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Children, Chores and Confidence

by Vidya Sury December 28, 2012 13 comments
Why children need chores

As a child, I grew up in a joint family in a household with seven family members, three constant house-guests and visitors all the time. I used to have Thursdays and Sundays off from school, besides a half day on Saturdays. Each Thursday, from the time I was four, I would rearrange my little cupboard of clothes. I didn’t have much, but what I had, I kept neatly. I used to love watering the plants in our garden. I would enjoy helping with things in the kitchen, shelling peas, cleaning rice and other grains, rolling out the dough in weird shapes to make rotis, put away washed dishes, hang out little clothes to dry and help my aunt fetch things from the store room. I loved washing clothes and playing in the water.

During the weekends, my uncles would wash the floors with soap and I would enjoy helping them sponge down the doors and windows. Not sure how much I helped, but I certainly enjoyed participating, imitating and being complimented on a job well done. They encouraged me along, ever so gently.

Today, I believe everything is possible. Or put another way, nothing is impossible. I am confident.

Why children need chores to grow confident (2)

Why children need chores

Children need chores to build their confidence and their sense of responsibility to make them independent. It helps them develop compassion, teaching them valuable life-skills. It is all too easy to let them off the hook and do it all ourselves, but easing children into taking ownership for household chores – gently, lovingly pays off huge dividends. For one thing, it is great fun to have the whole family laughing and enjoying doing things together.  For another, it is such a relief to know that they can fend for themselves, because no one is indispensable.

I was actually going to write about developing immunity in children, but decided to write about developing responsibility, thanks to a conversation at a parents’ meeting the other day. I love these gatherings because there’s so much to learn and share – and give our guilt glands a rest. Even if we know that there is no such thing as a perfect parent, we can’t help trying. We don’t want anyone to point a finger at our children or find fault, even if we know there’s no such thing as a perfect child!

So the next best thing is to do our best – and one of the ways is making them responsible. The good news is, most children naturally want to be independent as toddlers as their natural curiosity motivates them to try things on their own. When they feel respected and competent, they become emotionally strong. As parents, it is not unnatural for us to coddle our kids, but we also have a duty to make them independent.

Chores can be fun

Allocate age-appropriate duties and add to them as they grow. Just like the school syllabus. The good news is – stuff that seem like housework to us can be fun for kids. So when my son was three years old, he would happily put away the dishes after I washed them. That he transferred them to the floor in the next ten minutes is a different story, but one we were able to take to a happy ending.

As he grew up my son showed an enthusiasm for various things and I found that when he was told sweetly, and given a list, things worked. Around the time he was five, he could clear up after play, wash his plate, fold his clothes, bring things from the fridge, collect and put clothes in the hamper, wear a pair of socks on his hands and dust, water the plants and segregate vegetables and put them in fridge bags.

By the time he was 8, he could help with other things around the house. Life went on happily.

Growing pains

But as he grew older, and as school homework, projects, programs and music classes grew, life became more hectic and his chores took a backseat. I used to get mad at him and complain that I had to do everything. It was also a tough time for me at home, with my Mom’s health turning critical.  Then during a short vacation around the time he was 12, I decided there was no point getting mad and decided to do something constructive.

So I made a list of all that went into running our house and told him to pick the chores he could do, just to see what he would do. I also wanted him to set times, so that I didn’t have to remind him. Oh yes, I fell back on my list fetish. And guess what? I was pleasantly surprised at all that he took responsibility for. If there’s one thing I am grateful for, it is my husband’s support. Together, we’ve gently encouraged our son to ease back into doing things. So now, at 15, here are just some of the things he does:

  • Makes the beds
  • Gets breakfast for himself
  • Starts the washing machine thrice a week (I hang out the clothes to dry, unless it is a holiday)
  • Washes his socks and undies after school
  • Helps plan meals for the week and shop for ingredients
  • Cleans bathrooms once a week
  • Ensures sheets and curtains are changed once a week
  • Takes care that his bookshelves (there are many) and clothes cupboard are in order
  • Takes care of his schoolwork and projects
  • Helps with shopping and even if I forget the list at home, remembers what is on it
  • Helps with keeping the house clean

I’ve started him off on keeping track of what we spend each month so he gets a sense of budgeting. And he has a year-planner – it is his job to make a note of bill due dates. Overall, he’s in sync with what is happening around the house and is eager to know more.

What I learned along the way:

  • It is important to be specific with instructions
  • Introduce each chore one by one
  • Be patient
  • Be tolerant
  • Know it is okay not to be perfect – sometimes the intention matters just as much
  • Make sure things are done regularly. One off doesn’t count
  • Praise, praise, praise
  • For extra-ordinary initiative, reward.
  • Allocate age-appropriate chores

Recently, when Sury and I fell sick with food-poisoning, he looked after us lovingly and knew what to give us to eat, etc.

