Q. I'm a single, working mom who works very hard trying to juggle all my responsibilities. My two children, aged nine and eleven, don't do anything to help out at home and this frustrates me to no end. How do I get them to do something?

A. As parents we are so crammed with our own workload, we may fail to take the time to delegate chores and teach our children responsibility. Many of us find it a whole lot easier to do the job ourselves than to cajole our children into doing tasks themselves, even their own. We go about making their beds, preparing their lunch bags, writing notes to their teachers excusing their lateness until we feel that we've had it. Waiting until we're pushed to the wall, when we're rushing around during tense moments when our nerves are high strung, such as right before important guests are due to arrive, can backfire. We end up barking out the order and demanding they do things NOW.

Responsibility is not an inborn character trait that some have and others lack. Taking the energy and time – quiet time – to teach our children to help with household chores is an important foundation in chinuch (Jewish education - which is defined in the Torah as "inauguration" and "initiation"). It is also a great investment.

Training children to contribute to household tasks gives them a wonderful sense of belonging; it makes them feel like important members of the home. It provides them with a taste of the joy of giving. As children learn to take care of themselves, they learn to show concern for others. While they learn to be responsible for their own lives, they learn to be responsible for their own happiness.

Teaching children responsibility is the greatest gift you can give them. The trust you have in them to accomplish various tasks, does wonders to their self image. It gives them the confidence to acquire new skills and to strive for achievement. They also gain a greater measure of independence. Children who are given responsibilities learn to become independent and can confidently deal with challenges that come their way.

The first step in teaching responsibility is to give your child responsibilities, such as washing the dishes, setting the table, sweeping the floor. This conveys the message to your child that you trust in his ability to live up to your expectation and that you believe in him. It also gives your child the confidence and the courage to carry out his new tasks. It's a wonderful opportunity for him to prove how capable he really is, both to you and to himself.

Unlike forcing, demanding or insisting that your child do what you ask right away, teaching responsibility is a process that takes time, patience and restraint, but it accomplishes a lot more than merely getting the job done.

It's the attitude that counts:

  • Speak to your child lovingly. Explain that you notice that he's capable of vacuuming or cleaning his drawers, or folding the laundry.
  • See the tasks you give him to do as the privilege that it is, rather than a burden you just want to get rid of.
  • Make him feel it's an important and respectable job.

Have a plan of action:

  • Keep a schedule. Have a regular time each day to do chores – routine is the critical thing.
  • Be specific. Does "take out the trash" refer to every wastebasket in the house or just the one in the kitchen? Does it include lining the basket with a new bag?
  • Demonstrate. Show him how to sweep the floor. Watch him doing it himself the first few times.
  • Respect him even when he makes mistakes (don't we all?). Trust that he's capable of rectifying his mistakes.
  • Do not redo children's work. Resist the temptation to smooth out the wrinkles on your child's bed after he made it.
  • Offer your help if necessary.
  • Teach efficiency. Show him how he can make one trip to the bedroom carrying four items instead of four trips carrying one item each time.
  • Shower him with encouragement. Children need lots of positive strokes. Encouragement for even their smallest accomplishment will go a long way in helping him perfect his skills.