Giving Teens Responsibility

In our last post we looked at the benefits of including our young children in the household chores and talked about how children are happier and develop greater self-esteem when they make a meaningful contribution to the family. This week, we look at what happens when kids enter their teen years. It’s an opportunity to meet their need for independence with expanded responsibilities beyond their contributions to household chores.

As our children become teenagers a big part of their attention shifts to their relationships with their friends and figuring out their place in the wider world. 

But they are still a big part of the family and continue to need parental guidance and support. Their bodies have changed and they may have reached their full adult size, but their brains aren’t finished developing.  They still need us, even while insisting they don’t.

This combination of an adult-sized body, the importance of relationships outside the family, and all of the time and attention needed to figure out what their adult life will look like can make for challenging times.

One way to ease the strain is to support their growing need for independence by expanding their responsibilities. They can still be expected to contribute to household chores, but we can help them grow toward adulthood by giving them some added adult responsibilities and more opportunities to make their own decisions. 

Growing toward Adulthood

Expanded responsibilities can mean that young teens take on more of the meal planning and grocery shopping. A few summers back, when we had three tweens/teens at home, we implemented a dinner rotation for meal prep. Each person in the family was assigned one night a week where they were responsible for preparing dinner for the family. Each Saturday we would get together to plan the meals for the week. Each teen decided what they wanted to cook. The ingredients they needed for their meal got added to the grocery list. I did the shopping since none of them were driving yet, but if you have a teen who is driving, they can take on this responsibility too.

Post A Chore List

Another way to support this time of transition in your teen’s life is to take a step back from reminding them about their chore responsibilities. When you’ve reached agreement about what they will be responsible for, post the list of who is doing what where it will be seen often. The front of the refrigerator is always a great location for capturing a teen’s attention. 

You can also offer a monetary incentive for taking care of their assigned chores in a timely fashion or offer to pay for help that is above and beyond their assigned contributions. For example, making their bed and keeping their room clean might be a part of contributing as a family member, while doing yard work or watching younger siblings are responsibilities that you will pay them for.

Amy Morin, at verywellfamily.com, suggests you let your expectations be known, clear, and reasonable. Assign chores ahead of time, be flexible about when they get done and establish clear consequences so they know what will happen if they don’t do their chores. Now is the time to step back a little and let them take responsibility for time management and meeting expectations without reminders.

Help Them Set Up A Budget

If you reward them with money or they have an allowance, help them set up a budget. Have them write down what they want and need regularly so they can keep up with it. Older teens who have part-time jobs after school can assume more responsibility for paying for their own things, such as their phone bill or social activities. 

Show them how to track their money and keep a ledger. Some banks even offer budgeting tools in their online apps. 

If you haven’t helped them open a bank account yet, now is the time to do it. Helping them establish good money management skills while they are still at home will set them on the path to success as independent adults. 

Expanding Responsibilities for Older Kids

Here are just a few ways you can support your tweens and teens growing desire for independence:

10-13 Years: Pre-teens can help with everything smaller kids can help with in addition to sweeping and mopping the floors, helping out with yard work, cleaning out the car, and helping to make meals.

13-16 Years:  Young teenagers can take responsibility for all their personal hygiene and laundry, can help with or make meals, and create meal plans and grocery lists. They can be responsible for yard work on their own and can watch younger siblings.

16-18 Years: Our older teenagers who have a job can be responsible for their own money and budget. While their chores at home might not change much, they are now in a position to begin paying for some of their own things – the cell phone, clothes, and the costs associated with activities they do with their friends. 

With love and guidance, helping our teens take on more responsibilities as they reach high school graduation prepares them for a lifetime as independent and responsible adults. 

 

Lynne Brown is a freelance writer, former Montessori teacher, and mom to seven amazing kids, some of whom now have kids of their own. She loves writing on parenting and early childhood education. You can learn more about her at www.lynnebrownwriting.com.

