What if there was a study dedicated to unearthing the secrets to a happy and purposeful life? In fact, just such a study has been carried for the past seven decades with students at the Harvard Medical School. Starting in 1939, the study examined the childhood events and circumstances that impacted the quality of relationships and happiness in life as the students aged. Connecting with them every two years, one of the clear messages from this study was that professional success in life comes from having done chores, rolling up one’s sleeves and pitching in to do even the unpleasant things. Having the attitude of “contributing to the whole” goes a long way in the work place.
The word chores often has a negative connotation for children. But really, chores are contribution to the family. When we approach it from the point that chores help make the family run, children can feel more important while contributing to the wellbeing of the family. Children need to be needed and learning responsibility through chores builds self-esteem.
Start small with young ones. Preschoolers can help set the table and it provides a good math lesson. Ask, “How many forks or plates do we need?” Three and four year old children can carry their own plate and cup over to the sink after a meal. Kindergartners can help with laundry, folding small towels and match up the socks. It is important to do the tasks together with them and give lots of praise, appreciating their effort. Don’t tell them what they did wrong. Model the best way to do it and praise even it is less than perfect.
With older kids, you can make a list of the chores that need to be done and let them have a choice, let them rotating them each week. One way to help children elementary age and above understand what it takes to make a family run smoothly is to post a large piece of paper on the wall. Ask everyone to contribute by writing down all of the things that keeps the family running. Leave it there for a few days and make sure to include items like jobs to make the money, shopping for groceries, planning meals, taking the car to the garage, etc. Then, hold a family meeting and talk about the items on the list. Discuss who does various jobs and how it is too much for mom and dad. Everyone is needed to contribute and ideally, discuss how each of the children/youth can help the family
As kids get older, they can handle more responsibility. This is an excellent time for them to learn life skills that they will need when they are on their own like doing laundry, cooking meals, helping with meal planning and grocery shopping, making a budget and planned activities for a family vacation and so much more. Make sure that they know how important their contributions are and that you couldn’t do it without them.
Regular chores are not paid. They are contributions to help the family run smoothly. Being paid for chores robs them of the dignity of holding up their fair share of the family work load. However, you can have a list of extra chores that they can get paid for--you can even ask them to put in a bid for various task.
Give kids a time period to complete the chores; for instance, have them finished before the soccer game on Saturday morning or before dinner time. With younger children, ask them would you like to do this before or after dinner. Giving an allowance is important so that they get the real world experience of learning to budget.
As kids get older, they can have more responsibility & accountability. If they forget to do their chores, maybe they have to pay you for doing their chores. This is one reason for them to get an allowance. Or if they are younger, they can pay with toys or with a chore of your choice before they can do something that they enjoy like watching a show.
What kind of a parent are you? Love and Logic Parenting identifies three main types: a helicopter, drill sergeant or consultant. Each parenting style sends a powerful message to your child about what he or she is, or is not, capable of.
The Helicopter Parents revolve their entire lives around their kids. Like a helicopter, they hover and then rescue their kids anytime trouble is near. They protect them from everything, including experiences their kids need to develop resilience, competence and being responsible. These parents give the message to their child, “You cannot make it on your own, you are fragile and you need me to protect you.” There is a good chance that the child will become a young adult who isn’t empowered to tackle problems and is afraid to try or make mistakes.
The Drill Sergeant Parent acts like a power-hungry sergeant. They feel the more they bark and control things, the better off their kids will be. They want disciplined kids. The way they try to achieve this is constantly telling them what to do or what not to do. This style of parenting communicates to the child, “You cannot think for yourself. I have to do it for you, boss you around and tell you want to do.” When they become teens, they may be susceptible to peer pressure because they are used to someone else making decisions for them. Drill sergeant kids can become followers and have difficulties making wise choices.
The Consultant Parent asks guiding questions, offers suggestions and gives choices. They place the burden of decision making on their child. While doing so, they establish options within limits, and support them to learn from mistakes. Consultant parents give the message, “You’d better think about your choices--the quality of your life has a lot to do with your decisions.” This style of parenting empowers children to feel competent and develop self-efficacy.
This is where the name Love & Logic comes from. The Consultant Parent gives a balance of love/empathy and logic/consequences. As children grow, they move from concrete thinkers to abstract thinkers. Children need thoughtful guidelines and firm enforceable limits. We set the limits for the children based on what they need for their own safety and their behavior. Encouraging children to think about their behavior and choices as they grow can help them to connect them to the results of their decisions. Giving them choices within appropriate boundaries supports their ability to make good decisions and reflect on poor ones.
This is increasingly important as children move into adolescent and beyond. Teens often resist rules and test authority. As consultant parents, we need to step back and let reasonable, real-world consequences do the teaching while the results are affordable, not life-threatening. Consultant parents of teenagers and even young adults, become the advisors and counselors allowing them to make more decisions for themselves, asking questions to help them think through the process and guiding them to successfully navigate the consequences of those decisions.
God gave all of us free will and that includes the opportunity to mess up. Failure and Success are two sides of the same coin. Drill sergeant and helicopter parents take away the opportunity for children to make choices and to learn from their mistakes. We increase the odds of raising resilient individuals by guiding our children with lots of empathy and natural consequences.
When I was a child, my family participated in a program that hosted international university students over holidays. We celebrated Christmas with Mr. Ogot from Kenya and another holiday with Mr. Irie Hiroshi from Japan. My dad recently reminded me how we had prepared for one of the student visitors from Nigeria, Mr. Azum Agbim.
In preparation for his visit, we looked up Nigeria in our World Book to learn about his country and culture. My parents helped me to think of questions that I could ask him to know more about him. It must have been Easter because I have a photo of my sisters and I dying eggs together with him. Although I don’t remember many details of Mr. Agbim’s visit, my dad says that at one point, I asked him quietly, “How come he's so. . . tall?” As I was asking the question, my father said that he was wondering how the sentence would end.
He said, “Never once in our preparations did we discuss the fact that his skin would be darker than ours. When we went with me to the university campus in Corvallis, we picked him up at his dorm, and realized that he was a very tall young man - well over six feet. I guess we hadn’t picked up from World Book that the native persons of Nigeria are often quite tall. He was a delightful visitor for our family.”
Empathy is the thread that connects us to other humans. When empathy is used in everyday life, it makes us feel more connected to one another. And when we feel that connection, we are better, more compassionate people. I am grateful that my parents were intentional in giving us experiences that fostered that connection. It is my desire to each day strive to nourish empathy in myself and others.
How many times do parents hear one of their kids screaming, “Dad! Michael won’t stop picking on me!” And then Michael whines, “I am not! Lisa started it! Why do I always get blamed for everything around here?” What are we to do when our kids are bickering, at each other’s throats and try to make us referees?
The first step toward success is understanding why siblings bicker and fight. Sibling conflicts are a pretty typical and normal part of family life. In fact, one might argue that these conflicts are good training for life. Another reason siblings fight is because it gets them attention and control. In fact, one might argue that these conflicts are good training for life. That is, by negotiating childhood conflicts with their brothers or sisters, our kids learn valuable skills for getting along with others in the real world if we as parents model working out our own disagreements in a cooperative manner and guide our children to take responsibility to resolving conflicts in a healthy manner.