How to Teach Your Kid That Work Has Value

Dear Kid Whisperer,

My oldest child is ten. He recently had a friend over for dinner. The friend remarked that he was surprised that my son didn’t have to clear the table after dinner. This friend started talking about the chores that he had to do and was beside himself when he learned that my child didn’t do any chores. I have always felt that being an adult is hard, and that you are only young once, and that parents should give kids their youth to be kind of care-free, but now I’m wavering. -Carrie, Des Moines, Iowa


Yes, adult life is hard, and it is a whole lot harder if you are unprepared for it. One of the best ways to make sure our kids are unprepared for life is to treat them like guests at a five-star hotel for the first 18 years of their lives.

Who came up with this idea that it serves children to go on an 18-year vacation before (hopefully) leaving the house? How is that helpful? And who came up with the idea that it is the sole responsibility of adults to contribute work for the good of the family?

Having interacted with tens of thousands of kids throughout my personal and professional life, and having been an entitled kid myself, I can tell you that kids who are raised as if they are hotel guests tend to feel entitled to things for which most adults have to work. They tend to be less appreciative and enjoy things less. They are more likely to think that someone other than them is responsible for entertaining them, and they are more likely to feel that someone besides them is responsible for their happiness.

Chores show kids that they are responsible for the healthy maintenance and sustaining of the family and thereby the world. This promotes self-esteem considerably more effectively than praise. It shows kids how important they are instead of telling them.

Here’s how I would break the news to your kid:

Kid Whisperer: Oh, buddy. I need to apologize to you. When you were a baby, you couldn’t do anything, and as you grew up into the smart, strong, big kid that you are now, I never adjusted my expectations. I think I have been fixated on making your life as easy as possible instead of allowing you to get prepared to be an adult, which is going to happen really soon. Starting today, you are going to begin daily chores so that you can help support our household.

Kid: But I don’t enjoy doing things.

Kid Whisperer: I hear you. You will start with just taking out the trash and feeding the dog tonight. Every day when you get home from school, there will be a short list of chores to do each night. You are free to do the things on the list before or after you get your homework done, and you can do other things as soon as you are done with both your chores and schoolwork.

Kid: This isn’t fair! I’m not going to do any chores! I am a child and am entitled to the things that I desire!

Kid Whisperer: Oh, dear. No problem. I thought you might say that, so I asked Tommy from next door to do your chores for you, just in case you didn’t want to contribute. He charges $50 per hour to do other kids’ chores. He’s very excited to get to work. He said he accepts either cash or video games as payment. You can choose. I love you and I know you’ll figure this out!

You can either teach your kid that work has value, and that lazy people don’t get and keep the things they want, or, once he completes his 18-year vacation, the world may have to teach him this for the rest of his life.