Giving Kids Responsibility

Research shows that having kids share in the responsibility of household chores can increase self-esteem, build their ability to delay gratification, and equip them to deal with frustration.  By helping out around the house, children learn valuable life skills, gain confidence, and build self-reliance, which can lead to greater success at school, work, and in relationships.

Says one blogger on children and chores, “Knowing that they contribute and are productive members of the family gives children an important sense of self-worth and belonging. Also, self-mastery (being able to do things for themselves) builds stronger self-esteem and leads to a more capable young person.”

They may grumble when asked to do chores, but research tells us that children actually feel happier when they make a meaningful contribution to the family.

Make it Easy for Kids to Help

The earlier you include kids in household chores, the less resistance you will get and the easier it is to keep them helping willingly. By creating a consistent routine that includes everyone pitching in, children are more likely to contribute without complaint.

Routines keep things predictable. Kids and grown-ups find comfort in knowing what to expect. Creating routines that include chores also reduces the likelihood of pushback when they are reminded of the things they are expected to help with.

Another way to make it easier for kids to help is by decluttering. Too much on a shelf, or stuffed into a drawer or a closet, can be overwhelming. When everything has its own place on the shelf, or in the drawer, and there is ample space between things, picking up and putting away is less stressful and easier to do. 

For the very youngest helpers, some preparation on our part will help them be successful even as they are still learning.  For example, even a toddler can be responsible for feeding the cat if we prepare a small container that holds the cat’s next meal in advance. Placing the pre-measured food on a low shelf means the toddler can feed the cat by taking the container to the cat’s dish and pouring the food into the dish.  

Two-year-old tantrums are often the result of frustration at not being allowed to do something they feel completely capable of accomplishing. 

True, we are all busy and sometimes it is hard to find the patience for waiting while they practice new skills. It is so much easier, and faster, to just do it ourselves.  We have years of experience putting on shoes and we know we will be out the door so much more quickly if we simply scoop up the child and the shoes and put their shoes on their feet for them. 

Waiting for our toddler, who is just learning to coordinate the movement of their hands with the movement of their feet will take more time. 

But planning ahead to allow more time – and having the patience to let them try – will result in a happier toddler as they experience the satisfaction of accomplishment while building their self-care skills with each new effort.

Children as young as 18 months can help pull clean clothes out of the dryer and into a laundry basket. With a little direction, toddlers can help put linens on a closet shelf, socks into their sock drawer, and dish towels into a kitchen drawer.

As children are learning to perform their chores, doing them together allows them to learn from you. Working as a team over time, the child can watch you perform a new chore, then begin to help with that task, and eventually will have had sufficient practice to take responsibility to do it independently. 

What can they help with? 

Here are just a few of the things that kids can be responsible for:

2-3 Years: Our youngest children can help us with our regular household chores. As we straighten a room, they can take a piece of trash to the wastebasket, use a dust cloth to help dust tabletops, take dirty clothes to the laundry hamper, help pull clean clothes out of the dryer, and learn to fold washcloths.

4-5 Years: Our older preschoolers can help with all of the above and they can take responsibility for setting and clearing the table, making their bed, matching and folding socks, wiping up spills, using a hand-held vacuum, preparing a simple snack, and helping with meal prep.

6-7 Years: All of the above, as well as emptying the dishwasher, putting groceries away, sweeping and vacuuming floors, dusting, folding towels, watering plants, and raking leaves.

8-10 Years: Empty the trash, wash dishes, pack lunches, hang and fold clean clothes, weed the garden.

With a little planning, a lot of patience, and loads of encouragement we can help our kids on their road to independence with some well-timed responsibilities throughout their childhood.

 

Lynne Brown is a freelance writer, former Montessori teacher, and mom to seven amazing kids, some of whom now have kids of their own. She loves writing on parenting and early childhood education. You can learn more about her at www.lynnebrownwriting.com.

Summer is a Great Time to Delegate

Do you have a teenager or two who find themselves at loose ends without the routine of the school day? Last summer, I found myself in just such a situation. The change in routine is a welcomed one, but for some children, the lack of structure can cause anxiety. 

