Nancy's Columns

Nancy has written over 700 columns and essays on the subjects of education and parenting. We're in the process of making them all available for download, but in the meantime please enjoy a few from the archive. Click below to display a new one.

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Under topic: responsibility-values

Chores and the judicious use of money allowances both help children learn responsibility. Chores help to lighten the burden for all members of the family and underscore the message that the home belongs to everybody who lives in it, and that all are important. The delegation of chores has to be done well, however, in order for these tasks to have a positive influence in the family.

One vehicle for the distribution of chores fairly is the family meeting.

At such a meeting a list of chores can be developed and members of the family given equal opportunity in deciding who will do what chores.

There may be schedule developed, and the chores can change and rotate among the members.

Consequences can also be worked out for members who do not complete their chores.

All members of the family from the youngest to the oldest can participate in doing a chore and helping in the smooth running of the household.

Chores and the judicious use of money allowances both help children learn responsibility.

The chores for very young children should fit their ability. It sometimes helps for the parent to work along with the young child. For example, the child puts the napkins on the dinner table while the parent puts out the utensils.

If putting the napkins on the table is the child's agreed upon chore, however, he or she should be expected to complete it.

Sometimes the novelty of doing a chore for a young child wears off and the child forgets to do it. You can re-negotiate new chores, but the child should be expected to carry through on his or her part of being a family member by helping out.

I have found the best system for chores is to keep a chart in the kitchen, listing the agreed upon chores.

In our family, the agreed upon daily chore for my sons was the one I hated-- cleaning up the kitchen after dinner. The calendar for the month consisted of each boy's initial on the day he had to clean up. They could trade off and negotiate among themselves but I never touched a dish after dinner.

They learned to do a good job because they had to go back and do it again if it was not right. The main reason I was sorry to see them go off to college was they left my husband with the dinner dishes.

There are many other things children can help do around the house.

Even a young toddler can help put away the toys. As children get older, they can help feed the pets, rake the leaves, mow the lawn, vacuum the rugs, and make their beds.

Sometimes these chores may not be done as well or as quickly as the adult could do them but the adult should resist the temptation to do them over or do them for the child even if that is more efficient.

When adults do that they are giving a message to children that they are not important and cannot contribute to the well being of the family.

Some parents pay children for doing chores in the form of allowances.

I do not think that is a good practice. Allowances are mainly for the purpose of helping children deal with and understand the value of money.

You may want to pay for extra jobs you might done around the house but I feel that agreed upon, evenly distributed chores, should not fit that category.

When children have allowances, the money should really be considered theirs to be used as they see fit.

Parents may want to advise but children need to learn to take the consequences of misuse of money. If they spend their money on something foolish, they will not learn anything if parents bail them out later and give them more money when they have used up their allowances.

Before allowances are given, the family should negotiate what is the children's responsibilty in relation to what their allowance covers.

The assigning of agreed upon chores and the giving of allowances when done well both have the potential of helping children to develop into responsible adults.

First published in 1988