Raising the Self-Sufficient Child

I’ve blogged about it here at The HSBA Post. I’ve written about it on my own web-site, Raising Autodidacts — how to raise an independent, self-taught individual. But what about raising a self-sufficient child. What is the difference?

By definition, self-sufficiency simply means the ability to provide for oneself without help from others. Whether it’s because I homeschool (I’m focused on facilitating their education) or whether it’s simply my own personality, until recently, I have had the tendency to expect little from my boys in the way of self-sufficiency.  Because I only have two children, and because I like things done a certain way, I tend to step in and deny them the opportunities to become more self-managing.

Please note I used the word “deny” in the previous sentence. If Mom takes care of every little need, what benefit are we ultimately providing? My homeschooling “sisters” with larger households usually figure this out pretty quickly — everyone pitches in, or very little gets accomplished in a timely manner.

My oldest is twelve. Here are several things he is expected to generally do on a daily basis.

  • Make his bed
  • Pick up his dirty clothes (and preferably get them into the laundry basket)
  • Take out the trash whenever he is asked (without complaint)
  • Bring the garbage cans up the driveway after they have been emptied
  • Check the mail
  • Help carry in groceries if needed
  • Take his dirty dishes into the kitchen (we’re not batting a thousand on this one yet)
  • Watch his brother responsibly (no fighting!) when needed
  • Prepare his own drinks and snacks (and get some for brother, too)
  • Water the neighbor’s outdoor plants and feed her fish when she is away in the summer

These are the absolute minimum tasks that we have come to expect. Also, over the past year, he has become something of a stellar pancake maker. With minimal supervision, he can now turn out a batch of perfect chocolate-chip pancakes. We still have to work on the clean-up, but that will come.

My nine year old does not have quite as many responsibilities yet, although his list has started to grow. That is something we have to be careful about, as we all tend to cater to the youngest in the family! We often joke with him, “How did we all end up working for you?”

I would love to hear in the comment section what day-to-day things are expected of your children and whether or not you pay them an allowance. We do not pay allowances, as our boys tend to get plenty of cash from friends and extended family for birthdays and holidays. They are not permitted to spend their money, unless it is something we have discussed as a family and find practical or otherwise useful. If they want something more frivolous (which is rare), we talk about it and occasionally purchase it for them.

If you raise an independent learner, a self-directed, self-taught individual, but fail to equip him with the basic ability to take care of himself, you have negated the mission. I have made a conscious effort over the last few months to delegate more mundane, do-able tasks to my two boys, even if it means it won’t get done as perfectly or as quickly. I’m willing to sacrifice a little bit of perfect so that one day my sons will be self-sufficient young men.

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  1. says

    My children are younger (6, 4, and 2). I struggle with this too, because I like things done ‘the right way’ too. At this point they are all to take their laundry to the hamper. If the dishwasher is open with dirty dishes they can all put their dishes in. The girls can sweep with a small brush and dust pan. They assist in laundry: the oldest can help sort, the others like throwing it into the washer or dryer, the older two are learning to do some simple folding, the oldest two put all of their laundry away (the little guy can put away socks and underpants). The do some minor dusting and take out the recycling and the little trash bags for me.

    We don’t do an allowance yet, but we will give our children more latitude with their spending. We will teach them to tithe, but I learned money management through spending money on my own and learning when I ran out and had something I wanted to do/buy. I was a very good saver!

  2. says

    My oldest is 15 – he can do most all of the chores that I do for our family, including, as we discovered yesterday, carrying heavy furniture with his father while the carpet is being replaced. He changes diapers, helps with the babies, does laundry (his most hated chore, which he’s frustratingly slow at), and clean the kitchen. My 13yo daughter can do all of the chores well, too. Her most hated chore is folding laundry, also – but she usually does it faster than her brother, and letting her use her headphones and listen to music helps! She has learned to cook over the years, too… and is fully able to cook anything I can (almost) – and more than willing to take on the challenge. Especially if you pay her!

