Good Citizenship Starts At Home

What do you think about when I say “Spring Cleaning”?  I think about airing out, freshening up, and opening our homes and hearts to the joy and relaxation we find when the world is soft and warm.  We all love to bless our homes and our families at this hopeful time of year.

But what else do I think about?  The work!  Spring cleaning is also a time of chores and projects, and learning to use our routines and our baby steps to get the job done in a happy, effective way.

This year I would like for you to think about enlisting your children’s help in spring cleaning, and using it as a lesson in family responsibility and accountability.  If you can help your children learn to become more responsible and accountable to others, their teachers will thank you, their future employers will thank you, and their future spouses will thank you!

Accountability and responsibility are best learned when parents and teachers work together as partners.

Parents often get angry when teachers enforce a consequence.  Maybe a child has not completed the day’s work and so cannot go out to play, or a child has not earned the points in the reading challenge and so doesn’t get the reward.  Perhaps a child doesn’t bring in ice cream money on Friday and so misses out on the treat, or a child talks back to the teacher and gets sent to the principal.  Or in high school, a student violates the dress code and gets sent home to change clothes.  These are all life lessons!

Teachers feel very strongly that a big part of their job is to teach children to work hard, finish their assignments, turn in work on time, follow rules, and treat others with kindness and respect.  And you know what?  Success in life really is based more on these attitudes and behaviors – what we used to call “good citizenship” – than on intelligence and academic skills.

So how can parents help to raise good citizens?  It all goes back to family responsibility and accountability. Children are part of the family team and have responsibility for age-appropriate chores.

And with that responsibility comes accountability – there is a consequence if children fail to keep their end of the bargain and let the family down.  A toddler can help pick up toys and put dirty clothes in the hamper.  A preschooler can fold his t-shirts and help set the table.  An elementary school-age child can feed the dog, clear the table, fold and put away laundry, and carry in groceries.  Pre-teens and teens can successfully do the laundry, clean house, cook meals, and run errands.

When families set up routines for household chores, children learn valuable skills for school and work.  Good citizenship starts at home.

Let’s see how you might set up a routine for chores at home that will teach the citizenship skills that children need to be successful at school and in life:

  • Set up a family meeting.  Talk about how a family is a team – everybody contributes what they can, and everybody benefits from working together.
  • On a big piece of paper, list all the weekly household chores that keep the family running.  Pay special attention to the smaller daily chores – setting and clearing the table, doing dishes, feeding pets, picking up.
  • On another piece of paper, list everyone’s name.  Under each name, list the chores that each family member is able to do.  (Parents have the final say on this.)
  • Put a star or a happy face next to the three things that each person likes to do the most.
  • Put an X or a sad face next to the three things that each person absolutely hates to do.  (Remember that the worst chores have to be done, but they can be rotated between family members.)
  • Set up a schedule for chores that takes everyone’s strong likes and dislikes into account.  Make a grid that has the days of the week across the top and each person’s name down the left side.  In each box (person/day), write down the assigned chores for that person on that day.  Parents too!  And remember – even a small child can and should contribute to the family.

Sounds great – except that chores don’t usually get done unless there are motivators and consequences that are consistently applied.  In other words, the schedule will mean nothing unless good things always happen when chores are done and there are always consequences for failing to do chores.  There are lots of ways of doing this – here are some ideas:

  • Some families base each child’s weekly allowance on the number of chores that child has successfully completed that week.  So if the weekly allowance is supposed to be $10.00 and there are 20 chores each week that child is responsible for, then each completed chore is worth 50 cents.
  • Other families let children earn privileges by doing their chores.  If a child wants to watch TV, use the computer, talk on the cell phone, or pick out a movie, chores have to be finished first.
  • Still others allow children to earn “points” toward a reward by doing chores.  This can work for material things, or the reward can be a family activity.

What’s the baby step for all this?  Pick one chore a day for each family member and decide on one privilege (for example, TV or computer time) that is earned or denied based on completing that chore every day.  Do it consistently – no excuses!  So that’s your challenge – take the baby step and get going on teaching your kids to be good citizens – in the family, at school, and in the community.

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