How to teach responsibility to children through chores and allowance

I have a friend who runs her house like a well-oiled machine. Each child has a job chart that lists daily and weekly duties. Consequences and rewards for completing jobs are clearly defined. Her kids are up by 6, get dressed without reminders, practice the piano before breakfast and do their homework before they leave for school. I really believe she’s from another planet!

Then there’s my house. I tried my friend’s approach for about a week. My kids rolled their eyes at me, and frankly, I found it exhausting, trying to remember to keep everyone on task and put a sticker on the chart every time someone completed a job.

My approach is a bit more laissez-faire. My kids know that before they leave for school, they have four jobs: beds made, laundry put in hamper, teeth brushed, get the puppy potty pads changed, and dishes loaded in the dishwasher.

After school, I expect my kids to do their homework, practice the piano and pick up after themselves. I don’t do sticker charts and I don’t give allowances. My kids just know that before they can play, the essentials have to get done.

Saturday mornings are work / “get-it-done” days. We know as a family that we’ll spend a couple hours working every Saturday, but the jobs vary and I don’t have a specific job chart. We just decide as a family what needs to get done, write up a list, and we each take a job until the list is done. Then we play as a family.

So which approach is the right one? I don’t think there is a right or wrong approach. My friend is a stay-at-home mom with a highly focused, energetic personality style. It’s important to her to have a clean house, and she’s happiest when things are organized. I work 30-40 hours a week, and while I need a certain level of cleanliness, I’m not going for immaculate. And if there’s a way to make the job simplier – we do it: brush the dog’s teeth, or give him a greenies dog treat? The treat wins every time!

The important thing, I think, is to find an approach that works for you — and your kids. As a drill sergeant, you may coerce kids into getting work done, but are you building relationships or really teaching responsibility? Roger Lewin once said, “Too often we give children answers to remember, rather than problems to solve.” If your strategy for instilling responsibility frequently results in screaming matches and resentment, perhaps it’s time to find a new approach.

Another friend has a philosophy that goes something like this: Teaching kids the proper attitude about responsibilities is more important than finding the perfect schedule or chore chart. She says, “I want my kids to know that we have a clean house because we’re happier. We can invite friends over without embarrassment and we know where things are.” If kids grow accustomed to the peaceful feeling that comes from a well-organized home and life, they’re more likely to want those things as adults.

Author Bio: Jane Warren loves nature, outdoor water activities and animals. She maintains a website,, that offers tips for pet lovers on pet care and products, and training. Jane has several pets, and has fostered many more.

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