New Year’s Responsibilities

by Kelly

Kelly Curtis - Professional speaker, writer and counselor*** Monthly Feature Column ***

Positively Speaking
Building Assets in your Kids

by Kelly Curtis, M.S., author of Empowering Youth: How to Encourage Young Leaders to Do Great Things.

‘Tis the season to set resolutions. I have a few and you probably do as well. Your kids might even get in on the goal-setting.

But have you considered marking January 1 as the date you systematically encourage your kids to increase responsibility? Just like we are reminded to change the smoke detector batteries, the first of the year is an easy-to-remember date for ratcheting the responsibilities in your household.

We know that giving children responsibility is important. It makes them contributing members of the family and it boosts self-esteem by providing tangible evidence that they can accomplish a goal, even if it means a broken dish now and then. Each January 1, our kids are one year older, and potentially one year better capable of pitching in.

Search Institute has identified Responsibility as one of the 40 Developmental Assets. Research shows these are characteristics of healthy, caring, resilient kids. The more assets youth have, the more likely they’ll resist risky behaviors in the future.

Our family has done this for several years now, but our kids’ responsibilities increase on their birthdates, rather than the first of the year. (My son’s birthday is today,in fact.) As the date approaches, we begin the discussion about what chore they’ll plan to add. For several weeks, the kids consider the responsibilities they might enjoy for the coming year, and negotiate with each other in case the siblings want to trade each other. Sometimes they trade-in a chore they didn’t like or trade-up to a daily chore from a weekly one, rather than simply adding another.

Although it’s more of an art than a science, we are able to work it out, and our daughter (who is two years older) claims two more jobs than our son, earning $2 more than him weekly as well. Each year when their chores increase, their allowances follow suit.

Our kids are always responsible for their own stuff, rooms, and personal hygiene. Together we also do a weekly clean-sweep through the house, and we regularly ask them to pitch in with other household needs as well. The “chore” discussion is above and beyond this basic expectation. What I mention here might be more or less than you expect from your kids, but what’s probably most important is that we promote responsibility, and that it grows with age.

For us, this year’s chore change-up looked something like this:

12-year-old daughter

Last year: empty dishwasher (daily), bring in the mail (daily), and clean the litter box (weekly)
This year: added switching the laundry to and from the dryer, relieving me from the endless dinging of the dryer chime.

10-year-old son
Last year: round up the garbage from throughout the house and get it to the curb on garbage day (this chore was assigned to him after I fired him from the toilet cleaning job he chose last year.)
This year: add snow-shoveling, where he’ll work hard for his allowance for four months, and then take it easy the rest of the year.

You’ll notice that none of these chores require the white glove test. They’re simply done, or not done. And since the kids choose them, they can’t complain much — they’re fair, if not necessarily equal. For more tips on how we deal with chores, read this post from last year — it was a part of Don’t Try This at Home’s Chore Carnival, (where Melanie told me my kids could be cleaning the cat box;)

This month, please share one or two responsibilities your children have mastered, or a chore you’d like to add. Be sure to indicate the ages of your children.

Perhaps we can help each other and challenge our children to New Year’s responsibilities. Believe it or not, your child may appreciate the fact you have enough confidence in him or her to turn over the task.

Thanks for joining in to build assets in your kids! I look forward to seeing you again next month for Positively Speaking.

Kelly Curtis is a Wisconsin school counselor and author of Empowering Youth: How to Encourage Young Leaders to Do Great Things. To read more about Kelly, please visit her Weblog, Pass the Torch or follow her on Twitter.

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