I had two problems as summer break started last year. First, I really wanted to see my kids help more around the house. And secondly (and maybe more importantly), I wanted them to get away from the screens.

But then I had an idea that turned out to be the perfect solution for our family.  

I’ve never been good a sustaining the expectation that kids will do chores. They help, but in random and infrequent ways. But early last summer, I hit upon a sustainable and simplified version of a ‘chore chart’ which focused only on dinner. It invited the entire family to take responsibility for getting dinner onto — and off — the table each evening.

This simple chart gave everyone specific responsibilities every day.  And a routine for the lazy, unscheduled days of summer.

To create our family “dinner delegation” chart, I began by making a list of the four main elements of dinner prep and cleanup. I intentionally selected just four jobs since there are five of us in our household. This let me rotate everyone through the tasks every week and also gave one person ‘the night off’ each day.

Our four jobs were: Set the Table, Cook Dinner, Clear the Table, and Do the Dishes.  The number of jobs can be expanded or contracted to fit the number of people in the family.  For example, “Put Away Leftovers” could be added after “Clear the Table” if an additional job is needed. For us, one person did all the dishes, but “Load the Dishwasher” could be separate from the hand washed dishes in “Do the Dishes.” And there’s nothing saying people can’t be assigned more than one job each day. The chart can easily be modified to fit your particular family configuration. With our family of five, these four worked for us.

On our chart, the first column contains the jobs that need to be done. Then come the days of the week. I listed just Monday through Saturday, giving everyone Sunday ‘off’.  Some Sundays we ate out, on others dinner was ‘Do it Yourself’, but mostly I just did it all on Sunday, with help from whoever was inclined to assist.

After rows and columns were done, I added names, starting with job one on Monday and ending with job four on Saturday.  

I posted the chart on a kitchen cabinet, where everyone could see what their assignment was each day. Assigned responsibility was a radical departure from the way we’ve always done it at our house – where I cooked dinner and hollered for someone to set the table when it was time to eat.  The change was awesome.

Because it was written down and posted, everyone knew what to expect. So there was no grumbling about doing the assigned job. The kids thoroughly enjoyed choosing the meal they would prepare and then fixing it for the family. (Full transparency: I helped with the cooking most nights in the beginning, as this was our youngest’s first real experience with using an oven and stove.)

One of my children is an overachiever. When it was her turn to set the table, it was often done mid-afternoon!

But things didn’t always go smoothly.  There were days when someone was not home for dinner. These days, there would be much negotiating, with deals made to swap jobs or find coverage. This gave the kids an opportunity to practice their negotiation and compromise skills. Another benefit!

Does delegation sound like something that might work at your house? Here are some tips if you decide to embark on this adventure:

  1. You’ve got to be ok with giving up control of the menu planning. Choosing what to fix gives the kids practice at planning and follow-through, and builds confidence and enthusiasm. Cooking what someone else has chosen does not create the same excitement and is likely to be met with grumbling.
  2. You know your children best – give them support where they need it, help them learn and gain skills in the kitchen through effort and practice, then back off when they are able to do it independently. Delegating doesn’t completely eliminate the need to be in the kitchen during dinner preparation. I found I was able to work my way out of the kitchen as the summer progressed, but at the beginning, I needed to be available to support and coach.
  3. Grocery shopping is another opportunity to engage children in the mechanics of preparing meals. We would assemble the week’s menus together on Saturday morning, so I could grocery shop for the week. Bringing them to the grocery store to participate in the gathering of ingredients is another job that could be partially delegated.

What do you think? Is there space for such a system in your family’s routine this summer? Last year, our new summer dinner strategy worked so well that we are excited to implement it again this summer. In fact, I’m thinking it may become standard operating procedure throughout the year!

