blog Parenting

Teaching Contribution to Kids (and Building Confidence as a By-Product)

Chores. This is a laborious topic isn’t it? Each year, we discuss chores at our house. We believe in contribution from all members of the family as soon as they have the ability to pinch their thumbs and forefingers together.

Summer chores are different from school-year chores given our changes in schedules, so now is the season to revisit.
Since “chore” is a horrible word in our house with connotations that inspire groaning, slumped shoulders and the anticipation of sweat, we’re changing it. We used to have “chore charts” and we’re moving to “task tallies” or “contribution charts.” Sometimes semantics rule the world.Chores2.15 061

When the kids were younger, we started by providing checklists that could be marked with a wet-erase and wiped off (using the fun laminated card was reward enough for a while.) We moved to monetizing tasks (nominal allowance), providing a baseline that was expected of each of our children without monetary reward (since they are part of this family – eating, sleeping, dirtying clothing and dishes with the rest of us!)

As our kids got older, basic things fell off the task list (get dressed, brush teeth, make bed, get breakfast for yourself…) and tougher things went on (empty dishwasher, sort laundry and start the white load, prepare dinner on Tuesday, weed the flowerbed…)

Now that they are 9 and 12 and learning motivated by both money and consequences, neglect of the baseline results in lost privileges. Going “over-and -above” results in extra privileges or extra payment. In order to “qualify” for the over-and-above rewards, one has to first do what’s expected (baseline tasks.) They are goal-oriented (I’m saving to buy a new bike… I’m earning a sleepover party for me and 3 friends), so this works for us. Any mix of this expectation/reward system may work for your family depending upon the motivations and the ages of your kids.

Really, we’re just setting expectations and consequences, but I’ve found that there are more rewards for our family than that. Often stereotypes and limitations begin really early and unintentionally at the family level when we aren’t paying attention. Mom makes dinner (“Dads can’t do this. Only Moms do this. Therefore, boys don’t work in the kitchen.”) Dad mows the lawn and takes out the garbage (“Girls can’t mow the lawn or operate smelly machinery.”) We may unintentionally project other limiting ideas as well. “Only adults manage money, make grocery lists, plan parties, clean the house, make doctor’s appointments, talk to a teacher about a problem…”

The benefit of delegating isn’t just for you, it’s for your child. They BEAM when they know they can do a “hard” task. And when friends come over and I ask them to do something that is a bit challenging (“why don’t you make some quesadillas for your lunches?”), they are overjoyed to be the Lunch Yoda and to empower their friends with a frying pan and a chef’s knife. The confidence, independence and self-sufficiency these tasks build is invaluable.

So what do you give them to do?? When listing tasks for myself and debating delegation to a child, I’ve used the “why not” theory. Why not delegate this? Other than a task truly not being age appropriate (my 12 year old cannot borrow my car to fetch groceries), two primary and disputable reasons give me pause:

TIME – Sometimes, I have a very specific way of doing a task (put your freshly folded t-shirts on the bottom of the stack so you aren’t tempted to just wear what’s on top over and over) so I tell myself that I don’t have the extra time to teach them how to do it properly. It takes just a few extra minutes and a few times repeated to get it to sink in. I’m then afforded the luxury of leveraging that new task. And, if it doesn’t sink in, some tasks are better half done that not done at all (the clothes are in the drawer, right?) So it’s not really time, but laziness or…

PERFECTION – I am a recovering perfectionist. I often approach finished work (my own and that done by others) and the first thing I notice is how it could have been done better. While continuous improvement is lovely, it can discourage your helpers and generally defeat everyone when talking about the day-to-day tasks. If towels being folded “properly” is a deal breaker, then you can either not delegate that task or, better yet, learn to delegate and let go. Again, Done is better than perfect in many cases.

Success factors for increasing the contribution in your home:choremags

  • Keep it simple, keep it visible (kids’ ages will dictate what this looks like)
  • Follow-up DAILY with praise, constructive criticism, and accountability (consequences/rewards). I won’t lie. We set a calendar alarm for follow up each evening.

Failure factors:

  • System is too hard to manage
  • No accountability
  • No follow-up on consequences and rewards
  • Tasks heavily depend upon adult for supervision or supply (may not be age-appropriate)

Let us know what has worked in your home! Tell us and we’ll send you our Weekly Contribution Tally sheet and a list of task examples.

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