How to Teach Kids Responsibility

All Ages21 Comments

Henry is a big help around the house. He really is.

When he’s in the mood.

I’d like to implement a chore system in our house, but before doing so, I asked Sarah, founder of füdoo Boards, how to do it. As well as inquiring about why its important for kids to have some responsibilities.

How to teach responsibility to kids

How can I raise a responsible child?

It looks like I’m right on track with starting this with Henry at this age.  Sarah says, “It is time to begin talking about helping the family unit when your child is about three years old. Your child can perform simple jobs and feel great satisfaction for helping the family.”

Sarah named off just a few benefits of allowing children to take on chores and responsibilities:

  • Self esteem. Pride in a job well done. “I am important because I have a job to do.”
  • Family Unit Strength. “Doing a family job really does help our family out.”
  • Work Ethic. Hard work brings internal satisfaction (pride) and external satisfaction (praise, money later in life).  “I’m not afraid of a little hard work.”
  • Responsibility to others. “My job is important because others are counting on me.”

Sarah adds, “It is this internal satisfaction that will help to build your child’s responsibility around the house, his work ethic later in life and his self-worth as part of the family.”

As a teacher and the founder of  füdoo Boards, Sarah is a big fan of charts. The chore chart is no exception.

The key to a good job chart is that is isn’t too long. If your child is younger pick two simple jobs and put them on a chart. When the jobs are accomplished they get to record a smiley face or star and then earn a rewarding bike ride or trip to the library that afternoon after nap. Keep it simple. There is no need for money rewards or food rewards yet. Let them work for time spent with you as their prize.

teaching responsibility to preschoolers

After some days of frantically getting ready for school, with a 1st grader and a preschooler, Sarah, along with the kids, came up with a system for their house:

During our after school snack I asked Joey and Lily what jobs needed to be done by them to get ready for school. The chart is what we came up with. They used the chart for about 2 months with rewards at the end of the week. After that they knew their morning jobs and just mentally worked their way through the checklist every morning. Two years later, they still refer to “their checklist” as they are getting ready for school. We have also shared it with many families with the same morning dilemmas and the kids love it!

Sarah shared her ‘School Girl Checklist’ with me and we’re making it available for everyone to download it to use in your own homes! Feel free to adjust the chart to fit your needs, and let the kids in on the planning, too!

Besides having routine responsibilities (we talked more about routines previously with Erin of The Intentional Parent), children this age can start to become a big help around the house too! Sarah put together a starter list of some easy jobs that a three year old can accomplish:

  • Family Pet chores. “We have committed to taking care of our pet. He is part of our family.”  Feeding cat, giving dog water, sweeping up messes with small hand brush and dustpan, leading a walk with pet (mom might need to hold the leash too)!
  • Clothes. “We all wear clothes in our family. We need to keep them clean and in order.” Putting clothes into the dryer (mom takes them from the washer and hands them to child), sorting socks on mom and dad’s bed, putting socks into the sock drawer, putting child’s dirty clothes into the hamper (cleaning up after himself).
  • Meals. “There is a lot of work to be done in order to put a meal on the table. I can help.” Put forks and napkins at table (one for each person in the family), wiping off table before or after dinner (use a wet wash cloth), sweeping crumbs up with the little broom and dustpan, putting recyclables in the proper bin, stirring, slicing (with help), kneading, recording your füdoo Board magnets for the family’s meal.
  • Outside. “Upkeep is important for our home and cars and it makes them look better.” Pulling weeds, washing car windows, raking, bagging leaves, scrubbing things like fences or tiles (kids love to scrub).

teaching responsibility to preschoolers

Sarah reminds me to, “Remember to start slow and not expect perfection.”

These jobs can be adapted to your child’s development level as well.

An example of how to do this is with a hierarchy of kitchen jobs that Sarah gives:

  • Age 3. Put forks and napkins on table. Wash table before setting. Stir mixture for dinner. Lead thanks or prayer at the table.
  • Age 4. Cut celery with butter knife. Bring glasses to table for water. Sweep under table after dinner. Mark food magnets on the füdoo Board.
  • Age 5-6. Set whole place setting (napkin, fork, spoon, knife, glasses, plates, placemats), present filled füdoo Board to family during dinnertime, using water pitcher pour water in glasses at table, clear their dishes from the table.

