Chores and Family Responsibilities: 5 Ways to Set Great Expectations for Your Child

By: Gene Roehlkepartain, Guest Blogger

What are our children and teens’ roles in our families? Are they just supposed to do well in school and stay out of trouble? Are they expected to do chores such as making their bed, cleaning their room, taking out the garbage and recycling, or caring for a family pet? Or are they expected to provide care for a sibling, aging grandparent, or disabled family member? Do they cook meals and clean the house for the whole family?

Families answer these questions in many different ways, depending on their culture, circumstances, beliefs, and values. Though most parents see kids having responsibility as important, they worry that they are either giving too much or too little responsibility. Or they face resistance and arguing, making it seem too complicated and not worth the effort. It just seems easier to do things yourself.

Yet research confirms the importance of kids having clear roles and responsibilities in the family. Not only do they accomplish tasks that need to be done (and that they can do well), but they also develop attitudes, skills, discipline, and mastery that can serve them well as they grow into adulthood. Setting high expectations for your child by trusting them with responsibilities is a key way to practice part of the 9 Parenting Strategies, which help parents raise successful kids.

Watch a free webinar to learn more about the 9 parenting strategies here.

Here are 5 tips to help you help your child develop a healthy sense of responsibility.

1. Expect your child to contribute. Children have contributed to their families for centuries, and they are depended on as essential contributors in many cultures and communities. Contributing to the family helps them know that they matter, and it helps prepare them for other responsibilities and routines throughout life. Though the details of their roles can be negotiated and change based on many factors, the idea that teens have an obligation to contribute to the family should become a clear, mutually beneficial expectation.

2. Make responsibilities and contributions meaningful. Kids are more likely to resist or complain about chores and responsibilities if they see them as unimportant, tedious, and boring. And, to be sure, some tasks that need to be done are tedious and boring. But there are also things that need to be done that may be more enjoyable and fit their interests or personality. Furthermore, kids can understand when tedious tasks are important to be done—particularly when everyone in the family plays a role. It also helps to sometimes rotate responsibilities (where appropriate).

3. Say thank you. Even if the responsibilities are expected, it is important to reinforce the contributions with a thank you or other appropriate recognition (even if you give an allowance). If kids go “beyond the call of duty” to help more than usual or if the they have ongoing, major roles (such as caring for a sibling after school), additional recognition may be appropriate. In doing so, you reinforce that what your child does matters and makes a difference, and you model the important value of honoring another’s efforts.

4. Talk about roles and expectations in the family. A key reason for conflict between kids and parents about chores is that expectations are not clear Keep in mind that, typically, the most time-consuming tasks in families are preparing meals, cleaning the house, shopping for groceries and household goods, cleaning up after meals, and laundry.

5. Address the irritations that cause ongoing conflicts. Researchers find that chores and responsibilities are among the most common topics of everyday family conflicts. Among the most common areas of contention between parents and young teenagers are cleaning up the bedroom, helping around the house, messing up the house, and putting clothes away (Riesch et al, 2000). If these (or other) areas are constant sources of bickering, talk about them when you are not in the heat of an argument. Try to find a win-win solution, and agree about what you’ll do if the solution isn’t kept. Success with these “nuisance” issues can clear the air to explore more significant responsibilities.

For more ideas on how to get your kids to do chores, read these tips from our blogger, Michele Timmons.

Eugene C. Roehlkepartain is Vice President of Research and Development at Search Institute, and creator of the 9 Parenting Strategies. Roehlkepartain is widely recognized as an expert in child, youth, and family development in community contexts. Particular areas of interest include family strengths, community supports for families and youth, spiritual development, service-learning, youth philanthropy, and linking youth development with financial literacy. Learn more about the 9 Parenting Strategies here.

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