Award from Jewish Women International, Perth Amboy High School Hall of Fame Award, the Great Texan of the Year Award, the Houston Best Dressed Hall of Fame Award, Trailblazer Award, Get Real New York City Convention's 2014 Blogging Award, and Woman of Influence Award. Dr. Gross’ book, The Only Way Out Is Through, is available on Amazon now and offers strategies for life’s transitions including coping with loss, drawing from dealing with the death of her own daughter. Her next book, How to Build Your Baby’s Brain, is also available on Amazon now and teaches parents how to enhance their child’s learning potential by understanding and recognizing their various development stages. And her first research book was published by Random House in 1987 on health and skin care titled Beautiful Skin. Dr. Gross has created 8 audio tapes on relaxation and stress reduction that can be purchased on Most recently, Dr. Gross’s book, The Only Way Out is Through, was named a Next Generation Indie Book Awards Silver Medal finalist in 2020 and Winner of the 2021 Independent Press Awards in the categories of Death & Dying as well as Grief. Her latest book, How to Build Your Baby’s Brain, was the National Parenting Product Awards winner in 2019, the Nautilus Book Awards winner in 2019, ranked the No. 1 Best New Parenting Book in 2019 and listed among the Top 10 Parenting Books to Read in 2020 by BookAuthority, as well as the Next Generation Indie Book Awards Gold Medal winner in 2020 and Winner of the 2021 Independent Press Awards in the category of How-To. Dr. Gross received a BS in Education and an Ed.D. (Doctorate of Education) with a specialty in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Houston. She earned her Master’s degree in Secondary Education with a focus on Psychology from the University of St. Thomas in Houston. Dr. Gross received her second PhD in Psychology, with a concentration in Jungian studies. Dr. Gross was the recipient of Kappa Delta Pi An International Honor Society in Education. Dr. Gross was elected member of the International English Honor Society Sigma Tau Delta.