Assign them jobs.
Start by picking specific jobs for each of your kids. Depending on their ages, select chores like picking up toys, setting the table, or loading the dishwasher.
If the bathroom gets a bit chaotic after showers, assign someone to “spiff-up-the–bathroom duty.” Have them empty the trash, straighten towels on the towel racks, and wipe the wet counter with a paper towel.
Even your little ones can do simple jobs like “shoe duty.” Just show them how to match pairs of shoes together, and let them organize all the shoes by your front door. Make it fun by giving them an important job title.
Clarify your expectations.
Make sure they know what you’re asking them to do. Requests like “clean your room” or “study your spelling words” make sense to us. But do your kids understand exactly what you want?
Try to ask for specific, concrete tasks like picking up toys off the floor, folding their clothes, or writing a spelling list three times.
You’ll also want to give them the amount of time they have to complete the task—and tell them to be ready for mom’s inspection! Deadlines train children to use their time wisely. Plus, you’ll be preparing them for working for an employer or studying in college one day.
Give some on-the-job training.
Teaching independence isn’t about handing your kids a list of tasks, without any instructions. If you want them to fulfill your expectations, show them how to do the job well. Then, supervise their first attempt at it.
Inspect what you expect.
At first, check their work every day at the end of their time limit. If they consistently meet the goals you set, inspect every other day or spot check randomly once a week. If their work doesn’t meet your expectations, show them how they can do the job better next time and keep checking for improvement.
For schoolwork, you’ll always want to check and grade the big things like quizzes, tests, and projects. But your goal is to teach them to do their chores and daily work—like homework and assigned reading—so well that soon you won’t even think of checking them.
Praise good work.
Whenever they do their jobs well, let them know how much you appreciate their hard work. Words of affirmation help children feel loved and confident in their abilities. So make sure you acknowledge their effort!
Kids love surprises, even little ones. If they did a good job cleaning their rooms, hide their favorite candy bars somewhere for them to find later. If they finished their reading homework without being reminded, put a little note with stickers into their next lesson’s reading. These unexpected treats are the perfect incentive.
Let them raise their own standards.
It’s tempting to compare our kids to each other or to other people’s kids. But the best standard for each child is his own best effort. Use that as the standard—not how fast a sibling can do the same task.
Try to find a standard that stretches but isn’t too challenging. And remember to consistently build your expectations. If you switch from very high expectations one week to very low standards the next, your kids won’t believe you care about their work—and they’ll be less motivated to work hard.