Archive for the ‘How chores empower children’ category

Chores build champions

September 9, 2010

Esther is a champion athlete who did chores a child. Chores teach self-discipline and nurture self esteem. Even though she's been in a wheelchair since she was 8 years old, her parents expected her to do chores. That's good parenting skills. That normalized Esther. She contributed to the family welfare.
Esther Veeger is a champion tennis player. Photo: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images in the Boston Globe.

Esther Vergeer of the Netherlands has won 393 straight singles tennis matches. She’s playing this week at the US Open, and has been ranked number1 in the wheelchair division for 11 years, since she was 18.

Bud Collins of the Boston Globe described in a column today how Esther became paralyzed from the waist down at age 8.

While recovering from the shock and adjusting to the loss, Esther said that her parents were supportive and not over-protective.

“Of course my parents did all they could, but they promoted self-sufficiency too. I had my household chores,” Esther told Collins.

Chores allow Esther and all children to contribute to the common good, feel useful, and to be part of a team. Chores require self-discipline — also known as “doing something whether you like it or not because you have to or it’s good for you.”

Chores are even more essential for disabled children because they start out with a disadvantage. They can gain confidence from doing chores, along with everything else.

I need self-discipline to exercise regularly, eat right, work, and show up when I promise for people in my life. I had chores growing up even though our family had a housekeeper. There’s plenty of work to do around the house that children can do.

Children don’t need to get up at dawn to milk cows. Chores can be as simple as setting the table or taking out the recycling every day. The chores must belong to the child. If the child does not do them, they don’t get done.

Parents can use what I call the DoubleE — encouragement and expectation — teamed with a family meeting to set up a chore system. See my free tip sheets on how to have a family meeting. The self-discipline learned from chores makes children better students, too. More on that soon.

Pep up August doldrums with a backyard circus

August 9, 2010
children and summer doldrums can be cured with some fun activities like a backyard circus, doing chores together like baking bread, sewing, having a yard sale, working together. Working together for fun and to create something teaches teamwork, builds a relationship and teaches a work ethic. Work can be fun. Doing childhood chores prepares children for school and life. chores are a way to teach children myriad skills. Celebrate the opportunity.

This photo is from and their third-annual backyard circus. Brooke describes how to do have the circus, requested to celebrate her birthday.

It’s August. Summer is wearing off and school routines look appealing. Here are some activities to enjoy with children. I suggest one organized activity per day with a parent. If a young persons says, “I’m bored,” solve it by saying, “Here’s a mop and a bucket, wash the kitchen floor.” Make a salad or dessert for dinner. The garden needs weeding. Organize the tools in the workshop. Help me clean out a closet or kitchen cupboard.

Fun creative activities – set them up and help when needed.

Help children set up a backyard circus. Let them take the lead as much as possible. Invite friends and neighbors to participate and adults to watch at 6 pm. Go here for more info.

Build a blanket fort. Decorate a big cardboard box and have lunch inside it. Act out the story in a picture book or a fairy tale. Set up a pretend school. Have an “Olympic” competition in the neighborhood – a bike race, foot race, three-legged race, relays and more. Let them play with the hose. Give them squirt guns or spray bottles and water balloons with the ground rule they must play outside and cleanup.

Parent-child activities – do together.

Cook something ambitious with them such as homemade soft pretzels, bread or whoopee pies. Make ice pops out of juice. Get an ice cream maker at a yard sale and use it once.

Work in the yard and garden. Clean out a closet, the fridge or freezer, chicken coop, garage, attic or whatever. Plan and hold a yard sale – negotiate how to share the proceeds. Sew or build something together. Paint a room. If it’s a child’s room, let them choose the color. Sponge paint a small room or bathroom. Even young children can help with this one. Lower your standards and remember that it can always be painted over. Have fun. Clean all of the windows in the house, or on the first floor. Fix a flat tire of a bike together and do other simple maintenance.

If your children are not used to working around the house with you, start slowly. Have a family meeting and suggest some of the above activities and let them choose which one they’d like to participate in, or ask for their help. Expect, encourage and appreciate their efforts. You are planting seeds for a lifelong work ethic and a strong family bond.

Set up a time frame in advance to work together. They’re more willing when there’s an end in sight. Younger children can participate for 30 or 40 minutes, older children for an hour or two; tweens and teens can take on projects for a half day or all day. You are nurturing a relationship, teaching them a work ethic, and sharing a new skill with them. It is worth the investment in time and energy. Welcome their suggestions on how to tackle the project and follow their lead when possible.