How to teach responsibility to kids

So how do I introduce these responsibilities to Henry?

Start with baby steps and keep the big picture in mind. Imagine your child at 16 and how this easy job, at age three, will lead to other more difficult jobs as he matures. High expectations for children are always important because they are usually capable of more than we can imagine, but the expectations need to be realistic and come in some form of hierarchy. A younger child, age three, needs to build a capacity for simple responsibilities before he or she can tackle the bigger stuff at age five.

I’ve said learning is play, or play is learning many times on this blog. But here’s another one for you:

Working is Play.

And Sarah reminds us that it all ties into learning.

As an Early Childhood student at the University of Maryland, it was ingrained in me that a child’s work is actually the same as their play. When a child is working at a task, whether it’s sweeping the floor or making a Lego tower, it is playing. Even more importantly this work-play is how they learn and develop.

Children naturally enjoy helping out, as long as we (the adults) try to remember:

  1. Don’t expect perfection.  The windows might still have a few streaks, trust me. Take a deep breath and fix it to your satisfaction later. Never “fix or perfect” your child’s job in front of her. She will never want to do it again. Try using a helpful hint like, “Hey kiddo – try scrubbing to every corner of the tile in this row. It’s going to really shine when you are done!”
  2. Practice your patience. The job will take longer and so you need to have some time to let them go at it.
  3. Let them use cleaning tools that are special for cleaning. Feather dusters, vacuum attachments, special scrubbers (no heavy chemical cleaners), are all so exciting to use. We let the kids take turns vacuuming our füdoo van (with ear plugs in!). They can’t wait until it is their turn.

Let this be a learning experience, for both you and your children. Sarah says this is number one on her list of how to raise a responsible child.

As a parent of a preschooler, you need to give your child the opportunities to show you what an amazing helper he/she can be. I know it is easier to just “do it myself” sometimes, and that’s okay. But when you have the time, start trying to let your child take on a few job tasks. Refrain from always setting your child in front of the TV in order for you to get the “real work” done. Try to make them be a part of the real work of making a family home function. You will not regret it in the long run. Enjoy!

I want to leave you with a quote that Sarah mentioned in our conversations that I think is something to remember:

Teach your young children to help around the house and you will help yourself at the same time.

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  1. Joyce says

    This is a great post and I agree with most of it. The only thing I have trouble with is the kids working to spend time with you. I'm not an expert though, but it's just not something I would want to do with my child. I want him to know that I'm spending time with him because I love him, not because he completed x,y,and z. I can see the reasoning behind it though.

    For our family, we have a few chores that he's expected to do to help out the family. He is expected to do these without any compensation, just because everyone in the family works to help the family. Then we have a few things that he can choose to help with that would earn money. He gets a nickel a job. I'm using this opportunity to also start teaching him about saving, spending, and giving. He has three different piggy banks for this purpose. It works for us, but like I said, I'm no expert and I have no idea if this is what I'm suppose to be doing with him at 4.5.

    • Jenn Stewart says

      I’m interested in what you consider normal help and paid for help? We’re pregnant with our first and want to start teaching about money early on. There problem is we can’t agree on what to pay them for. I don’t get paid to do anything around the house, why should they? Can’t pay them to go to school because later on they will have to pay to learn. It’s confusing to us, but thankfully we have some time to figure it out. Any suggestions are welcome!

  2. Ivy League-West says

    I'm not a fan of paying for chores or charts. I do however love and expect the children to work along with me. It's not that I won't love them if they don't and that's not the message they are getting, it's simply what we do. We are each responsible for keeping our bedroom orderly and do extra cleaning on the weekend. We all have things to do before breakfast, lunch and dinner because it needs to get done and each does what their ability allows. It's been this way since they were very small and would wipe off tables and help push the vacuum without me requesting it. It's not something we introduced when they were old enough, it's just our way of life.

