My 5-year-old is a pro at helping me move laundry baskets. He takes the job of pushing an overflowing basket down the hallway from my bedroom and into the garage where our washer and dryer are so seriously, that if he sees me even attempting to do this chore myself, he stops me dead in my tracks. This responsibility was born out of necessity when I was having a chronic pain flare-up a few months ago, but now he has a death grip on the task and there's no going back.
Responsibilities that make a child feel special can come in all shapes and sizes. For my son, knowing that he helped me when I was in pain that one time made him feel special and needed, so now when he performs this chore, he gets the same gratification from it.
And it's backed by science, too. Dr. Sarah Hornack, a clinical psychologist at Children’s National Health System, explains why assigning responsibilities to your children can help them feel special. "Taking on new or helpful tasks presents an opportunity for praise and helps children to feel appreciated as they contribute to the household," she tells Romper. "Additionally, learning new chores and being given responsibility builds greater self-efficacy as children get older. This feeling of competence has been linked to other positive outcomes in childhood and adolescence, like academic achievement and the ability to cope with stressors."
Take some inspiration from these 10 responsibilities that make a child feel special if you are looking for ways to give your kid a confidence boost.
1. Caring For Pets
Feeding Fido or scooping out the litter box are simple tasks that teach kids how to care for a living being other than themselves. Although pet care can be messy sometimes, it is a responsibility that parents can assign their kids to show trust. "Even taking out the trash, combing the dog's fur, and cleaning the hamster cage can be signs of special responsibility given to a child," says Maureen Healy, author of The Emotionally Healthy Child and parenting coach at Growinghappykids.com. "When we don't let children take responsibility and complete tasks, we inadvertently rob them of the direct experience of seeing themselves as capable and able to complete whatever they put their mind to."
2. Cleaning Up Their Messes
"It is important for parents to consider development and the age of the child when assigning responsibilities; for instance, toddlers can assist with cleaning up their messes or picking up toys," Dr. Hornack says.
It may seem like a no-brainer to ask your child to pick up after themselves, but doing so can facilitate a sense of responsibility for their own actions and their own things that makes a child feel special or even mature.
3. Cooking A Meal
"Every child is different, but every child wants to feel seen and celebrated," Healy says. "If your son loves to cook, perhaps you can give him the task (with your help, as needed) to pick a special recipe for Friday dinner or dessert. He can be in charge of this menu and you can make this dinner together with him as the head chef."
4. Helping With Organization
"Perhaps your daughter loves to organize. Ask if she can organize the pantry for you," Healy says. "The goal is to match your child with her unique talents and abilities so they can become responsible for contributing to the household." When you play to a child's natural strengths or interests, you're showing them that you care about their abilities and value their involvement, which can make them feel special.
5. Taking Out The Trash
This simple task shows that you trust your child to take responsibility to leave the house unattended and walk the trash to the curb or dumpster. Healy does caution parents to be sure to look for clues that certain tasks aren't helping your child feel valued. "Young children can do simple tasks, but you never want to force them to do something," she says. "For example, if your son's responsibility is to take the trash out, but he's scared because the sun is setting, I would do it for him, and say 'you can do it tomorrow when it's light out.'"
6. Tending A Garden
The mood-boosting benefits of gardening are well-documented, so it makes perfect sense to allow your children the responsibility of planting a garden. Gardening also helps give kids the opportunity to get outside and play in the dirt, which can be a helpful part of balancing their responsibilities with the need for play.
"Parents should monitor their children’s schedules and be thoughtful about ensuring that there is play time during the day," Dr. Hornack says. "Just as work-life balance is crucial for parents to work toward, it is important to recognize the time demands children face like school, homework, extracurricular activities, and chores."
7. Caring For Younger Siblings
"Naturally we can’t expect a 5-year-old to have the same kinds of capabilities and hence take on the same responsibilities as a 16-year-old sibling," says Dr. Gene Beresin, executive director of The Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds. So while both younger and older kids can handle some responsibilities when it comes to caring for younger siblings, the tasks themselves may vary.
Dr. Beresin tells Romper that preschool-aged kids may feel special if they are able to "help feed a younger toddler or give them a toy in the high chair if they are getting fussy," while teenagers may be able to be trusted with babysitting a younger sibling.
8. Cleaning The Car
As your children grow, they may be more inclined to feel special by completing tasks that feel more like something a grown-up would do. "Teenagers can take on more complex tasks like laundry or cleaning the family car," Dr. Hornack says. The closer a child gets to the magical age of 16 where they're inevitably going to ask to borrow your car, the more inclined they will probably be to help clean it.
Additionally, Dr. Beresin says that teenagers may feel special when allowed to use the car to perform tasks for the family. "When they have their license, [they can] pick siblings up from school, sports; or run errands for parents," he says.
9. Helping With Special Occasions
Shopping for birthday gifts or Father's Day cards can be a ton of fun, and Dr. Beresin says that allowing kids to take the lead during these activities can help them feel special. "Kids feel special when they are given a unique age-appropriate responsibility for a special occasion, such as a birthday, wedding, or holiday," he says.
Additionally, children can be given responsibilities for special occasions themselves. "And there are things they can do at special occasions. So making decorations for Mothers’ Day or Fathers’ Day, or putting the candles in a family member’s birthday cake, are special things they can do. They may help clean up the house before guests are coming for a special occasion," he says.
10. Participating In Extracurricular Activities
While this may not sound like a responsibility right off the bat, it does take a certain amount of accountability and balancing of responsibilities for kids to be able to participate in extracurricular activities. "When a child takes on a responsibility to learn a musical instrument, play on a sports team, or assume a responsibility in a community group such as the Boys or Girls Club or in a religious or spiritual community, they realize they are acquiring new skills and are acknowledged by others as a vital part of a team, or a community, [and] their sense of being special is enhanced," says. Dr. Beresin.