“Raising Able” — a good parenting book

July 6, 2010
Raising Able is about how to be a good parent. More than how to discipline your toddler, child, tween and teen, the good parenting book is about how to set up a positive relationship for life while nurturing your child's self esteem. Encouragement, natural and logical consequences, love and logic, family meetings, chores and family dinner are all part of the package. Family chores empower parents, children, tweens and teens. STart chores as young as 2 years old and continue until they're 22 years old.

Me and my book, "Raising Able: how chores cultivate capable young people."

Many people are liking the book and posting reviews at on how it helps them retire from being the house servant while empowering children.

Below is a review I like because it shows how children and dogs respond to consistency, clear expectations and encouragement. Dogs and children do not have to suffer to learn! Well-behaved children and dogs are nicer to be around. I love that she says the book has no “academic blather.”

By the way, Judy has written her own book available on Amazon about her journey with her Labrador Tucker and their amazing healing journey together after Tucker had a stroke.

THANKS to Judy and all other reviewers. Order a copy of the book from my website or from Amazon. Let me know how the  book helps you retire from being the house servant while building your child’s self-esteem and capability. Post a comment below or email me at susan [at] susantordella [dot] com

5.0 out of 5 stars Not just for parents, July 5, 2010
By Judith Wolff (Acton, MA USA) – See all my reviews
This review is from: Raising Able: How chores cultivate capable confident young people (Paperback)

“Raising Able” (love the double-pun title!) is full of practical, workable tips for running a household or, for that matter, a business or classroom. The advice applies not only to raising kids, but also to training dogs, getting the cooperation of a spouse, motivating employees, and even getting yourself organized to tackle chores you’ve been putting off. (I’m curious to try Susan’s fun “volcano” trick for cleaning toilets.)

I’m impressed by how similar the techniques are to positive training for dogs: (1) encouraging (or reinforcing) behavior you want (2) breaking chores down into small tasks is analogous to splitting a new behavior into smaller chunks (3) using actions rather than words: the great dog trainers speak little and wait for the dog to offer the desired behavior (ignoring everything else), avoiding excess chatter. (4) setting boundaries: My dog lives under the rules of NILIF (Nothing In Life Is Free), where he “earns” good stuff (play, swimming, treats, attention), by his behavior. Because my dog has learned to control his behavior, he is more confident, independent, happier, and better able to do his “job” as a companion. Just like raising capable human children.

“Raising Able” is so highly readable that you won’t even notice that it is based on sound principles of learning theory and behavior modification, because instead of launching into academic blather, the author entertains us with personal anecdotes from her family and many other people.

Provide structure for teens and tweens this summer

June 28, 2010

A few weeks before the end of my oldest daughter’s sophomore year of high school, I realized, We’re going to drive each other crazy if we’re both home together. I said, “Casey, how about if you get a job this summer? I’ll drive you up to Four Corners and you can fill out some applications.”

After two fights — one at home and one outside of the grocery store — she slammed the car door behind her. “I’ll pick you up here in an hour,” I said. She didn’t answer. “Did you hear me?” Casey nodded and stomped off. She applied at four stores and avoided Papa Gino’s. “I just couldn’t go in there. They looked too weird,” Casey reported. The next week, Casey started working at Boston Market. The job opened up all kinds of opportunities for her and her two younger brothers who followed in her footsteps. I had to use the power of expectation, encouragement and demand to get her to take the first step.

Teens and tweens need structure – some activities or work around which to structure their summer. It could be a combination of camp, contributing to the family, paid jobs and/or volunteer work. It needs to be something besides texting, sleeping until noon, and surfing the web. Start by having a family meeting and ask your children of all ages what their goals, plans and hopes for the summer. Make a list. Set a budget for special activities.

Talk about how they could contribute to the family for the summer , such as cooking dinner once a week, making dessert or salads a few times a week, caring for or driving younger siblings,  cleaning, yard work, car care, house painting, painting their bedroom, a building, sewing or craft project, reading, writing, learning an instrument, computer repair, pet care and training. If they want to start a business or provide a service, help them with publicity by making a flyer and distributing it and putting up a website.

Negotiate what they’ll do for the family by what date, and hold them to it. Do not pay them unless they pay you for everything you do for them. Doing something for money is the lowest form of motivation. Appreciate their efforts loudly and often by saying, “The lawn looks great. Thanks.” “Dinner was delicious. I really appreciate coming home to a home-cooked meal at the end of the day.” “Do you need more thread for that project? I can pick it up for you on the way home tomorrow.”