We often underestimate what our kids can do. We just have to use the right language, be kind in action and reaction. Sometimes it is okay to stage a situation so they can take action and feel confident. It can be a slow process, and there will be challenging phases. But it is all worth it. It is a collaborative effort and with practice, all is well.

How do you tackle this in your family?

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Terri Sonoda December 28, 2012 at 8:04 pm

Heading over now to read your post! hugsss
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Vidya Sury December 30, 2012 at 2:00 pm

I love you, Terri! Thank you! Hugs!
Vidya Sury recently posted…Loving and Giving

Keetha December 29, 2012 at 7:04 am

I’m having so much fun picturing the little 4 year old you cleaning and organizing that little clothes closet!
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Vidya Sury December 30, 2012 at 1:53 pm

Keetha, believe it or not, to this day, it is a big joke at home. They always tease me about how I would be busy for hours rearranging my clothes and books :D. You could call me a good girl. 😀 Really! Hugs!
Vidya Sury recently posted…Home – No Airline Tickets To Vacation Here!

Tess The Bold Life December 31, 2012 at 12:08 pm

My four girls worked with me in our 2 acre plot of land growing flowers and then selling them at the Farmers Market. Perhaps they did too much work as children. However today they are all thriving with well paying jobs. The value of children and chores…priceless!
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Vidya Sury December 31, 2012 at 3:54 pm

Hugs, Tess! I remember reading about it. You are right about the \”priceless\” part.

In our family, all the children had age-appropriate tasks to do – without gender bias. Those of us who hung around the kitchen were incredibly lucky to be near my Grandmother, who had infinite patience, stories to tell and tips packaged in such a way – we would never forget for life. She also taught us to manage all sorts of things around the house – minor repairs, plumbing, building a wall, and of course, making everything from scratch. There was a point we made broomsticks and sold them – this involved ripping off the coconut tree leaves and shaving the leaf off the spine – each broomstick had close to three hundred sticks. 🙂 We enjoyed all that. Chores were fun. And we simply loved working in the garden.

God bless you and your girls. You are a huge inspiration to me! Happy 2013!
Vidya Sury recently posted…Home – No Airline Tickets To Vacation Here!

Julie August 28, 2019 at 1:00 pm

I could not agree with you more. All our kids have chores

Lauren Kinghorn August 28, 2019 at 1:02 pm

Wow, wow, wow… what an amazing post, Vidya! I am astounded at how much your son does around the house.

I feel I have failed miserably in this aspect of parenting and I am very sure it’s because I loathe housework and have passed this loathing on to my child and husband. I’m not saying I hate housework every single day. If I have something brilliant playing in the background, I can get on with things and I hardly notice I’m working. And I do like the result at the end, I like having things neat and clean around me (though it’s hard to tell because most often my house is in a mess because I do the bare minimum).

I’m going to re-read and re-read your post and gently teach myself new tricks so that I can pass these onto my son.
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Melissa August 28, 2019 at 8:07 pm

I couldn’t agree more with this post. If we don’t teach our children responsibility and the idea of finishing tasks, they will never learn how to hold down a job or complete schoolwork start to finish.

Janice sisemore August 28, 2019 at 11:05 pm

it is always so cute seeing a little one help out. A great post, we do need to teach our young ones to help out.

Nicole August 29, 2019 at 2:08 am

It’s so important to teach our kids not only responsibility but discipline too. I believe that if you don’t learn these things from early on, you’re going to struggle with them later on in life. I’ve seen a few first hand examples in the people around me.

Raina Camille August 29, 2019 at 8:22 am

I love this article. It’s full of wisdom and knowledge. I was one of those people who prefer things done a certain way, so I prefer to do things myself to avoid having to redo my kids’ work. I was becoming overwhelmed with everything. My husband works overnight so he’s not home often and when he is sleeping so everything falls on me. So I decided to teach them how to do certain things in the house. Their first chore was doing dishes, and then clean the dining table after dinner. Then I thought my older son how to get the washer started and how to operate the drying machine. I became suddenly ill, I had to do inpatient physical therapy for a month and when I was discharged, I was not in the condition to cook or even give myself a shower. I am so glad I thought them some of these things beforehand.
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Karmen August 30, 2019 at 11:10 am

I believe that eveyone should start giving chores to their children even when they are little, so they can learn about obligatons. I too do this with my 3 year old. She doesn’t help much, but that is not the point. We dust together, mop the floor together, but she has to clean her messy toys by herself 😊 I try to tell her that mummy is going to clean her messy work table and she is going to clean her messy toy kitchen. We struggle sometimes but persistance is the key 😉
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