Helping Children Take Responsibility for Household Chores


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A new year is often a time for families to set new goals and make personal improvements. Many parents wonder how to identify a good time for their children to begin taking responsibility for their personal spaces (bedrooms and playrooms) and helping out with general family chores.

The key to understanding how and when to ask children to participate in household chores lies in understanding this aspect of development. With this understanding, coupled with your sense of your child’s unique strengths and struggles, you will be in a better position to help your child become a more responsible and helpful member of the family.

Understanding Development

Skills and competencies don’t typically show up overnight. Usually, skills develop over time. In the same way a child gradually takes on self-care tasks, such as eating or dressing, a child also gradually develops independence in other areas.

Doing Things for a Child

Early in a child’s development, parents or caretakers do just about everything for their child. We certainly wouldn’t ask or expect an infant to straighten his or her crib blanket or fold his or her clothes. In the early stages of life, parents play an important part in modeling family values, in relation to caring for personal belongings and keeping the home tidy and organized. While children are not actively participating, they observe and take in a parent’s investment in these tasks.

Doing Things Together

Over time, a child may willingly join his or her parent or caretaker in carrying out household tasks such as picking up toys; putting dishes away; or caring for the washing, folding and putting away of clothing. A similar shift takes place in the area of self-care. A child might get dressed, for example, doing what he or she is capable of and relying on a parent for assistance. Parents can begin to set aside tasks they know their child will be able to complete with their guidance, such as putting toys in a basket or hanging clothing in easy-to-reach places.

Doing Things for One’s Self

Eventually, a child is ready to carry out these same tasks on his or her own. In the initial stages, a parent might help the child get started and then say he or she will check in on the child’s progress after a little while. Children do especially well when parents are close enough to show their admiration. As with all aspects of development, the need for admiration and praise will gradually be replaced with the child’s intrinsic sense of pride in having completed important household tasks for the family’s sake.

When There Are Problems

Some parents may find that this gradual approach isn’t helpful and that a child’s resistance to developing independence is stronger than his or her desire to follow directions or please Mom and Dad. In such cases, it may be helpful to examine whether there are other struggles in the child’s life. Do similar issues come up at school or during homework sessions? Does the child have trouble sleeping at night or developing relationships with peers? When there are pervasive and widespread challenges, a qualified health care professional’s guidance may be helpful in determining reasons for this behavior, as well as effective interventions specific to the child’s emotional needs.


The Lucy Daniels Center is a nonprofit agency in Cary that promotes the emotional health and well-being of children and families. Visit lucydanielscenter.org to learn more.

 

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