Build on interests that they can do at home, online or outside the home. Teens will need help connecting to volunteer work, jobs working for neighbors and finding paid work. Call your network of friends, neighbors and co-workers to inquire about volunteer and paid work. Even two to four hours a week gives them a focus.  Lookup telephone numbers for them. Assist them in filling out applications and rehearsing for interviews. Encourage them – which means, to give courage, especially as they are starting something new. “You can do it” are four of the most powerful words in the English language.

When my son Ian graduated from high school he had no summer job lined up. I was furious that he expected to loaf all summer before going to college. I opened up the phone book to “Moving companies” and began calling them until I got him a telephone interview with the owner of a small company who gave Ian a chance. He got some fantastic experience and built his confidence. By midsummer, Ian found another job working as a carpenter, through a friend-of-a-friend. It was easier work than moving. Ian had responded to my expectation and encouragement to work during the summer. It paid off in more ways than one.

Dirty dishes and roommates

May 28, 2010
I hate people who leave dirty dishes in the sink all day long, soaking. It's gross and disgusting. Teenagers can be difficult. positive ideas to deal with difficult teens.

Ugh. A dirty pan left in the sink all day.

I HATE finding dirty dishes left in the sink. I work from home so today I’ll be looking at this gross pan all day.

I guess Kristen, 22, forgot I wrote a book on how childhood chores cultivate capable confident young people and that I’ve retired as the family servant!

It’s ironic because Kristen lived with three slobs in her apartment during her senior year of college. Their kitchen and bathroom were disgusting. No one ever cleaned up their mess. When I saw the kitchen last week, it was pretty bad. Kristen said it was relatively clean compared to its usual condition.

Maybe I’ll leave her a copy of my book where she can see it. The note is a form of mutual respect. It’s better than nagging. It’s how I would treat a roommate.

why can't people clean up after themselves? I get tired of writing nice notes. TEenagers can learn to clean up and behave.

A note is a form of mutual respect. Did she forget I wrote a book on chores?

Motivate without money

May 26, 2010
This is thankless work, requiring high motivation. Daniel Pink has written a book called "Drive: the surprising truth about what motivates us." Encouragement is really important, and he also identifies master, autonomy and purpose. I had to have all three to motivate me to do this thankless task.

I'm putting nets around Purple Loosestrife to grow beetles to kill other loosestrife.

I just read “Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us” by Daniel Pink. I was so impressed by the book that I included some of his ideas  in the next edition of my book, “Raising Able: How to retire as the family servant,” about how childhood chores are a valuable teaching tool.

Pink says money is the LEAST motivating factor, even though it is the most commonly offered reward to influence the behavior of others.

Mastery, autonomy and purpose are the strongest motivators of people and primates, according to research, Pink reported.

Researchers were astounded to find monkeys puzzling over puzzles long after the rewards were consumed — for the sheer challenge of figuring out the puzzles.

It’s the same with motivating children, spouses, employees, co-workers and friends and neighbors. People want to work for mastery, autonomy and purpose. When people are given the freedom [autonomy] to do a job right [mastery], they can connect to the purpose behind the task, according to Pink.

So it is with children, who also like to contribute to the family good because it proves their family depends on them, they are important and they belong.

You’re asking, “Why the loosestrife photo?” It was a thankless job with several complex steps to grow a crop of beetles on it [hence the nets] that will reproduce. In six weeks, I’ll deliver the next crop of beetles from under the nets to a waterway clogged with loosestrife and I’ll have done my part to eliminate this invasive species.

What motivated me? Mastery — it was complex; autonomy — no one was making me do it; and purpose — I’m helping the environment. Now I need a glass of iced tea and an hour in the hammock.

Radical idea for family meetings

May 5, 2010

This tip for family meetings comes from

“I know of several families who hold their meetings at places that cater to their favorite hobbies. For instance, one family conducts their meeting at a bowling alley. Once the meeting is over, they enjoy bowling together. Another family combines their gathering with their love of books, by meeting at a café in their favorite bookstore. And yet another family I know holds their weekly meeting after a joyful round of put-put golf. This option combines family communication and fun.”

I love it. It adds spice to family meetings and gives everyone something to look forward to. It builds family fun into the meeting. Having a family meeting somewhere fun is like an off-site business meeting that puts everyone into a jovial mood.

Where would you have your ideal family meeting?

Where are you going to schedule your next family meeting?