I recently read a great parenting book entitled, How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success by Julie Lythcott-Haims. As a self-labeled detached parent, I enjoyed reading research into the benefits of my parenting style. I was also reminded how much I value self-sufficiency and want to encourage that quality in my children. I believe one of the best ways to teach self-sufficiency is by assigning chores. Raising capable kids is about getting to the point where they can complete chores up to your expectations all by themselves. Only then will they be capable of those tasks in adulthood, when you are no longer there.
Steps to Self-Sufficiency
The author of the book explained the guidance required for raising capable kids, and it isn’t quick or easy. So often we just do things for our children because we can do it better and faster. However, if we never take the time to teach them how, they will not be capable on their own. The steps to self-sufficiency are as follows:
- First we show them how to do the chore.
- Then they do the chore with us.
- Next we oversee them doing the chore, not helping them complete it.
- Finally, they do the chore completely by themselves.
I think most parents get stuck on steps 2 or 3. It is very hard to give your children the control over the task to do it on their own. It involves a level of trust and acceptance. For instance, if I teach Lily how to sort our cloth diaper laundry and expect her to do a load all on her own, she might not sort things quite right. The shells cannot be put in the dryer and the inserts need to be dried on low. I could be left with a shell ruined by being tossed in the dryer, a predicament that could have been prevented by overseeing her completing the chore (step 3). Can you tell this is a true story?
The Chore List
With this in mind, the chore list for your children should be tasks you trust them to complete up to your standards. It is incredibly important not to re-do any work your child put into the chore because it will discourage them from doing it themselves ever again and eat away at their self-confidence. The chore list in our house is tailored to the child’s age and abilities, but kids are capable of a lot more than you think.
Nick (Age 3.5) chores include
- Unloading the dishwasher, putting the silverware away himself and handing the rest to his parent who is tall enough to reach upper cabinets.
- Cleaning up toys.
- Putting away his clean laundry in the closet.
Lily (Age 5) chores include
- Clearing the table after meals and loading dirty dishes into the dishwasher.
- Putting away clean laundry in her closet.
- Cleaning up toys and straightening up the living room.
- Washing countertops and tabletops in the bathroom and kitchen.
- Peeling vegetables for meals (carrots, zucchini, potatoes)
- Sorting laundry and moving it from washer to dryer when the load is done.
These lists are the chores I expect my children to be able to do all on their own (with obvious exceptions, like Nick not being able to reach cabinets to put away dishes). There are also tasks we are working on teaching them, like Lily is learning to do the laundry all by herself and Nick is learning to vacuum with the handheld vacuum on the steps. Theo (11 months) is even getting in on the action. He helps unload the dishwasher when Nick is working, handing silverware and plates up for someone to put away.
Raising Capable Kids
The important thing to remember when you begin expecting chores from your children, is to think about how you approach them.
- Chores should be consistent; you can’t expect it sometimes and let them off the hook others because then they won’t own the responsibility.
- Chores should be done thoroughly and to the best of the child’s ability. The parent should praise the effort put forth and offer constructive criticism to improve for next time. Don’t let your child do a sloppy job and say “Good work!” anyways.
- Chores should never be redone by a parent after the child completed them. Lily cannot load the dishwasher as well as I can, but I would never redo her work. It diminishes her efforts and sends the message that I don’t believe she can do it. With practice, she will get better. But she won’t want to practice if I choose to do it afterward anyway.
I believe chores are very important in raising capable kids. If you found this topic interesting, you should read the book How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success by Julie Lythcott-Haims. Her perspective is well researched and articulated. Let me know what you think about giving kids chores? What household chores did you have as a child?