New Year’s Responsibilities

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.


  1. says

    That sounds like a great system. At ages 3 and 10 months, my girls aren’t really ready for chores yet (although I am sure there are things the 3 year old can do!) but I’m taking all these tips and storing them away for the future.

    I do have one question, though. I’ve heard some people say that as kids get into their teenage years, it’s better to give them LESS chores and responsibilities at home, rather than more. As kids get older, they have more and more school and outside-of-home responsibilities, and rather than just continuing to increase and increase their “chores” at home, it’s better for them to have SOME responsibilities but not overload them with the chores. I guess I’m having a hard time explaining it, but maybe you can figure out what I’m saying. Not that teenagers shouldn’t have responsibility – just that they shouldn’t bear the heaviest chore burden at home, on top of all the other things they have to do. What do you think of that? Just curious!

    As I grew older at home, looking back at it, I can see that the chores my parents gave me in my teenage years weren’t necessarily things like dusting and cleaning the bathrooms, but things I’d need to learn for when I was living on my own, like doing all my own laundry by the time I was in high school, and helping to plan the family meals.

  2. says

    Our 4yo enjoys his chores. I never thought that would be the case, but it’s true. (I should say he’ll be 5 in April)
    He always has to help clean up the toys and his room, he puts away most of his laundry, and when we eat as a family, he sets the table. I get the things down for him, but he sets the table and loves it! He also always helps me get clothes from washer to dryer. While that “help” actually slows me down, he gets too excited for me to NOT include him. Besides, he can very easily clean the lint filter, and he does it w/o risk of breaking something.

    JUNGLEWIFE-as for the teenagers having less responsibilities thing, I can say that I had less chores at home once I had a job. I was in high school but working weekends as a hostess. Had I not been working, I think my chores would have remained.

  3. says

    Junglewife – excellent question. We’re not to the teenage years yet, but I doubt we’ll expect less of our kids when we get there.

    I think the chores may morph into fewer, but more demanding ones, though. I agree with Sharon, that as our kids are more capable of handling bigger responsibilities, we’ll hand them over. Laundry is an excellent example, or cooking one meal per week, or weekly grocery-shopping from my list, once they can drive themselves to the store. I’ve even considered teaching my daughter how to enter bills into Quickbooks.

    These are all opportunities to pass the torch, and although teenagers definitely get busier in high school, I will help my kids to figure out how to prioritize and balance their responsibilities, just like we have to do so as adults.

    Excellent discussion.

  4. says

    It looks like it was Junglewife that did the laundry as a teenager – sorry – I read the comments too fast! It sounds like I’ll steer my future-teenagers toward the kind of the responsibilities you had as a teenager.

  5. says

    Our son (age 7) is asked to clean the table after dinner, dishes put in the sink, wipe the table off and pick up his own toys, but we don’t compensate him for it. This is just part of his routine as a member of our family. Now if I could convince him to scoop the litter box or change a diaper, I’d gladly shell out some cash for that.

  6. says

    My boys always had some responsibilities around the house, which were age appropriate. I never gave an allowance. My thinking is that we are a family and we work together. Now that my boys are teens I am happy to say all 3 of my sons can cook, clean, iron, do the laundry, etc. So when the day comes for them to leave home (which I am trying hard not to think of) they will be prepared to take care of themselves.

  7. says

    Kelly-I think teaching your daughter Quickbooks would be WONDERFUL!! Not just as a chore, but a valuable life lesson. I WISH my parents and taught me financial things like that growing up.

    I honestly think you’d be doing her a favor teaching her!

  8. says

    I am really bad about this, because with just my daughter and I at home, there isn’t really a ton of housework to be done, and sometimes it’s just easier to do things myself. My daughter is turning 7 in a month, and her big “chores” are making her bed every day and feeding the dogs in the morning while I make breakfast. But she is always willing to help out (yes, she is honestly a willing participant) so I can give her little jobs during the day as they crop up. I really probably have to be more structured about it and give her the responsibility of getting something done on her own, instead of just “helping Mom” all the time. Thanks for the reminder.

  9. says

    Sharon – I do think Quickbooks could be a great job for my daughter down the line. Right now she doesn’t seem interested, but I think she may be in the future. And she can’t do a worse job at it than I do;)

    Andi – It sounds like you’re doing a great job encouraging your daughter to be responsible. There really isn’t a perfect recipe – it’s just whatever works in your household.

  10. says

    I’m also doing something like this as well. My oldest two are 4 and 3 and we are just starting chores with them. I bought a great little chore chart for $10 and will start it next week. Simple chores (help me feed the dogs, pick up their toys, help to clean off the table, etc.). It’s great for children to learn responsibility when they are young.

  11. says

    That is a really good idea. Unfortunately I only have one child that is old enough to handle chores. She turns 12 in February. Maybe I will let her chose another chore to add. My little ones (ages 1 and going on 3) just have to pick up their toys and my little girl shares a room with her sister so she helps her sister clean their room. I enjoyed reading this article. Thank you for sharing!

  12. says

    My daughter is about to turn 1 so she obviously doesn’t have chores, but my just turned 3 year old son has had chores since he was nearing two and a half. He lets the dog out and back in in the morning, he gets the dogs food and fills his water bowl, he picks up his toys and he uses the Swifer vac to help clean our wood floors.

  13. says

    My son (age 4) folds all of the washcloths and cloth napkins. He learned the skill at pre-school for folding his work mats, so I knew that he would feel confident and be capable of completing the task successfully. He’s also responsible for putting the dog outside in the morning and in his crate when we leave the house. His sister (2) carries the washcloths to the basket in their bathroom and their sock piles to their bedrooms to be put away. She helps my husband feed the dog in the evenings – as soon as she can reach, she’ll do the job on her own!


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