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Chores and Favors: Important Building Blocks

January 2016

We all want our children to learn how to take care of themselves, feel the value in a job done well, and voluntarily do things for others. These are critical skills for raising a family, being part of a community, and becoming a contributing member of our society.

How do children gain those skills? While many of us would be able to answer this question if we thought about it, how many of us actually take the time to think about how we do this as parents? More importantly perhaps, how often do we intentionally create these skill opportunities for our kids?

We need to make sure that, from an early age, we are giving our children developmentally appropriate opportunities to practice self-care skills. These kinds of skills range from putting on their own shirt and pants to making themselves lunch. When they can do things for themselves, it makes children feel more independent and more competent. Some kids may not want to give up the ease of having you do these things for them, or maybe you enjoy the added closeness you get by continuing to take care of their self-care needs for them. When said in that light, however, these don’t really sound like very good reasons, do they? If you have a child who is reluctant to do things for himself, break the task down into small steps and start by having him to do just one or two of those steps. Give lots of praise and attention when he does these things for himself by naming what he did and telling him how independent he is becoming; conversely, try to be neutral and unresponsive when you have to do the task for him. Most kids quickly decide that the extra effort is a small price to pay for all of the positive attention.

We should be giving our children responsibilities around the house. Chores give children an opportunity to feel good about accomplishing an important task or chore, and to develop the sense that they are a valued, contributing member to the household. Lots of kids don’t like chores, however, so they might “forget” or even overtly refuse to do them. I would advise that you not expect your child to remember. You should be prepared to tell her when to do her chore – and if she does it without being told, that might be worthy of extra recognition and maybe even a little reward. You will also want to make sure that the task is something your child knows how to do. Assume you will need to do some teaching. This is better than being disappointed and having to give critical feedback to a child who made a valiant attempt to do something they didn’t know how to do. When assigning a chore, remember that your kids aren’t going to do chores just because they recognize the importance of contributing to the household. Verbal praise and appreciation are essential! And while this kind of positive attention may be enough for some children and their parents, other families find that incentives for chores completed are an excellent way to build a strong ethic and important life skills like saving up and being thrifty.

We can foster a sense of helpfulness by role-modeling doing nice things for our kids, and by asking them to do the occasional nice thing for us. There should be no extrinsic incentives offered for these kinds of favors, which should be very small things that you think your child is highly likely to do for you. This might include handing you your purse that is sitting on the other side of him, or picking up the pencil that you just dropped because your hands are full. These kinds of incidental favors should be requested politely, and when they are fulfilled, we should express our gratitude wholeheartedly. Asking for favors is an excellent and easy way to build the skill of “following directions” as well as intentionally creating opportunities to inspire the admirable quality of helpfulness.

When we purposefully give our children the chance to take care of themselves, complete household chores, and do us a favor, we are building feelings of independence, competence, and worthwhileness. As parents, I think most of us would agree that these are among the best things we can hope to instill in our children. And when they become adults who take good care of their families, valued community members, and overall productive members of society, we can be proud of a job well done.

Dr. Teri Bullis, Ph.D., BCBAI believe that every parent I’ve ever worked with loves their child and is doing the very best that they can. But while parenting is the toughest job anyone will ever have, children don’t come with a “how to” manual. I can provide those “how to” directions, tailored for your unique child and family situation.

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