 

How Not to Disappear Completely

In the great film Winter’s Bone, a girl (played by a pre-Katniss Jennifer Lawrence), is desperately trying to pass on her knowledge of hunting, food preparation, and other basic survival skills to her siblings. She is feeling the pressure because, having lost both of their parents, she suspects that her investigation into the disappearance of her criminal father may well get her killed.

I am mostly telling you about this movie because you really need to see it (seriously). But it also paints in bold dramatic terms an example of parentification, which can be defined as “the process through which children are assigned the role of an adult, taking on both emotional and functional responsibilities that typically are performed by the parent.”

A recent article in The Atlantic highlights in similarly stark terms the long-term negative effects of parentification on children: “a form of emotional abuse or neglect where a child becomes the caregiver to their parent or sibling. Researchers are increasingly finding that in addition to upending a child’s development, this role reversal can leave deep emotional scars well into adulthood. Many […] experience severe anxiety, depression, and psychological distress. Others report succumbing to eating disorders and substance abuse.”

Put simply, the experience of having to step into a caretaking role as a child can disrupt and even displace the normal course of development. In our culture, we have terms for this: a child may have “grown-up too fast.” We should therefore “let kids be kids.” Right?

But the situations described above are extreme. As with most things, there is a large middle ground from which we can still see the line no matter which side of it we’re on right now. Parentification happens when a child undertakes a role for which she is not yet ready, specifically taking on responsibility for another’s care or well-being.

Hold on there, cowboy. Isn’t there an appropriate time and place for kids to take on responsibility for others?

Of course! There are ways to know when they are ready. Though laws vary from place to place, generally speaking, your child is ready to babysit his siblings around the age of 12. This is assuming that they have willingly, and successfully, practiced this with your proximity and/or partial supervision. Does the child know what to do in case of emergency? How to contact you if you’re not home? How to call emergency services? Who is a safe neighbor? Where are the band-aids?

The key, I think, is that you and the child are both confident in their readiness to care for others. Be sure that you give clear parameters regarding where you are and for how long; what is expected of them and what is not. If this is a regular situation or something that comes up repeatedly without warning, it is probably time to involve another adult (family or a trusted professional).

In the meantime, try not to disappear.

 

Three Scenes

Here’s a specific problem that has been coming up for me lately, at work and at home. I thought I’d find out more about it and share it with you.

Close your eyes and take a journey with me. You are in a room. A clean, well-lighted place. You are calm and relaxed. Take a few breaths in and out. Good. Now, open your eyes.

Before you is a child. Your child. The child is rolling her eyes in disbelief that you have just expected her to do something that you regard as perfectly reasonable. She intends to ignore you and go on with what she was doing before.

Close your eyes. Take another breath. Now open them.

Now your child is throwing his younger brother’s half-constructed Attack of the Clones Lego playset down the stairs. When you ask him why he has done this, he explains that his brother was being, and in fact, is a “butt.”

Close your eyes. Feel around for the ibuprofen in the medicine cabinet. Take two and be sure to drink a whole glass of water. Open your eyes.

Now your child, as you watch, is saying “$@%#.” You are positive that you have heard the word crisply and clearly and have watched the precise mouth movements required to form the word. When you ask the child to repeat the word, she insists that she was using the euphemistic spelling employed by Norman Mailer in his WWII novel The Naked and the Dead.  You do not believe her (though I also made a Hemingway reference in this post. Can you spot it?).

Oh, boy. We’re done. Come back to your body and shake yourself out.

These children are engaging in what is known by scientists as disrespectful behavior. Now, you might be asking, “Where did they learn this kind of thing?” The answer is a.) You, b.) Their peers, c.) Their uncle Steve, d.) YouTube, e.) It doesn’t matter. The answer is e.)

There are some definite do’s and don’ts in common to these scenes:

  • Stay calm. Do not respond with the kind of words or behavior they are presenting to you.
  • Ignore provocation. Do not be drawn into a power struggle, which is exactly what will happen if you attempt to assert your power right now. Walk away if you have to.
  • Speak your expectations clearly. “I don’t want to hear that kind of language.” “I expect you to listen when I give you a direction.” Stick to it but don’t feel you need to explain or defend it. Don’t negotiate.
  • Give encouragement when you see or hear things you like.
  • Spend some time with them. Let the relationship do the repairing.

