Teaching kids about responsibility goes far beyond just handing them a list of chores to complete. It’s about teaching them the true value of those chores- both for themselves (they learn to work for what they want) and for everyone around them. Let’s discuss.
Teaching Kids About Responsibility is About More than Just Chores
Teaching kids about responsibility is pretty much a thankless task when we’re actually doing it. “Gee mom, I’m so glad that you made me fold laundry and clean my room before I could watch my favorite show,” said no kid ever. But trust me, later in life when they actually get the lessons you were trying to teach them, they’ll be grateful.
Here’s the thing, though; it’s not enough to just hand your kids a printout of a cute chore chart and say, “Do these things on your list and I’ll give you $5 or let you watch your favorite show.” In fact, recent studies show that chores really have nothing to do with teaching kids self-control and may actually be cutting into other important parts of childhood (academics, free time, and sleep).
While chores can (and should) definitely be a part of teaching kids about, they’re really the smallest part. We need to go far beyond giving our kids a list of chores. Let’s talk about how to do just that.
Don’t equate obedience with responsibility
There is a significant difference between obedience and responsibility. If your child does the dishes because you told him to, you’re not teaching him to be responsible…you’re teaching him to obey a direct order. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. Even the most permissive or gentle parents expect their kids to follow certain orders.
However, make no mistake about it, this particular lesson isn’t going to make your kids more responsible. In fact, just giving kids orders to follow may actually make them less responsible and more reliant on others in the long run. After all, if you spend your entire life just doing what others tell you to do, you’ll never really learn to think for yourself.
As the Center for Parenting Education explains, “… most parents want children to accept ownership for a task or chore – the children do it because it needs to be done and accept that it is their obligation to do it. Over time, they may even initiate doing a task ‘because it needs to be done– not because they are being told to do it. This attitude would be called responsibility.”
Make chores about helping others, not following orders
A few months ago, in my post about life lessons all kids need, we talked about how important it is to raise kids who find joy in helping others. When done right, chores can actually be a big part of instilling that sense of joy. Emphasis on when done right.
If you just hand your kids a chore chart and say, “It’s your job to complete all of these tasks each week,” we’re basically back to simply raising obedient kids. They’ll do it because you said so, end of the story.
Instead, take the time to explain to your kids why everyone has to do chores. Help them see how their contribution helps the entire family. How when you all work together- when you all take responsibility for the things that need to be done- everyone has more time for the more enjoyable things in life.
I think it’s also important that our kids understand that by doing chores, they’re easing our burdens, too. Tell them honestly, “Mommy works all day. When I get home, my feet really hurt and I’m so tired. When you take out the trash and wash the dishes for me, it helps me so much because I can sit and take some pressure off my feet.” Knowing that they’re helping you in a very real way shows them that being responsible is something to be proud of.
Teach them how to do things for themselves…and actually LET them do it
A big part of teaching responsibility to our kids means taking a step back and letting them learn how to do things for themselves. Sometimes, that’s easier said than done. We see our kids struggling to do something, so we step in and do it for them.
Worse, we want a chore done a specific way, so we hover, bark orders, and “tsk” at them the entire time. Ultimately, they feel like they can’t do it to your satisfaction, so they don’t even bother trying. Or they’ll do the bare minimum because they know that you’ll redo it after them anyway.
It’s not enough to teach kids to do things for themselves. We have to actually stay out of their way and LET them do it, even if it means that it’s not exactly done the way we’d do it. Oh, and if you do have to redo it after them, at least wait until they’re not around.
Now, if you find that your kids are doing a cruddy job with a specific chore on purpose, then you can step in and say, “I know what you’re doing here and it’s not going to fly. If you choose to do it the wrong way, you’ll have to do it again.” That teaches them that responsibility isn’t just doing something…it’s doing it right.
Let them to work for what they want
I have two ways of thinking when it comes to paying kids for doing chores. On the one hand, I feel like it’s a good way to teach them the value of hard work and about what to expect in the real world. We do X, we get paid $Y.
On the other hand, though, I think it’s important that everyone in the family have unpaid chores. Remember, the biggest lesson our kids should learn from these tasks is that families have a responsibility to help each other.
Besides, in the real world, no one pays mom to wash the dishes or do the laundry. Just like there’s a difference between obedience and responsibility, there’s a difference between responsibility and a job. Yes, working is part of being responsible, but like chores, it’s really only a small part of it.
There are so many things that we have to do that no one pays us for that are just part of being a responsible adult and taking care of ourselves. Like washing our dishes or doing our laundry, for example.
But then we’re back to the first hand. We want to teach our kids the value of hard work- and part of that is teaching them the MONETARY value of it. We don’t want to just hand them everything they want on a silver platter. Instead, we want them to EARN it.
Teach kids the difference between a responsibility and a job
So, here’s what I propose we do instead. First, start each week by dividing up the chores that MUST be done, like cleaning tasks. No one gets paid for these things because they’re family obligations.
Then, make a list of extra tasks. Things that don’t need to be done, but that it would be nice to have done, or things that should be done at some point. In other words, necessary but not urgent. Like cleaning out the garage, gathering too-small clothes for the donation bin, and so on.
Next, assign a fair monetary value to these tasks based on the amount of labor involved. For example, cleaning the garage would earn more than gathering up clothes to donate because it’s more difficult and time-consuming. Outline your expectations for the task, too. If you’ll only pay out once the entire garage is sparkling-clean and organized, make that clear upfront.
Then, tell your kids that at some point each of these tasks will be assigned as unpaid chores (because they really DO have to get done sometime). For now, though, they’re voluntary and paid. Your kids can choose which they want to do and receive a fair wage for doing them, which they can use to pay for the things that they want.
Bottom line, completing a list of chores isn’t what responsibility is all about. It’s not even about learning that nothing in life is free and that we have to work for what we want. Sure, those things matter a lot, but they’re still only a small part of the overall lesson.
True responsibility is recognizing that our actions affect others. That each and every one of us has a duty both to ourselves and to others. That we are all in this together, and no one is entitled to anything beyond what everyone is entitled to. In other words, no one is better than anyone else.
Most important of all, it’s about raising kids that say, “I must do something,” rather than passing the buck to someone else or saying, “Someone really should do something about this.” THAT is the truest value of responsibility.
Windy Hamilton says
Teach them before they get to ” I know it all ” age!!
Natasha Hoglund says
I absolutely LOVE this article!!
I am not so great with putting meaningful words together. This speaks to me as to what and why I teach my children in regards to being a responsible, respectful, and helpful individual.
Pauline Sunday Okoi says
I love all the content its enlightened and educating. We have always Been taught obedient, but we all grew up to be responsible adults. because everyone has to take responsibility for their actions or deeds.. If you don’t do what you have been assigned to do you are punished, any way I am African, so our parent here have different ways of doing parenting, here most parent don’t gives rewards, they just place an order, and you must obey and follow through simple, smiling.
Great article. My son is 26 and he is autistic. You gave good ideas I can use. Thanks for the insightful article.
Romela Wilken says
Thank you for sharing your very practical and doable advice. My life could have been much easier and fulfilling if only I had focused on teaching my kids the lessons instead of trying to get them to do the job the way I wanted it done. I am now a grandmother and will use this advice on my precious grandkids.
Madeleine Dennehy says
This sounds like wonderful advice!! Was just wondering today how I could get my kids to do more just because it is needed, & in the future it’s something they will have to do themselves, thank you so much for this common sense article!!
Katherine Harrison says
If you make chores a shared time they will see it as helpful. When they help without asking get them an item they want with a comment I appreciate you helping so I got you something you’ve wanted.