Teaching children responsibility
Maudie Kelly, MS
Human Development Specialist
In the past 30 years or so, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of women employed outside the home. Prior to that, it was often assumed that it was the wife/mother’s responsibility to keep everything in the home clean, livable and presentable. However, in today’s world—with everyone so busy with work, community and school activities—it is often hard to take care of everything we need to do. This can lead to stress and a feeling of being overwhelmed. This, in turn, may prevent us from having enough time to nurture, support and enjoy each other as a family.
There are many different ways, some very simple, to balance responsibilities within our family so no one person is stressed or overwhelmed for long periods of time. Responsible children will develop over time with continued parental guidance. As they are given simple chores and activities to do at home, children learn about responsibility. They also develop a sense of belonging, feel needed and gain a positive self-concept that will help them to become more independent adults.
Children who are taught about responsibility learn to work with others, gain skills needed to organize and complete a task, and may learn a new skill or improve on another. Parents also benefit from teaching responsibility by sharing the workload with children, allowing more time for family fun and activities.
A key point to remember about sharing responsibilities, especially of household tasks, is that it is important for all members of the family to be involved in the decision-making. Give children opportunities to make decisions within the limits of their ability. If they are more involved in the planning, they are more likely to “buy in” with the plans. Communicating clearly is very important. Parents need to make sure the child understands what they say. Everyone should have the chance to express opinions and make suggestions. Here are some ideas to help start the process.
Create a chore list. Identify daily, weekly, and monthly chores, both inside and outside the home.
Offer choices. When possible, give children choices of the jobs they want to do.
Diversify responsibilities. Although there is sometimes a perception of a chore being a “man’s job” or a “woman’s job,” it is important for family members to learn a variety of household tasks.
Rotate chore assignments. Switch chores occasionally, especially for the tasks no one really wants to do. Anyone can get bored doing the same thing over and over.
Do not expect perfection! Children need to learn what is expected of them. Then they need time to learn the skills. Parents can easily do lots of tasks more quickly, such as making a bed. However, then children lose out on valuable “on-the-job” training.
Give guidance. Remember that even though we, as parents, may have done the task too many times to count, our children still need help and direction when they tackle a new job.
Teach about consequences. Be sure children understand both negative and positive consequences of their actions. Some parents believe in monetary or actual rewards for completing chores, while others believe in the values children learn, such as cooperation, participation and a feeling of responsibility.
Children’s learning about responsibility is a long process that needs regular reinforcement. As a result, however, each family should have more time to share and play together, making the home a place where everyone is valued and cooperates.
Adapted from Building Strong Families: Challenges and Choices Curriculum for Youth. Visit extension.missouri.edu/bsf/ for more information.