By Jen Murphy
We have a running joke in our family that no one is allowed to move into the basement and play video games for a living. That’s not to say that if our kids ever needed our support, we wouldn’t be there to help. It’s more of a statement of our expectations: “You will most likely want to be independent in the future, and we all need to prepare ourselves for that day.”
Independence is a good thing, and guided independence is even better. Even at a young age, kids can gain skills that lead to self-sufficiency and long-term success as grown-ups! As parents, teaching your children independence will help them grow in ways you might not expect. For example, asking kids to be responsible for their own laundry teaches them to sort clothes (no red socks mixed with the whites!), to remember to check when the load goes in the dryer, and to fold and put clothing away. Our kids started doing this around age 9. Before that, they helped fold and put clothes away.
You may ask how doing a load or two of laundry relates to bigger life skills. In fact, all household chores instill a basic work ethic and understanding of how important it is to contribute and help out. When children do chores (even grudgingly), they learn to take part and feel needed, even if they complain. And if doing laundry, or cleaning a bathroom, or shoveling a driveway is not done, that means no clean clothes, no new toilet paper roll, and no clear path for the car to leave the garage.
Other benefits of developing self-sufficiency and practical life skills include general problem-solving skills, a “how will I get this done?” approach when they work things out in a safe environment, where messing up is expected and the lessons are valued.
In the long run, a child who can solve problems and has a broad knowledge base will feel less stress and anxiety and learn to be resilient. In other words, that child learns to figure things out and roll with the punches instead of getting upset, frustrated, or angry with themselves and others.
Just as you would develop manners at the dinner table and support growing literacy skills, it’s equally important to help children gain life skills.
What if my child isn’t interested?
Let’s face it. Doing chores, even in the name of “developing life skills” will not sound super exciting to kids. But it is necessary. And part of the struggle some kids have is acting helpless so the adult, friend, or whoever, will swoop in and take care of things for them. This is not a trait to reinforce. And if a child is helping out and something gets messed up or takes too long, remember the point is for them to learn through experience.
But my child is too young – we should wait until she/he is older…
Why wait? Good habits start early, and delaying the expectation to contribute only makes it more difficult to ask for participation later. Of course, you as the parent know what your child is ready for – just don’t limit them! Here are a few of age-appropriate responsibilities that have worked in our family:
• Age 2-5: sweeping, dusting, cleaning room, picking up toys
• Age 6-10: laundry, loading/emptying dishwasher, vacuuming
• Age 11-14: meal preparation, cleaning bathrooms, assisting with “deep cleaning”
• Age 15-18: driving, buying groceries (or helping with this task), mowing the lawn
What are some chores or tasks that your children do?
Jen Murphy is a working mom with two teenagers. She has more than 20 years of experience working with at-risk youth and is a former middle school teacher. She and her family love living in northern Michigan with their chickens, goats and bees.
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