by Kimberly Blaker
Freelance Parenting Writer
Neapolitan Family, September 2015
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According to H. Stephen Glenn and Jane Nelsen in Raising Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World, “A belief in one’s personal capabilities is an essential building block for successful adulthood.” The best way for children to achieve this sense of capability is to be assigned household responsibilities. Offering children such opportunities makes them feel essential to the family unit and teaches basic skills, acceptance of responsibility, and self-discipline. Ultimately, it leads to self-esteem and a successful, fulfilling life.
Whether to compensate and reward children for their work is a difficult question. Conflicting opinions are held by child specialists which don’t help. But one thing is certain. Experiencing self-satisfaction from work is important. Even adults receive compensation for their work. In turn, they reward themselves in many ways, from mini shopping sprees and eating out to buying recreational toys and taking expensive vacations.
So your best bet is to take a middle-of-the-road approach. Assign your children some responsibilities without reward, such as cleaning their rooms and taking care of personal belongings. This can provide self-satisfaction.
But also offer an allowance or rewards for additional tasks. Children learn valuable lessons from earning as well. They learn to budget and handle money and come to understand hard work pays off, just as it does in the adult world. Whether your child receives a reward for a particular task or not, always praise the efforts. This helps to reinforce the intrinsic value of completing a task.
When selecting prizes, choose something your child wouldn’t receive otherwise. If you go to the park several times a week, an extra trip to the park won’t seem much of a reward. But if you normally go only once a week, an extra visit will be more enticing.
For toddlers and preschoolers, immediate rewards are important. Offer to go to the ice cream store or park, to play a favorite game together, to invite a friend over, or a fun sticker or favorite treat. You can also purchase prizes that come in a set, such as markers. Then offer one piece of the set for each completed task until your child has earned the complete set.
Elementary children are able to save for bigger rewards. Use a chart and offer prizes for accumulated stars. But don’t make your child wait more than a week or so for a reward. Otherwise, the reward will lose its motivational value. Rewards for elementary age children might include additional television or computer time, a trip to the zoo or museum, baking together, having a friend overnight, or a new magazine or Matchbox car.
Older kids are able to accumulate points for longer periods and begin to look for long-term rewards. A teen could accumulate points for several weeks to earn a concert ticket or trip to the amusement park, a new outfit, or a special privilege such as staying out later or additional phone time.
Raising a responsible child through age appropriate chores
Toddlers and preschoolers are more capable than we realize. In these early years, children should take on household tasks. Remember that attention span is short at this age. So keep chores brief when assigning them to little ones unless the chores are especially fun. Your preschooler can:
Frost cakes and cookies
Set the table
Vacuum (with a small vacuum)
Sort dirty clothes
Put clothes in drawers
Pick up toys
Answer the phone
Get the mail
Elementary age children are more coordinated and capable of performing better quality work. In addition to the previous items, your elementary age child can:
Fix her breakfast
Prepare microwave foods
Help pack lunches
Clean off the dinner table
Load the dishwasher
Clean bathroom sinks
Run his own bath
Pack her suitcase
Care for younger siblings (with an adult at home)
Vacuum the car
Take out trash cans
Kids in middle school and beyond can learn nearly any task. During the teen years, introduce new tasks periodically so your adolescent can master all skills. Your teen can:
Clean tubs and toilets
Set up a garage sale
Clean the kitchen, refrigerator, and oven
Make a grocery list
Do laundry and ironing
Mow the lawn
Do minor household repairs
It’s not too late for raising a responsible child
If your child is beyond preschool or elementary age and you haven’t offered many household responsibilities in the past, don’t despair. While it’s better to start when children are young, it may be more difficult, but it’s not too late. Make a plan today to set your child on a path toward self-reliance. You’ll both be glad you did as you watch your child reap the benefits of growing into an independent, successful young adult.
Kimberly Blaker is a freelance parenting writer.