Using chores to build self-esteem in children

August 28, 2011

I have always upheld the belief that having the responsibility to complete chores is important for a child’s growth. My children have had assigned chores since they were preschoolers. As they got older, the type of chores they were assigned changed. As teens, they were responsible for the upkeep and cleaning of the entire house. My job was to buy the groceries and make most of the meals. They did everything else, more or less.

As preschoolers, their chores were to make their beds, brush their teeth, comb their hair, and say their prayers. I added on one chore every year. That was the signal that they were “getting big.” So, loading the dishwasher would be added, then washing the floor, which turned out to be the favourite chore of all. Taking out the garbage and emptying the compost pail were not so eagerly embraced. However, young children are quite capable of doing these simple tasks, so they were added on when my children were still young.

When I was a child, we had to clean the house every Saturday. All of the week’s chores were to be completed before we could go out and play. That was sheer torture, especially when the weather was beautiful, or when a special event was planned. I did not carry that habit into adulthood. I prefer to complete one or two weekly chores every day. In this way, there is no set time for chores and they are completed when convenient throughout the day. It seems to me that by completing a few chores every day, it doesn’t seem like such a huge task at the end of the week.

I found that my children were different. My son prefers completing all the chores in one day. That way, they are done and he doesn’t have to think about them again until the next week. As I think back on how the other three children completed chores, I realize that they also preferred this method.

Instead, I would create chore list after chore list. With tables, days of the week, and specific chores to be completed by whom on particular days. These systems always worked, for a while. Then they would fall apart. That was because I was using a system that I preferred with children who preferred a different system.

Another method we tried as a family, at the request of my children, was to allow them to decide which day to complete which chore. I was skeptical about this system. I explained to them that I did not want to remind them when anything needed completing. That is why I preferred the method of assigned chores on specific days. They reassured me that they would complete the chores, that they were old enough to know what needed to be done, and that they were responsible. This system fell apart rather quickly, and I resorted back to the assigned chore list much to their dismay.

I always rotated the chores. That way, if someone detested one of the chores, they weren’t stuck doing it endlessly. It also allowed everyone to learn how to do the various chores. And, it distributed the “easy” and “hard” chores amongst everyone.

To set up the chore list, we would always start with a family meeting. We would brainstorm all the chores that needed doing. Then divide the chores into “easy,” “medium,” and “hard” categories. If necessary, we would create another chore to ensure that there were enough chores in each category to share amongst everyone.

It was fascinating to listen to how my children divided the chores into the three categories. What I would think of as a “hard” chore, because of the time it would take to complete it, the children would consider it “medium.” What I would think of as an “easy” chore, again, due to the time required to complete the chore, my children might consider it “hard.” Sometimes, I had to override their opinions.

Although this process took time, it was well worth the effort. By having my children involved in the decision-making, they became part of the process. They took ownership of the process. Even though they grumbled, and I had to stay on top of them in order for the chores to be completed, having the responsibility of completing the chores taught them how important they were to the family unit. They contributed to the success of the family. They were not simply beings in the house who needed to be entertained. They had an important role to play.

The belief that they had an important role to fulfill in the family unit is critical in developing their beliefs about their own worth. They knew they were needed, they knew they had a place in the family, and they knew that they belonged. This knowledge is developed only through daily expectations being placed upon children. Providing these expectations are reasonable, children will develop strong positive beliefs about their worth in the world.

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