    We don’t pay an allowance, either… as I believe we should do things from duty to bless our family. However, if there is a certain thing they want to buy, or a lot of extra chores or cooking to get done, I will offer to pay them an agreed-upon amount if they get the things done. Yesterday we had carpet put in, and I’m planning to pay my son 5$ for helping his daddy carry all the furniture in last night. The day before, he cleaned out the refrigerator and was supposed to mop the kitchen (those are extras that I’m more than willing to pay them to do). Once he gets the mopping done (maybe today), I’ll pay him the 10$ I promised. He will have made 15$ this week, and our family is blessed by it.

    My two little guys are 3 and 1, but even they are required to pick up the toys they scatter. They also put their diapers in the trash after we do them (and we applaud them enthusiastically). They help put the tub toys away before they get out of the bath. We sing little clean up songs as we go about our business. Daddy sometimes lets them water off the back porch where the birds eat seeds, too. Oh, and they take their tippy cups and plastic utensils to the sink (and every now and then we have to dig something out of the trash that winds up there on accident).

    Teaching chores is hard for the perfectionist who would rather do it herself, but it is necessary if you ever plan to have them be proficient and capable of doing it themselves. :) Great topic!

  3. Angela says

    That’s fantastic, Heather, you have very hard working responsible kids — your oldest two are a great example to the youngers! Good job! 😉

  4. says

    Each of my oldest children (6, 4, 2) have assigned chores daily and/or weekly. If they do them thoroughly and with out whining, they receive their commission. My 6 and 4 year old at the end of the week, my 2 year old on the spot. If they don’t do their assigned chores properly, their commission gets docked. Just like in the real world, if Daddy doesn’t do his job, he doesn’t get paid.

    My 6 year old’s assigned chores this week are: Change the bathroom hand towel daily, wash the breakfast dishes daily (we don’t have a dishwasher), sweep after lunch daily, and vacuum weekly.

    My 4 year old’s assigned chores this week are: Feed the fish daily, sweep after breakfast daily, fold the laundry (whites and towels) as needed, and dust weekly.

    My 2 year old’s assigned chores this week are: Put away shoes daily, and gather and sort the laundry as needed.

    In addition, my children have other chores and things that are expected of them daily (such as make their own beds, and set the table), that they do just because they are a part of the family. I also assign them extra chores as I see fit.

  5. Christine says

    I have an 11 year old boy at home. He is responsible for making his bed, putting away his clean clothes, putting dirty clothes in the hamper, keeping his room and the playroom picked up, setting the table and carrying dishes to the sink, taking care of his leopard gecko, bringing the garbage can down after it’s been picked up, helping carry in groceries and anything random I choose/need him to help me with since Daddy travels during the week. Sounds like a lot when I write it down! If he’s good about doing chores during the week, he gets a small allowance. He’s very into computers, so he spends his money on things for that, like speakers and headsets for games. He’s learning to tithe and save for the things he wants, and sometimes Daddy and I will surprise him with a new game or something. He can cook a bit, like making the meat for tacos or spaghetti, but Daddy and I do most of the cooking. Fortunately for me, he’s a pretty hard worker and willing helper. He helped me paint the inside of the house last spring, and has helped me move furniture and put things together countless times!

  6. Angela says

    Great job, ladies! It sounds like your children are doing terrific jobs of becoming self-sufficient!

  7. Elizabeth says

    I have 8 kids and the 4 oldest, ages 11-10-9-7 can pretty much hold the fort down at any given time along with making simple meals. However, because the older ones are so good at taking care of the house, my younger ones, not counting baby, ages 6-4-3 have picked up the art of laziness. haha I’ve noticed it’s much harder to train them on the chores than it was the older ones. All in time I suppose. Great post BTW!

  8. says

    My chore list for my two, 9 and 10, is pretty similar to yours, Angela. Currently, I’m working on teaching them to cook and clean bathrooms. It hasn’t been easy because housekeeping is not my favorite thing, but they do it cheerfully!

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