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You're the Reason Your Kids Can't Do Chores

Photograph by Twenty20

Self-esteem. It is a huge thing parents can give their kids. But so many of us are undermining it.

We build up our children, show them love and encourage them to do their best. And yet, we underestimate them, especially our little ones, and tell them that they just can't do this or that.


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As I sat in a parent-teacher conference at my toddler's preschool last fall, his teacher reminded me how much he is actually capable of.

"Let him put on his shoes, take off his coat without help, make sure his lunch goes to school with him," the teacher said. While I thought I was just getting us out the door on time, I was unknowingly telling my son that he wasn't good enough and just couldn't do these things. I was taking his ownership of certain tasks away from him. It was eye-opening, and I began to think of other ways I could empower my younger son, in many of the same ways I already empower my older son who is 6.

Chores were the easiest way to give both of my boys a little self-esteem boost. They are constantly asking to help me vacuum, wash dishes and empty the dishwasher.

[B]oth my boys are learning to take ownership of their possessions and actions in ways that kids much older still haven't figured out.

The mom in me was internally screaming, "No way! You will make more of a mess than I want to deal with. You are more of a hinderance than a help."

But the "teacher" side of my brain, which I have to continually activate and encourage, said, "Sure. Let's try this."

My oldest started putting the clean silverware away after the dishwasher ran. My youngest was suddenly in charge of clearing his dishes from the table after every meal—just like his big brother had been doing. I started letting my little guy "wash" the dishes. He happily stood at the sink, scrubbing away. Yes, I had to go in after him to clean everything, but he was happy and he was helping in his own way. My boys started to cook with me. They had to clean up their toys every night, instead of leaving it for their dad or me to do. They had to put away their dirty clothes, not leave them on the floor just wherever in the house.

Our chore list isn't extensive, and it isn't insane given their ages. But both my boys are learning to take ownership of their possessions and actions in ways that kids much older still haven't figured out. My kids want a snack? OK, go get one. Can't find a toy? Go clean your room. I promise it is in there somewhere. Forgot your lunch at home? Well, why didn't you grab it before you left the house?

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Dropping my son off at preschool still fascinates me. The things he will do for his teacher he tries very hard not to do for me. We still fight over who will put on his shoes, or why his lunch didn't make it to the car. Between his teacher and me, we are slowly empowering my toddler to do a little more, take care of himself in normal, age-appropriate ways (get dressed, go potty, put shoes on without a tantrum).

It does add more time to our morning routine, but I can't put my son's shoes on forever and, one day, he will go off to college. I need to know he can wash dishes and clean up after himself.

Soon I'll start letting my oldest help me with the laundry. Little things and baby steps to helping my little boys turn into functioning men.

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