Now. What was the child feeling? Probably frustration and a need for power. Now that everyone is calm, you can work with your child on ways to have (age-appropriate) input into rules and routines in order to feel more in control. Can you arrange for him and his brother to have separate playtime? Can she choose when she does her chores, with the promise of an activity she enjoys at the end (or even while she does the work; music, an audiobook)? Can she practice deep breathing with you so she can learn to express her feelings appropriately?

Alright. Now close your eyes again. And have a nice long nap.

 

 

 

 

On Chores, Revisited

A couple years ago I wrote about our first attempt to institute chores for the family. In that article, I described how my wife and I had decided to approach chores and how they aligned with the values of our family. I wrote, “In my house chores are presented simply as expectations: they are what needs to happen in order for the home to run smoothly. There is a place for everyone to chip in, and we emphasize the importance of each chore in our day-to-day home life.”

Reading back on this, I see that this theory still holds up. In the article, I also detailed the chores chart I had made, with chores listed on a whiteboard and movable magnets for each child, to be rotated according to age level and need. This means that each child would have different chores from day to day. I can only imagine, when designing this system, what I was thinking: that the variety would keep them from being bored, or the novelty would be exciting, or something.

Well, that just didn’t work.

It wasn’t a disaster or anything. It was just too complicated for the kids (the little ones especially), and too much homework for the adults (ie: me). We gave it a go. But soon the kids were complaining about their own assigned chores or coveting those of their sisters (or just refusing to participate in my rigged game). At the same time, the magnets started falling apart and wouldn’t, you know, magnetize anymore. So after a few weeks, my brilliant chores chart fell by the wayside. Okay, it actually just fell off.

I don’t remember how much time went by in the interim, but eventually, my wife struck upon a way to make the chores list work within the structure of her homeschooling day. Instead of rotating chores, each child now had their own laminated sheet with a list of duties. They could mark them off as they went with a pen, or draw pictures around them, or pull them down and lose them under the sofa. Their choice!

Anyway, having a stable and routine set of chores turned out to be just the ticket. My wife divided them into two sections: morning, before school, and after lunch, before “rest time” (that period of one to two hours where the kids can have downtime with an audiobook, a DVD, or some reading). It took a while to get it going, but by now it is almost in their muscle memory. They know the expectations and, though they sometimes just don’t want to do it (who doesn’t), it had made chores into what we intended: they’re just what we do to help the household work.

My favorite part is that the list makes it easy to succeed: “wake up” is an item; as is “eat breakfast.” Amazing how the points add up.

 

 

Extra Inning (Family Rules, Part 3)

I’ve been writing about the process of coming up with Family Rules. Last week I was stuck with the consequences of my family’s Values as they showed up in my actions, whether or not I intended to model them. This time I want to pull back and tell you what I’ve been doing lately.

The genesis of this was in a post I wrote I a few weeks ago about how I haven’t introduced my girls to sports. As a consequence, they can’t throw or catch a ball, and I had a bit of an existential Daddy crisis about this. I got over it, sort of. But in preparation for the upcoming Nurturing Fathers training, which uses sports as a metaphor that runs throughout the program, I started thinking about this again. If I’m going to teach this program, I thought, I need to set aside my lifelong lack of interest in sports and, basically, pick one and become interested.

I grew up in a house of football fans, but for a variety of reasons, this never clicked with me (to be honest, the game just makes no sense to my brain. Don’t be offended; it’s not you, it’s me). I’ve learned in recent years, in my work with children, how to lob a basketball into a hoop, but again, not much about the sport resonates with me. Soccer is fine, hockey is fun, and I’ve always enjoyed the Winter Olympics. Whatever.

