Chores.

In the real world, people have to work to earn. Those earnings allow you to purchase necessities like food, clothing, shelter, utilities, gas, insurance, and other great stuff. So why would you inadvertently teach your child that all this stuff is free? That’s not an appropriate way to ready any child for the sometimes cruel and harsh real world.

As a matter of fact, the shock of leaving a comfortable environment and transitioning into something that’s not quite as easy may be a leading cause of depression in young adults.

My wife and I were bicycling through an upper-class development one Saturday morning, envying the beautiful landscaping many of these homes displayed. We were sure each of these uppity homeowners hired a landscaping firm to keep their lawns and foliage very tidy. As we turned a corner, we saw someone weeding the front flowerbed. It was a Caucasian teenage boy who couldn’t have been more than fourteen. He had a bucket and was diligently pulling grass and weeds from where they didn’t belong. As we passed by, he turned and smiled at us, as if he was actually enjoying this chore. I was so moved I nearly fell off my bicycle and puked. I wanted to meet these parents and learn more about their parenting style, and congratulate them on doing the right thing.

Your best bet is to assign each child a chore. Teach them the value of hard work. The chore should be appropriate to the child’s age, maturity, and physical build. If your kid isn’t quite tall enough to reach the sink, he probably shouldn’t be doing dishes just yet. Graduate them into new and more difficult challenges when they’re ready.

Quality assurance is very important in the real world, so you will need to stress that any assigned chores must be done thoroughly and correctly, or they’ll need to be redone. A child might blow through doing dishes leaving yucky food particles on plates or silverware, or neglect to dry and put away washed pots and pans. This is unacceptable. Share the failures with them, and explain why they’re failures, and have them do the chore again until it is correct.

There are plenty of progressively more difficult things to do that any child can safely help with if you’ve properly trained and supervised them. Here is a list of various things that children can do around the home.

  • Keep bedroom clean and picked up
  • Pick up bags, cans, glasses, and personal belongings
  • Empty bedroom and bathroom trash cans
  • Vaccuum carpets and sweep floors
  • Mop wet areas
  • Rinse dishes, load and unload dishwasher
  • Wash, dry, and fold laundry
  • Wash windows
  • Dust tables, counters, lamps, decorations, and electronics
  • Put trash and recycling on curb on appropriate days
  • Weed flower beds
  • Feed, water, bathe, and care for pets
  • Clean toilets, bathtubs, sinks, and shower stalls (age 14 or older)
  • Mow and edge lawn (best if age 16 or older)
  • Anything else that constitutes “doing the right thing.”

20121221_210852The last chore on the list is the most important one. If you see a piece of trash laying on the floor, a wet towel placed somewhere it shouldn’t be, or bathroom stuff left on the bottom of the stairs to be carried up, your child must be trained to never ignore it, but do the right thing, without asking. It’s purely common sense. We frequently set up situations like this and allow our children to encounter them to test them. If we see them do the right thing, we applaud them. If they miss it, we let them know, and inform them they have not demonstrated an appropriate responsibility. The next time they ask for something or to do something they want to do, we remind them of the list of common sense things they failed to do, and base our decisions on the weight of their successes and failures.

Should you give them an allowance? It is a good way to teach kids the value of money. Instead of creating the illusion that your money supply is endless and catering to their every whim, let them learn how financial transactions work. It is an important lesson teaching them that once it’s gone, it’s gone. Let them know that part of their allowance includes things that may appear transparent to them, like smart phone data plans, access to your home internet, and cable television. Failure to complete chores is like failing to go to work. As a result, earning no money results in loss of these utilities until the work has been satisfactorily completed.

Most schools don’t teach students how to balance a checkbook. We opened a checking account and issued our kids ATM cards. Any gifts or allowances are deposited directly into those accounts, and they are responsible for balancing them.

You may face significant resistance. In our house, it was not uncommon to hear things like “But I didn’t use those dishes, so why do I have to wash them?” Or, “I didn’t make that mess, so why do I have to clean it up?” Or, “Can’t I just do my own laundry?” Interestingly, those same chores were done with glee and zero complaints when one of our kids was at a friend’s or boyfriend’s house when asked. And our kids felt it would be acceptable to clean dishes at a restaurant “because you get paid there.”

Nipped that in the bud. One night, I grabbed a piece of paper and wrote each of our children a bill for dinner that night. “That’s about what you would pay for food and drink like this at a restaurant. And don’t forget my tip.” I then collected all the cell phones and told them, “I don’t use these phones, so why do I have to pay for them?” Finally, I unplugged the internet and the cable television, because since I would do all the chores that night, I was the only one entitled to “get paid.” The looks on their faces were priceless. They were chore free, but they were left bored without their favorite pastimes. The kids eventually recognized the err of their ways, apologized, and never complained about chores (within my earshot) again.

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