My daughter who is just turning six has a difficult time helping around the house. I expect her to feed her rabbit every day, do her homework for kindergarten (reading a short book every day), sweep the kitchen twice a week and clean the rabbit cage once every three weeks. The feeding is okay because we use a chart but the cleaning of the cage is a struggle and sometimes she cries and complains for an hour! The sweeping goes okay though she spends a lot of time complaining about it, but reading her book is another struggle, and often we end up doing it just before bedtime. I use a chart and if the chores are done she gets her allowance and privileges like visiting friends or playing games on the computer. The rabbit cage cleaning is such a struggle that I am considering getting rid of the rabbit. My daughter has agreed to this but I feel sad about it because we all enjoy the animal. I wonder if I should take care of it myself, or would that teach her to simply drop the animal after getting bored with it?
You daughter is just turning six and being that age is demanding in itself, yet I respect your need to teach her responsibility. You are on the right track in teaching that responsibility equals freedom, but your expectations are a little high considering her age.
At six, children need lots of time to play, as play is where they work out their problems and try out new creative things. They need to play with friends to develop their social skills. They also need lots of rest, and “recovery time” after school.
The best way to teach responsibility to our children is to include them in our daily routines, taking the time to let them help us in areas that interest them. This strengthens the parent/child relationship and teaches children the spirit of being responsible. The natural experience of enjoying a pancake that we made together or being in a clean home that we all enjoy is the true teacher.
It’s reasonable to expect your daughter to be responsible for her self-help routines such as getting ready in the morning, but even there you need to offer support where she may need it. Slowly as she matures she can help a little around the house. Having “five minute tidies” where everybody runs around and picks up things can actually be fun. Change the jobs so they don’t get boring and she keeps learning new things. Let her have some choice in which jobs she does and when she does them.
Paying children to do regular household tasks tells them that it isn’t really their responsibility and teaches them that work should always be rewarded rather than being a contribution to the family. Perhaps you could rethink the allowance and detach it from her chores. Your daughter also needs to have an allowance on a regular basis so that she can learn how to manage money. Removing the allowance when chores are not done takes away that opportunity for learning.
At six your daughter needs to play with her friends because that is where she will learn a very important responsibility – how to interact with other people. It is fine to say, “When we finish our five minute tidy, then you can go.” At her age “when – then” is very effective and the reward of gaining that freedom is immediate. This hands the responsibility over to her in a much more positive way.
My daughter at eleven has a pet too, and I appreciate how quickly they become a part of the family. Who would ever think you could bond with a rodent? Cleaning the cage is tough work for her, and sometimes it just feels like too much, so I often help and it becomes a time of enjoying our little pet together. Having flexibility with responsibility issues such as this won’t teach your daughter to be irresponsible. When you can be flexible and help her, she will also be flexible with you in other areas. The frustrating arguments about chores take away from learning about responsibility. Make the cage cleaning something you do together, knowing that your daughter is still young and really at a level where she just needs to be helping you rather than taking total responsibility.
With regard to homework, why not make reading her story of the day a part of your mother-daughter time together just before the bedtime routine or after school while eating a snack? A child in kindergarten needs parental involvement with her homework, and you need to teach her how to organize her time around these demands as they increase throughout the years.
Slowly hand responsibility over to your daughter and she will embrace it. Support her and include her in your routines so she feels she contributes to the family in a meaningful way. Have the consequence of freedom immediately follow taking responsibility.