This is a guest post from my friend Kevin Savetz.
There comes a time in every family in which the debate over chores begins. How old should a child be when he or she is first assigned chores? Should the child be rewarded for completing these household tasks or does pitching in just come with being part of a family? If there is a reward, what should it be: cash or privileges?
Many parents believe that holding kids accountable for a set of household responsibilities builds character as well as establishes motivation beyond simply “being nice and helping out.” When children as young as two or three learn to clean up after themselves, they feel a sense of accomplishment. Some experts advocate that even children younger than two can help water plants, unload the dishwasher (not the sharp stuff, obviously), water plants and pour a cup of cat food into a bowl.
On the flip side, some parents feel that paying kids to do stuff around the house amounts to bribery. Some opt not to tie an allowance to doing chores, or only “pay” for chores they’d typically outsource to someone else, such as car washing or mowing the lawn. (You can read more on the philosophical debate on an earlier post about whether children should be paid to do chores) Others don’t believe in allowances at all. It all comes down to the feelings of the parent or parents.
You can set up a system such as a reward chart, that rewards a child for each time he or she completes a task, or each day the child goes without a particular undesirable behavior (such as biting nails or whining). Some parents choose to make compliance optional and avoid a power struggle. The child can opt not to complete the task and simply forgoes the money, privilege or other result of having attained the goal. Of course, when it comes to issues like hygiene, slacking off should not be an option, and a chore chart should just serve as a reminder tool.
Besides the benefits of a “carrot” (reward) as opposed to “stick” (punishment) approach to assigning and tracking goals, children experience less stress if they know what’s expected of them. For example, following a list illustrating the bedtime routine can be comforting and prepare a reluctant child for what comes after bath, tooth brushing and story time.
For little kids, a picture chart or making a game out of chores helps them “get” what they’re expected to do, even before they fully comprehend why, or how a family works as a unit, its members helping one another. As children get older, they will come to realize that setting goals for themselves and ultimately reaching those goals builds self-reliance and a sense of pride. A lot of students come home with the directive to, for example, “practice the clarinet for six hours per week.” Parents can provide the child with a practice chart and even “nag,” but at the end of the day, it’s the student who will face the consequencesâeither in the form of a poor grade or a disappointing performance.
Holding children accountable for what’s expected of them, and tracking achievement in a tangible way, builds valuable life skills. It’s up to parents to decide how to accomplish that goal.