Famous advice columnist Abigail Van Buren (“Dear Abby”) once said, “If you want children to keep their feet on the ground, put some responsibility on their shoulders.”
Indeed, as our children grow, it becomes increasingly important that they take on responsibility, learning the value of work and eventually developing into people who can take care of themselves, their families, their communities, and their world.
Doing absolutely everything for our children throughout their childhood sets them up for a rude awakening when it comes time to fledge the nest. Busy parents may find it rather cumbersome to teach children, for example, to prepare a meal, vacuum, do laundry, or balance a budget. In a hurry, it’s just easier to do these things ourselves, after all.
As the old saying goes, however, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
The upfront investment of time it takes to teach our children responsibility promises a multiplicitous future return for both parents and children. In effect, putting age-appropriate responsibility on our kids’ shoulders as they grow imbues them with not only practical ability but confidence, integrity, compassion, and a solid work ethic that they will carry into other arenas as well.
Young toddlers can be taught to clean up their things by making a game of sorting and putting away their toys. A cheer in celebration of success goes a long way.
Toddlers can also assist mom or dad in unloading the dishwasher (minus, perhaps, the knives), putting wet clothes into the dryer, cleaning up a spill, turning out the lights, and fluffing the pillows. Children at this stage generally love to help out and be involved in the work of the household. This introduces them to specific tasks and sends the message that they are capable and can help.
Young school-aged children can begin to be assigned certain recurring responsibilities, like clearing plates after a meal, cleaning their room, dusting, wiping sinks and countertops, sweeping the floor, or feeding a pet. Introducing a fun chore chart to establish the habit can be helpful at this stage.
As children get older, they can be taught to vacuum, prepare meals, do laundry, organize spaces, wash cars, load and unload the dishwasher, take out the garbage, weed the garden, bring in the mail, and general cleaning tasks.
As time goes on, parents may choose to compensate their children for specific, completed tasks—establishing the concept that work can lead to reward.
Eventually, kids can learn to manage their own calendar, their own bank account, their nutritional intake, their fitness, their sleep, and so on. Perhaps they can take on a volunteer position, a job outside the home, or even start their own business.
Viewing the family as a team that works together, supports one another, and takes responsibility for all facets of life is a positive picture to paint for your children.
Ultimately, a young adult heading off to college or out on his or her own can do so with confidence that they have what it takes to take care of themselves and those around them. They can then focus on large aims for their life and future and very likely thrive as a self-sufficient, hard working, caring adult.