Starting this learning process with them at young age will set the foundation for their sense of responsibility in the future.
Younger children are more motivated by extrinsic reinforcements and older children are more motivated by intrinsic reinforcements. External reinforcements, like sticker charts, will strengthen internal motivation, helping them to learn to do something because it feels good and is the right thing to do. No matter what the age, I suggest that parents at minimum verbally praise their children for when they exhibit a positive behavior that they want repeated. The more you praise, the more they will try and repeat those positive behaviors. Even if it’s for a task that they are expected to perform daily, like brushing their teeth, let them know you are proud of them for being responsible. Be specific in your praise and avoid saying a generic phrase like “good job” but rather let them know exactly what they did right and should do again.
When teaching responsibility, children also have to learn accountability. They should be praised for a job well done, or even for attempting the job at hand and trying their best, and also learn that if the job isn’t completed, there is a natural consequence. If the dishes aren’t done then there are no clean plates to eat dinner. If the trash isn’t picked up, the house may start to smell. If the dog isn’t fed, he or she will go hungry. However, I would start instilling and implementing chores and responsibility slowly. Start with small tasks that you know your children can easily complete. If there is a day your child is struggling and doesn’t want to help as much as the day before, try not to force it. Young children are at a pivotal time of learning and will easily get discouraged and resentful if they are forced to do something they don’t want to do. Instead, invite them to help when they are ready, and usually if not in that moment, they will be eager to please you and will give you the opportunity for another teaching moment in no time! Instead of forcing them or ordering them to complete a task and or even giving them a consequence if they do not get something done, invite them to help and make it fun so they want to continue helping in the future. At this age, remember it is about teaching, encouraging, learning, and praising. When children get older and are given more responsibility, we can talk more about allowance and assigning tasks that require more than a simple invitation to help.
I like to give my children as many choices as possible to encourage and empower them so they feel like they are helping the entire family.
I like to give my children as many choices as possible to encourage and empower them so they feel like they are helping the entire family. Children are more likely to comply if they are part of the decision process instead of being told what to do. My children help around the house by being assigned as a supervisor of one of my tasks, helping with the pets, picking up their toys, throwing trash away, and helping with the cooking or baking. I crafted a laminated visual chart with the tasks my daughter typically helps with so she can check off each day when she is done and then erase it the next day and start over. Charts need to be posted at the child’s eye level. If your child doesn’t know how to read yet, have a photo next to each task, so they can easily identify each one. When she finishes each task, I praise her for her attempt and/or a job well done. If something was done incorrectly, I take that time to teach her how to improve for the next day. Once she checks off each box, she is given a verbal praise and a hug. If she completes all four tasks in one given day, she is given a sticker on a sticker chart. Once she fills up her sticker chart, she is given a reward like a frozen yogurt or cake pop, a trip to the park, a new inexpensive toy, special time on the computer, or is able to earn time to stay up later than usual.
Here are a few easy ways that you can get your kids started with chores:
Being a supervisor. Children love to use their imaginations and love to role-play. Children closely watch their parents and have an innate desire to be like them. Children also love to pretend they are in charge. So let them supervise a task that you are doing and let them learn by observation. They will take pride in being assigned as your supervisor or helper.
Helping with the pets. Children of all ages can easily pick up the empty bowl of pet food and refill it. The older the child is, they can have more responsibility in refilling the water bowl, helping take the pet on a walk, or even cleaning up after a dog. Depending on what kind of pet you have, find a way to engage your child in helping to take care of them. Helping take care of pets teaches compassion for animals and living creatures and is key to their development.
Picking up their toys. I don’t know of a child that doesn’t make a mess. If they are very little, you can help them by showing them where items go, but as they get older, they can be more autonomous in completing this task. Whether it’s toys in the sandbox, the living room, on the stairs, or in their room, they are able to put items in a box or bin once you show them where everything goes.
Throwing trash away. Maybe it is a applesauce wrapper or dried up PlayDoh, but when children are done with something, you should ask them to throw it away in the trash can. And not only can you teach them to throw out items that solely belong to them, but they can also help clean up their siblings’ trash. This not only helps you keep the house clean, but it teaches children to pick up after themselves and how to help others. They learn responsibility in keeping the house clean for the whole family.
Cooking/Baking. Children love to cook! You can gather all the ingredients and place them on the counter, and then once you measure the correct amount, they can be the ones that physically put the ingredients inside the bowl and then mix them all together.
To download your own chore chart, click here!
Want to read more on the topic from some other wise mamas? Check out the other posts in the series from: