The following is an adapted excerpt from The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed (Harper Books, August 11, 2015).
Household participation is the first, and I’d argue essential, step toward building a purpose-driven and fulfilling life for our children. Purpose is what saves us all from despair when the details of life become overwhelming or boring, and it is what fuels the determination, resourcefulness, and resolve that will see our children through to their goals. There are a lot of reasons parents give for not granting their children the space and opportunity to find purpose, among them:
- It’s faster if I do it myself.
- They will just do it wrong anyway.
- Kids should be kids while they can; they will work when they grow up.
- My house will look disgusting and people will judge me.
- My kids will look disgusting and people will judge me.
Enough. It’s time to grant our kids the opportunity to contribute. Allow them to step up, try, fail, and try again until they get it right.
As your child discovers his significance and purpose, it’s important to keep in mind that he’s going to fail. He’s going to make a mess of things from time to time as he learns. His contribution to the household is not simply an item on a checklist you post on the refrigerator, but a process, an education. You know how to fold laundry just the way you like it folded; your son does not. Let him muck it up the first couple of times; give him the opportunity to notice that his folded shirts look different than the other ones in his drawer. Let his sister get frustrated with him because her pants are inside out and damp because the dryer twisted the leg in a knot.
Let your child discover for himself that when he leaves the clothes in the dryer overnight, his favorite shirt becomes hopelessly wrinkled, and maybe next time, he won’t let that happen. Your house might be a little less perfect than usual as he learns how to become useful, and your kids may have to go out in public wearing those damp pants and wrinkled shirts. Eventually he’ll become competent in the details of doing the laundry, not just to completion, but well. Given enough time, and lots of opportunities, he may even figure out how to fold a fitted sheet.
The key to successfully instilling a sense of responsibility and pride, and helping children understand that they have a role to play in the family dynamic, is to start young. Even toddlers can begin to explore their ability and competence in shared household responsibilities. When dealing with younger children be sure to make your expectations clear and age-appropriate.
Here are some examples of the kinds of tasks toddlers can take on:
- Put their dirty clothes in a basket or hamper.
- Dress themselves (with clothing that’s not too complicated).
- Fold simple items of clothing or linens such as pillowcases or washcloths.
- Put their clothes away in drawers.
- Follow two- or three-step directions in order to complete tasks (get your toothbrush, put toothpaste on it, brush your teeth).
- Throw trash and recycling away in the proper place.
- Put toys away in tubs and baskets when they are done playing with them.
- Get out and put away their dishes as long as you arrange their cups and bowls on a low shelf.
- Feed the dog or cat.
As children graduate from toddlerhood and move toward preschool, start teaching them how to manage more complicated duties. Kids between three and five are big fans of counting and sorting, so give them jobs around the house that encourage them to practice these skills while instilling responsibility. Ask them to put five books on the shelf, or ask them to count out five oranges and place them in a bag at the store. Kids this age are perfectly able to:
- Make their bed.
- Straighten their room.
- Sort and categorize items, such as utensils in a drawer, or socks in the laundry.
- Water plants.
- Clear their place at the table.
- Clean up spills with a towel or sponge.
- Prepare their own snacks.
It’s never too early—or too late—to teach children how to contribute and problem-solve under their own power. Despite all the protests to the contrary, kids want to play a useful role in their family’s success. We owe them the patience and time it takes to provide that purpose and responsibility. Sure, this will be a challenge, but it will also be worth it — both in the short and long term.
As an added bonus, the stories about the time the washing machine foamed over because your son used dish soap in the place of laundry detergent, and the afternoon you all worked together to solve some “funny-in-retrospect” family emergency, will be the tales you weave in and out of your holiday celebrations over a lifetime. Better to understand now that perfection is not what holds a family together; the bond forged through shared struggle is what endures over the long haul.
To all the parents of Balaclava school – thanks again for having me in to speak at your school. I mentioned to a few parents that I had a list of age appropriate jobs and responsibilities that children can do to contribute to the functioning of the family.
Why do I keep harping on giving children jobs? Because beleive it or not, children need to feel USEFUL. In fact, all people have to feel as though they are being helpful and making a contribution. When a person participates and does a job or gives of their time and talents it creates a sense of affiliation and belonging that is the sticky glue that pulls a group together. Since the urbanization of society, children have been asked to do less and less for the family. No more collecting the eggs or milking the cows. Today’s children are often nothing more than inert tumors on the family! They only experience take take take with out any of the lovely benefits that come from GIVING back in. Children who have responsibilities to the family develop a sense of their importance, belonging and their self -esteem grows as their competencies grow. So check it out. How are your kids doing?
Here is the check list thanks to Marion Balla of the Adlerian Counselling Centre in Ottawa Canada.
