IDEA #63. Choose a household chore or responsibility to take on without being reminded or even thanked. This could be some form or repetitive daily drudgery—putting away the clean dishes, walking the dog, folding your own laundry—or it could be an occasional major task that you are willing to monitor and do when it needs to be done, like weeding or replacing the batteries in the smoke detectors. You could take this idea one step further and offer to do these for an elderly or infirm neighbor.
Along with making sure that needed work is done, the development of dependable habits of mind and action is a main goal of assigning household chores. Doing household work without having to be asked or without the expectation of reward is, in many families, not only an obligation of membership but also an important learning experience. If this is already the case in your home, then perhaps adding still another chore to the child’s list is unnecessary, although experience suggests that there is usually time for one more thing and also that an important alternative goal to just getting things done is simply to wean the youngster of the need to be reminded to complete the task.
Whatever chores are assigned, it is important that they be developmentally appropriate and do-able by the child, although the historical experience of farm children suggests that even eight- or nine-year-olds can accomplish almost anything with a bit of instruction. The child who invokes child labor laws as an argument against doing chores should be referred to some of the literature on young workers in nineteenth-century coal mines of factories, an instructive research project that could provide useful perspective on the relative difficulties of cleaning up one’s room or vacuuming the living room as opposed to working twelve-hour shifts underground.
The child who is already an exemplary chore-doer at home might be encouraged to find an opportunity to perform some regular household service for a neighbor or relative in need. Help of this sort is always much appreciated, and the chance to develop a new relationship is itself always a positive learning experience.