Kids Need to Be Doing It For Themselves


I had the great pleasure of going to a presentation by Dr. Karyn Gordon at Eldest’s school recently.  Her talk was entitled “Raising Kids in an Age of Overindulgence,” and I came away from the night with so much practical help.  If you ever get a chance to hear her in person, take it.  She’s not only a wonderfully dynamic speaker, her talks are crisp, on-point and so well organized.

The piece that resonated most strongly with me, and that fits so well for our month of posts on Doing It Yourself, was her discussion of how parents have to stop over-functioning for their kids.

Are you your child’s alarm clock/maid/chef/chauffeur/laundress/bank machine?  Do you find yourself resentful and stressed in one or more of those roles?  Do you notice that your kids are not in the least bit motivated to act for themselves because you are their snowplow, clearing their path through life for them?

Gordon used the image of a teeter-totter to illustrate her point: when one person does all the work on the see-saw, the other person slacks off and stops working.  When you do too much for your children, they not only fail to learn how to cook/clean/manage time/manage money/eat well/etc, they stop looking for ways to learn those skills.  Why should they?!  You have removed all their motivation to do so by doing it yourself.

Well, in the spirit of DIY month, I did an inventory of the ways I may be over-functioning for my kids, and I handed in my resignation as the household alarm clock, bank machine and short order cook.  “Kids,” I said, “from now on, you will be doing more for yourselves.”

You know what?  It worked beautifully!

Eldest is already his own alarm clock, and at 13 he gets up, out the door and onto the subway before I am awake most days.  But I sat down with Middlest and Youngest and helped them to write up their morning routine and timetable.  I’m still prompting them to look at the clock, but there’s no more nagging about time to get dressed/brush teeth/pack backpacks.  Glorious.

Then I took the little kids out to the toy store with their wallets and let them loose.  When we travel without their money, it’s an endless litany of “Can you get me this?” from the snack booth at the subway to the candy machines at the rink to the impulse items in the check out lines.  I am very good at sticking to my guns and not giving in, but I do get so, so very tired of saying no.  This time, I took them to the bank machine to check their bank balances and then set them loose.  They spent over an hour looking at Lego and video games, then they spent about $10 each.  That’s it, that’s all.  Littlest also bought himself a pack of gum at the subway newsstand and then proudly spent the next week offering all and sundry a piece of gum.  It was wonderful to witness their care and generosity.

And, beginning this week, Eldest will be cooking one family meal a week.  It must be balanced and it must be healthy.  From the age of 13, Gordon says, kids should be able to prepare a simple family meal, and I don’t think I could be happier to let one night of meal prep go.  He is already an able helper in the kitchen, and he makes the most beautiful fruit and vegetable platters, like this one he made for a Habs playoffs game party last year.



I think we are both more than ready for him to take the reins one night a week.

How about you?  What have you happily delegated to your kids?


14 thoughts on “Kids Need to Be Doing It For Themselves

    • Thanks! It really was eye-opening to see in how many simple ways I could transfer responsibility fairly painlessly. (I am a control freak about laundry. Delegating that would be painful!) But it really is so important to ask them to and to let them do things for themselves.

  1. I definitely overdo for my daughter. She’s 8 now and she came to me recently expressing an interest in earning money. So I gave her chores and she loves them. I mean she’s always helped out with everything but I hadn’t really just given her the responsibility. She loves it. Should’ve done it sooner!

    • This is a really interesting (and controversial) topic. Some say kids should not get paid for chores; others say there should be no free money. I do not tie allowance to chores, but I do require them to get done. It’s all pretty fluid. I think the key is that she loves it: it’s obviously a great system for your family!

      • I know. I’ve struggled with that too. She has expectations of helping out which are just part of being a family and does not get paid for those. She also is expected to care for her own things, such as her room without pay. So I devised a way to give her “add on” chores that are “above and beyond” and an amount of money she can earn. Then, she gets to choose to do them and earn the money or not. I feel like this is a good compromise for me in terms of “paying” her to do things.

  2. Love this! I happily resigned the sorting of laundry. The boys know on Friday morning to get their laundry into the hallway and sort it. They also know that they need to load the machine and start it. I will still fold, but they must put it all away.

    • See, I’m a control freak about the laundry. I don’t want anyone to screw it up with a red sock! But since laundry does not stress me out, quite the opposite, I enjoy it, I’m content to keep that on my list of chores. The dishwasher, though! Oh I wait for the day that all the boys are tall enough to empty it!!

  3. I’m a firm believer in kids doing for themselves, as well as contributing to household tasks. They’ve been helping out as they were able from a very young age and new responsibilities get added as appropriate. So happy to hear I’m on the right track!

  4. I totally agree. I started now with my children and the only thing I do is assist them. At the age 3 and 2 my little boys know when they wake up in the morning they make up their bed. At their young age I’m not looking for perfect bed make up more so of the concept. Also after dinner one of them stack their little chairs and the other gets their little broom to sweep the area where they ate at. They have grown to like it and without me telling them they know to clean up behind themselves.

  5. I have 2 kids and gave one of them the daily chore of always making sure the clean dishes are put away and the other has to empty out the trash, replace the new trash bags daily as well as walk to the mailbox everyday. I also made a list of the other chores that they can do to earn money.

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