HOME RESPONSIBILITIES FOR A 2 and 3 YEAR OLD
- Pick up unused toys and put in the proper place.
- Put books and magazines in a rack.
- Sweep the floor.
- Place napkins, plates and silverware on the table. The silver is on but not correctly at first.
- Clean up what they drop after eating.
- Given a choice of two foods for breakfast. Learning to make simple decisions.
- Toilet training.
- Simple hygiene -brush teeth, wash and dry hands and brush hair.
- Undress self – dresses with some help.
- Wipes up own accidents.
- Carrying boxed or canned goods from the grocery sacks to the proper shelf. Putting some things away on a lower shelf.
- Clears own place at the table. Puts the dishes on the counter after cleaning the leftovers off the plate.
HOME RESPONSIBILITIES FOR A 4 YEAR OLD
- Setting the table.
- Put the groceries away.
- Help with grocery shopping and compile a grocery list.
- Follow a schedule for feeding pets.
- Help do yard and garden work.
- Help make the beds and vacuum.
- Help do the dishes or fill the dishwasher.
- Spreading butter on sandwiches.
- Preparing cold cereal.
- Help parent prepare plates of food for the family dinner.
- Make a simple dessert (add topping to cupcakes, jello, pour the toppings on ice cream)
- Hold the hand mixer to whip potatoes or mix up a cake.
- Share toys with friends (practice courtesy).
- Getting the mail.
- Tell parent his/her whereabouts before going out to play.
- Should be able to play without constant adult supervision and attention.
- Hanging socks, handkerchiefs and washclothes on a lower line.
- Bringing the milk from the fridge.
- Sharpen pencils.
HOME RESPONSIBILITIES FOR 5 and 6 YEAR OLD
- Help with the meal planning and grocery shopping.
- Making own sandwich or simple breakfast. Then cleaning up.
- Pouring own drink.
- Preparing the dinner table.
- Tearing up lettuce for the salad.
- Putting in certain ingredients to a recipe.
- Making bed and cleaning room.
- Dressing on own and choosing outfit for the day.
- Scrubbing the sink, toilet and bathtub.
- Cleaning mirrors and windows.
- Separate clothing for washing. Putting white clothes in one separate pile and colored in another.
- Fold clean clothes and put them away.
- Answer the telephone and dial the phone for use.
- Yard work.
- Paying for small purchases.
- Taking out the garbage
- Feeding his/her pets and cleaning their living area.
HOME RESPONSIBILITIES FOR 7 YEAR OLD
- Oil and care for bike and lock it when unused.
- Take phone messages and write it down.
- Run errands for parents.
- Water the lawn.
- Proper care for bike and other outside toy or equipment.
- Wash dog or cat.
- Train pets.
- Carry in the grocery sacks.
- Get self up in the morning with an alarm clock. Do preparations for bedtime on his/her own and then involve parent.
- Learning to be polite, courteous and to share: respect others.
- Responsibilities like carrying own lunch money and notes back to school.
- Leave the bathroom in order: hang up clean towels.
HOME RESPONSIBILITIES FOR 8-9 YEAR OLD
- Fold napkins properly and set silverware properly.
- Mop the floor.
- Help rearrange furniture. Help plan the layout.
- Run own bath water.
- Help others with their work when asked.
- Straighten own closet and drawers.
- Shop for and select own clothing and shoes with parents.
- Fold blankets.
- Sew buttons.
- Sew rips in seams.
- Clean up animal “messes” in the yard and house.
- Begin to read recipes and cook for the family.
- Baby sit for short periods of time with adults present.
- Get items ready for a barbeque (charcoal, hamburgers).
- Painting fence or shelves.
- Help write simple letters.
- Help with defrosting and cleaning of the refrigerator.
HOME RESPONSIBILITIES FOR 9-10 YEAR OLD
- Change sheets on the bed and put dirty sheets in the hamper .
- Operating the washer and/or dryer.
- Measure detergent and bleach.
- Buying groceries using a list and comparative shopping.
- Crossing streets unassisted.
- Keeping own appointments (dentist, school, etc. and making them within bike distance).
- Preparing family meal.
- Pouring and making tea, coffee and kool-aid.
- Planning own birthday or other parties.
- Doing neighbourhood chores.
- Do chores without a reminder.
- Learning to use allowance wisely.
HOME RESPONSIBILITIES FOR 10-11 YEAR OLD
- Earn own money (baby-sit) as helper to adult.
- Able to take the city bus.
- Proper conduct when staying overnight with a friend.
- Packing own suitcase.
- Responsible for personal hobby.
- Able to handle self properly when in public places alone or with peers (movies).
- Responsible for a paper route.
- Borrow and return books to library.
Tags: chores, preschoolers, responsibilities, school aged (7-12), theory, toddlers