The Under-Appreciated Value of Chores

The Under-Appreciated Value of Chores

By Marianne Riess

Most parents are aware of the importance of building confidence and self-esteem in their children. How to do it effectively? One way is to listen when they talk and then respond, letting them know you take their ideas seriously. Ask their opinions at times. Whenever possible, give them choices about what they will eat or wear. Spend uninterrupted time with them to show you enjoy their company.

Building self-confidence too often involves a lot of “Good jobs.” We praise children for just about anything they do, from drawing a squiggle to pumping a swing, to jumping off a hay bale. Sometimes the “good jobs” become so automatic and routine that they lose effect. The child doesn’t value them anymore.

One great way to build a child’s self-esteem is to let him or her contribute to the family welfare. Children learn that what they are doing is valued and helpful. How? Through chores – a somewhat out of fashion custom that should regain its place in family life. When a child does a job that helps the family, he feels good about himself intrinsically, whether or not he receives a heaping of praise. A simple “thank you” is enough. His confidence grows when he realizes how capable he is.

Setting the table is a wonderful job for a young child. Besides the satisfaction of helping, the child gets a lesson in one-to-one correspondence, an early math skill. One napkin, one fork, one plate, one spoon, one glass for each place. Right and left can be assimilated as he learns the placement of the silverware and the glass. Clearing the table after dinner works well as a chore too, as long as the plates aren’t too valuable. The child becomes proud of all that he can do.

Some other safe jobs for young children are folding towels and napkins, feeding pets, sponging the table and counters, sweeping the floor, and helping with gardening. They already do similar jobs in their nursery school classroom. Older children often enjoy cutting up fruit or veggies for a meal or making fresh orange juice for the family to enjoy. Taking out the garbage works as does being responsible for pets. Just remember to say “Thanks for the help with… I really appreciate it.”

You will be surprised how quickly children become committed to helping. They may even ask for more responsibilities. It feels good to be a contributing member of the family. When a child feels capable and important, self-esteem and confidence blossom automatically from within.

Marianne Riess is the former head of the Putnam Indian Field School in Greenwich, CT. She has 40 years of experience in working with young children.

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