I listened to a debate between two parents about wether they should require their children to take upon themselves some responsibilities around the house. "Why should I give our child extra burdens?" one parent argued. "After all, we can well afford to hire someone to clean the house, do the laundry and mow the lawn. Let them enjoy a care free childhood. They'll have plenty of responsibilities later on in life." The other parent disagreed: "I want our children to feel a sense of accomplishment and ownership in our home life. That's why I feel it's important that we delegate part of our homemaking responsibilities to them."

In his book, Too Much Of A Good Thing, Dr Daniel. J. Kindlon argues that children who are not presented with age-appropriate challenges and responsibilities—and never experience the "stress" associated with meeting them—will grow up to be adults who are impatent of facing the normal challenges of day-to-day life. Everything will be too hard for them, since they are accustomed to getting everything they want without any difficulties, which is not the way it works in real life. Furthermore, children who don't face challenges are often depressed as teenagers and young adults—they don't see any reason to live, as there is nothing to strive for. They also end up being focused entirely on themselves, and therefore find it difficult to be in a giving relationship.

I suggested to the set of parents who were arguing in my office that instead of demanding of our children to help out on a random basis—which could indeed give them the feeling that they're merely being "used"--we should give each child an area of responsibility. We can tell a seven or eight-year-old child, "you are responsible to that our living room should be clean." We do this by first showing the child how it is done and making sure that he or she understands what the desired results are. If the child requires our help, that's fine; the important thing is that we make the child own the responsibility by us becoming their helpers, rather than them helping us. If for some reason he or she cannot do it this week—let's say that she's studying for exams or he's going away to visit friends for a few days—it is the child's responsibility to get a different family member to fill the task. This way the child understands that he or she is being held accountable for the final desired results.

This exercise will reinforce the following positive attitudes and life skills in our children:

1) Being part of a team

2) Being responsible

3) Having self-pride in achieving the task

4) Being dependable

5) Being less focused on themselves

6) The good feeling that they are making a contribution

Try it—it works!