Kimberly Blaker, contributing writer

ACCORDING TO H. Stephen Glenn and Jane Nelsen in Raising Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World, “A belief in one’s personal capabilities is an essential building block for successful adulthood.” The best way for kids to   achieve this sense of capability is to be assigned household responsibilities.

Offering these opportunities makes kids feel essential to the family unit. It teaches them necessary skills, acceptance of responsibility, and self-discipline. Ultimately, it builds their self-esteem and increases their chances for a successful, fulfilling life.


Whether to compensate and reward kids for their work is a difficult question. Conflicting opinions are held by child specialists, which doesn’t help. But one thing is sure. Experiencing self-satisfaction from work is essential. Even adults receive compensation for their work. In turn, they reward themselves in many ways, from mini shopping sprees and eating out, to buying recreational toys and taking vacations.

Maybe your best bet is to take a middle-of-the-road approach. Assign your kids some responsibilities without reward, such as cleaning their rooms and taking care of personal belongings; this can provide self-satisfaction. Then you can offer an allowance or rewards for additional tasks. Kids also learn valuable lessons from earning.

They learn to budget and handle money and come to understand hard work pays off, just as it does in the adult world. Whether your child receives a reward for a particular task or not, always praise the efforts. This helps to reinforce the intrinsic value of completing a task.

When selecting prizes, choose something your child wouldn’t receive otherwise. If you go to the park several times a week, an extra trip to the park won’t seem like much of a reward, but if you usually go only once a week, an additional visit will be more enticing.

For toddlers and preschoolers, immediate rewards are essential. Offer to go to the ice cream store or park, play a favorite game together, invite a friend over, or a fun sticker or favorite treat. You can also buy prizes that come in a set, such as markers. Then offer one piece of the set for each completed task until your child has earned the complete set.

Elementary-aged kids can save for bigger rewards. Use a chart and offer prizes for accumulated stars. But don’t make your child wait more than a week or so for an award or the reward may lose its motivational value. For elementary-age children might include additional TV or computer time, a trip to the zoo or museum, baking together, having a late night with a friend, or a new magazine or small toy.

Older kids can accumulate points for more extended periods and begin to look toward long-term rewards. Teens might want to collect points for several weeks to earn a concert ticket, amusement park trip, new outfit, or special privileges like staying out later or additional phone time.

Age-appropriate chores

Toddlers and preschoolers are more capable than we realize. In these early years, children should take on household tasks. Their attention span is short, so keep chores brief when assigning them to little ones unless the chores are
especially fun. Your preschooler can:

• Make juice
• Frost cakes and cookies
• Set the table
• Rinse dishes
• Empty wastebaskets
• Vacuum (with a small vacuum)
• Dust
• Sort out dirty clothes
• Put clothes in drawers
• Pick up toys
• Stack books
• Answer the phone
• Get the mail
• Water flowers

Elementary-age kids are more coordinated and capable of performing better quality work. In addition to the previous items, your elementary age child can:

• Fix her breakfast
• Prepare microwave foods
• Bake
• Help pack lunches
• Warm soup
• Clean off the dinner table
• Load the dishwasher
• Wash windows
• Clean bathroom sinks
• Fold laundry
• Run a bath
• Pack a suitcase
• Care for younger siblings (with
an adult at home)
• Feed and walk pets
• Vacuum the car
• Take out trash cans

Kids in middle school and beyond can learn nearly any task. During the teen years, introduce new tasks periodically so your adolescent can master all skills. Your teen can:

• Clean tubs and toilets
• Organize the garage,
basement, and closets
• Set up a garage sale
• Clean the kitchen, refrigerator,
and oven
• Fix dinner
• Make a grocery list
• Grocery shop
• Pump gas
• Do laundry and ironing
• Mow the lawn
• Do minor household repairs

It’s never too late If your child is beyond preschool or elementary age and you haven’t offered many household responsibilities in the past, don’t despair. While it’s better to start when kids are young, it’s not too late. Make a plan today