By Amy Hackworth. Image by Justin Hackworth.

Teaching kids to help with household chores seems like the perfect primer on work and responsibility — to me, two of the most daunting and most important lessons I hope to teach our children. And research shows that involving children in chores teaches “a sense of responsibility, competence, self-reliance, and self-worth that stays with them throughout their lives.” The same study concluded that young adults in their 20s were most successful when they’d participated in household tasks around ages 3-4. Fascinating!

One of my earliest attempts at working together as a family was cleaning our hallway bathroom with our two boys. I remember standing next to our six-year-old while he cleaned the mirrors above the sink. Only instead of cleaning, he was making silly faces in them. Many, many silly faces. And instead of teaching him responsibility, I was teaching him what happened when I lost my temper. I took deep breaths for as long as I could and then said through clenched teeth, ”Clean the mirror. Just clean the mirror!”

A few months later when I heard a home management coach give a presentation about children and chores, I asked her about my frustration with my son. “Your six-year-old is not ready to be a great worker yet. Stop expecting him to be.” That may be the best parenting advice I’ve ever received. In my resolve to instill that sense of responsibility, I’d ignored the importance of helping him be successful. I’d also micromanaged him, hovering over him until the mirror was clean. And I suddenly saw that instead of teaching him the value of hard work, I was damaging our relationship (not to mention my blood pressure) by expecting him to do things that were beyond his ability.

The home management expert encouraged me to see that my son was still in a very creative stage of life. He’d be ready to work when he was a little older, but until then he could continue to work on the mirrors if that’s what we decided was best, but I would need to lower my expectations and appreciate his efforts more than the outcome. Small, quick jobs would teach him to enjoy contributing to our family and build his self-confidence. That’s what I really wanted for my son. A sparkling bathroom could wait.

Please share! How are you teaching responsibility and handling chores in your family, from little ones to older children? Any tips for making chores fun and rewarding (and keeping parental tempers in check)?

P.S. — Knowing what to expect from kids can be tricky, but keep in mind that, as Elizabeth Pantley, parenting author, points out in this article, “A child who has mastered a complicated computer game can easily run the dishwasher.” See several suggestions for age-appropriate chores here. And more great advice here about what to do when you have to ask a million times, how to avoid scolding (which doesn’t help), the very helpful “Grandma’s rule”, and offering praise for great effort.