But then there’s baseball. Still the National Pastime, at least in name, and a sport with a long and hallowed place in American history and culture. The rules make sense; the gameplay is elegant and aesthetically pleasing. There’s no clock. It’s a nice way to enjoy an idyllic summer day. It’s full of unwritten rules, superstitions, traditions, stories, and lore, and plus I’ve seen The Sandlot more times than I can count. The more I thought about it the more I realized I was ready to become a baseball fan.

Somehow in the midst of this newfound hobby, I volunteered to organize a softball team at work. I just kind of pitched the idea (see what I did there?) and to my surprise was met with overwhelming interest. Suddenly I am occupied with putting together a team roster, ordering t-shirts, commissioning artwork for the mascot, and cramming to learn the rules of the game. I’ll let you know how we do this year.

What does all this have to do with Family Rules? If we accept the premise that a family is a team, we understand that everyone’s contribution is essential. Everyone’s efforts are needed and valued. This is as true in setting up a regimen of chores as it is in the routines of getting ready for school, taking a bath, visiting grandparents, playing with siblings.

Everyone has different talents and abilities (especially if they’re all different ages) and we have to figure out, as a team, how best to use them, and how to support each other in areas in which we’re not so proficient.

And just like in baseball (or softball), everyone has to go up to bat eventually.

On Chores

There are a lot of ways to present chores to kids. They can be tied to an allowance or to other privileges, and this is fairly common. But I would like to propose a different approach.

I grew up under a straight system of chores for allowance, and given my comic book habit, this worked nicely for me. However, this arrangement encouraged me to cultivate a somewhat mercenary attitude: I failed to see the use of raking and bagging leaves, for example, other than as a source of income; and if I did not have plans for the money my enthusiasm for the job was…lacking.

More useful, though, was my weekly job of mowing the lawn for my grandparents: the expectations were clear, and the wage ($10 per job) allowed me to steadily accumulate funds for movies and role-playing game modules. More importantly, it prepared me for the exchange of labor for pay that goes into any future job, particularly of the sort available to teenagers. I was expected to show up each Saturday morning, and my grandfather was good enough to inform me of when I needed to do the job with a different emphasis or with increased vigor.

As a result of these experiences, I have come to see the use of framing a job as a job and chores as something else entirely.

In my house chores are presented simply as expectations: they are what needs to happen in order for the home to run smoothly. There is a place for everyone to chip in, and we emphasize the importance of each chore in our day-to-day home life. It is important for chores to be age-appropriate, and there are a number of resources that can help ensure this. I like this list put out by Montessori educators, and it has served as a useful guide.

Recently, inspired by a Nurturing Parenting training, I decided to formalize the process. I bought a whiteboard (though a piece of paper, or any of a number of online templates, would serve as nicely) and created a chart, with chores listed down the left-hand column and days of the week along the top (no chores on Sunday, as we go to Church in the morning). I found a set of magnets and labeled them with names, with two magnets (two daily chores) per child. I rotate them daily so that they are performing different tasks each time—their preference—and place them according to age. I allow the girls to write and/or illustrate each chore.

Here is the current list of chores for our household:

Ages 4-6

Trash patrol (gather bits of paper and other detritus and put in trash bin)

Sock matching

Sweeping

Dusting

Laundry patrol (gather clothes and put them in the hamper)

Ages 8-10

Put away dishes

Sort and put away clean laundry

Vacuuming

Library (gather and shelve books—we have a lot of books)

Take out trash

Clean bathroom (Scrub sink and bathtub, tidy and clear floor)

Making beds is a daily chore for everyone.

Sometimes we assign “big girl” chores to the little ones with the expectation that an older sibling or adult will assist them. This helps to familiarize them with tasks for which they are not yet ready.

We have been using this system for a month now, and it seems to be working. The kids are more willing to do their part when they see that it is consistent and part of an organized system. I expect that changes will continue to be made, which is why I use a whiteboard and dry-erase markers.

This is not the only way to do it, and it may not be ideal for your family. I encourage you to explore resources, talk to other parents, and come up with something that suits you.