I recently came across this chart from The Flanders Family Website:
This chart was posted on the Facebook page of “Maria Montessori” and shared a whopping 913,847 times! It also had more than 19,000 comments–and not all of them friendly. Some of the commenters proclaimed that the chores were much too difficult or even dangerous for children. Others actually accused the original author of treating her children like slaves. There were some who agreed, some who defended, and a few that were flat-out rude, but what really interested me was this: what was it about this simple list of suggested chores for children that struck a chord with so many people—whether on a positive note or not?
As a parent of two sometimes-helpful and sometimes-not-so-helpful children, I believe that parents are sensitive about this issue because—let’s face it—getting kids to do chores can be…well…a major chore! It can certainly feel like a full time job, all that reminding, nagging, or explaining consequences just to get them to help-out a little. Children can wear parents down with relentless foot-dragging, or guilt them into thinking they ask too much. Sometimes, we parents simply don’t realize how capable our children are, especially when they are very young.
Nevertheless, when it comes to teaching chores, do start young. Of course, we must be mindful of age and individual character, but children are often more capable than we think. Also, they are far more willing and eager to mimic Mommy or Daddy when they are as young as two or three years old.
Also, do take the time to teach new chores. Slowdown, be patient, and show children how to perform the task, step-by-step. When the child first attempts the task herself, supervise but don’t scrutinize. In other words, don’t make the child feel like your breathing down her neck. Give her space, give her time, and let her make mistakes (so long as she is safe.)
Don’t be vague. This I know firsthand. If you ask a ten year old to vacuum the carpet, be ready for an ambiguous interpretation. You’re better off specifying, “Please vacuum the carpet in your bedroom and the living room,” unless you enjoy smarty-pants remarks like, “You never said how much carpet to vacuum!”
Do be consistent. Once children discover that you’ll back-down to their resistance, even once, they can be unrelenting! Now your job just got way, way more difficult. (This is another one I have learned the hard way.)
Is it worth all the fuss?
By now, you may be wondering if all this trouble is worth it. After all, you could easily do the work yourself, and in a fraction of the time. Yes, I completely understand where you’re coming from, but I am sticking to my guns here: it is worth it. Children initially learn confidence and self-reliance through participating in the daily life at home. 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 a stronger self-esteem and leads to a more capable young person.
On the other hand, not being taught the skills needed for everyday life can rob children of self-confidence. Parents that do too much for their children are unwittingly denying them the chance to learn skills essential to independence. Imagine how your child will feel if he or she is the only one in class that can’t tie his own shoes, or pour her own juice. Not exactly a confidence booster.
To summarize, here is a quote by Ann Landers that I think really puts things into perspective:
“It is not what you do for your children but what you have taught them to do for themselves that will make them successful human beings.”
Or as Maria Montessori so succinctly put it:
“The child becomes a person through work.”