Children learn things at the knees of their mothers that they can’t learn anywhere else. They learn about life and how to experience it. As the parent, you really are your children’s first teacher – and, your home is their first schoolhouse. As parents, you have embarked upon the journey of guiding your children into adulthood successfully.
In the beginning, you want to be sure that you teach your children the life skills that will allow them to take care of themselves when you are no longer around – or not wanted around. But then, you realize that as a lateral benefit, are not only your children learning good housekeeping and daily life skills, but also dexterity, task mastery, and self-sufficiency, which leads to self-actualized children. These are the kind of children that you hope and dream for – the leaders who can withstand peer pressure, rather than “follow the herd” consciousness. Children who feel secure and valued as part of a connected group called family are more likely to be positively reinforced rather than perform for approval.
So while handing out chores, be certain to be realistic with your expectations. You want your children to succeed and feel accomplished. 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 are secure, self-actualized children who are equipped to go out into the world and make their own lives that are, in essence, modeled after yours.
Each member of your family should be responsible for different tasks around the house, regardless of outside work.
Here are a few guidelines to follow when you create chores for your children:
1. Chores should be fair. Rotate chores so that one child or another does not get stuck, always doing the same chore.
2. Make sure that all chores are safe and age-appropriate. We don’t want your three-year-old washing dishes.
3. Be reasonable in your expectations. While it is important to follow through and give children feedback, so 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.
4. 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 – 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 spend it responsibly. Like all other forms of conscious parenting, the key here is a balanced approach.
5. Always set a mastery level – a standard, if you will – for excellence, and keep it within your children’s reach. Don’t make the mistake of being too hard to please. We all may have memories of jobs not taken for 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.
6. 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: your children are today what they are becoming. You have a great opportunity to guide them into a wonderful, confident life.