    • Jaimi says

      I would agree with you that jobs are just a part of the family dynamics and being requested to do work is part of our days for our children. BUT, keep in mind, at a certain age, being paid to do a few jobs is a great way to start teaching children about money. I actually wrote about it on my site. When my son was 3 and was always offering to help and talking about what things cost at the store, talking about money, etc., we started paying him $1 per week to feed the dog each day. He put it in his bank each week, so we are emphasizing that saving comes first. I am the “budgeter” of the family now because it’s my skill more than my husband’s and I greatly attribute the learning about savings, investing and budgeting to my parents who started much earlier than most parents think to start nowadays with simple things like allowance. We still ask more of our kids than we pay them for, but they have their paid jobs as well, and it has not deterred their desire to help out. Just something to consider.

  3. Sarah says

    Yes – Ivy League West has got it. Jobs around the house are just something we do. It should be a normal thing to have your kids working around the house. As for paying for jobs – maybe when they are older – but still expecting them to do family care jobs for free is a must. Or else the kids are always asking, "How much will I get paid if I do it?".

  4. Sarah says

    I wouldn't mind helping with a chore chart. Check out the School Girl Checklist from the article. Change the chores (keep them simple) and change the pics to your own clip art. I laminated ours and the kids use dry erase marker to mark them.

  5. Aunt Annie says

    I wish I'd had this advice when my son was small!!

    Just one point I'd mention- please can we all try not to use food as a reward. Food is sustenance for living and can be a social activity too, but the moment you give it an emotional dimension (like using it as a reward) you're setting your child (especially your daughter) up for comfort eating later on.

    It's really important to normalise 'sometimes foods' as a part of our diet and include them in normal daily meals and snacks, rather than making them 'special', which makes them so much more desirable and can lead to binging on them later.

    Anyway, it's just something to think about. Wonderful post, thank you!

  6. Rebekah @ The Golden Gleam says

    My daughter is 4, but so far we haven't rewarded her when she does chores. They have always just been a part of her life. She has her own set of child size cleaning tools – duster, small sweeper with dustbin, and a carpet sweeper that actually works. No, she doesn't always do it perfectly and sometimes drags her feet especially with putting away toys, but I praise her for the help she gives.

  7. Margaret says

    I definitely agree that children should be expected to contribute to the home, and we have started our son younger than 3. Don’t underestimate abilities! The more we believe our children are capable of doing, the more they will do.

  8. Lil says

    I find that my son who is 2, mimiks me while I am doing chores. So I give him the job that I am doing like dusting with a swiffer duster. I will stand there while he is “dusting” and praise him for doing a great job!! Then he looses interest and I will go back completing my task.

  9. Ashley says

    I loved this article! I actually made a classroom poster based on the “I am important” quotes in this article. Thank you for reminding us how to foster responsibility in our children.

  10. Jaimi says

    So important for our children to be encouraged to help around the house. I think it teaches them all of the above listed in the post, and we use it as a starting point for teaching about money and saving. When my son was 3, he started getting paid to feed the dog. Each birthday since we add a new job and a dollar to his allowance, so at 5 he is making 3 dollars per week to do 3 jobs (that often fall on all days of the week)-I am actually putting together a post about “Jobs Kids Can Do,” so I would love to link to this post as well. Both of my children are always eager to help me put laundry in the dryer, unload the dishwasher, etc. I try my best to not say “no” when they ask to help-I think that is a key starting point: as soon as a child begins to ask to help, say “yes.”

  11. Becky says

    I’m all for chores. My 4 and a half year old has been putting her clothes in the hamper since she was undressing herself. She sets the table and has effectively been helping me cook for over a year now. She swiffers and mops the floor, tidy’s her toys up daily (sometimes more than once a day), helps with dusting and other odd jobs. She also has a hamster. Her job is to feed him each day and help with cleaning his cage each week. She gets $1 per week for the hamster chores. In fact, she just used her allowance to buy mommy and daddy’s xmas gifts. So yeah – it’s good to start them young with all these lessons for sure – want to challenge the comment about food as a reward – we use anything as a reward in our house that works. She gets a snack after school and then can have a treat if she eats her meals. If she’s well behaved, she can most certainly have a treat. Comfort eating is about far more complex issues than simply being rewarded for doing something good. It’s a slippery slope from that kind of thinking to food is the root of all evils within the obesity issue and very clearly, that’s wrong.

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