How to boost your child’s self esteem… by asking them to take out the trash!

At Art as Therapy, we are supporters of household chores for kids. We see chores as a unique opportunity for parents and caregivers to support their children in a sense of “I can!” Capacity describes our ability or power to do, experience, and understand things. Our self esteem reflects our sense of capacity – when we believe that we have the ability and power to do things, we tend to feel positively towards ourselves and feel confident in facing any challenges that come our way.

At Art as Therapy, one of our main goals is to build capacity in our clients. We do this by supporting our clients to discover all of the things that they are capable of, at first within the art therapy session, and then beyond that in other areas of their lives. Art therapists get to play the role of cheerleaders – they are often on the side lines of the art task providing guidance or instruction, and observing as clients use their inner power to meet challenges and complete tasks in their own way. By bringing attention to effort, engagement, and improvement, art therapists are able to offer positive feedback for clients and help them to recognize and reflect on their accomplishments within the 50 minute session.

Over time, this process can build self esteem. The art therapist invites the client to engage with a task, the client accepts the challenge and tackles it in his or her own way, and ultimately the client is able to reflect with the therapist and see that they have the power and ability to make changes, to create something new, and to face challenges. Because this sense of capacity is built through concrete experiences in the context of a relationship, it provides a strong foundation for healthy self esteem.

Chores can be another powerful way to build capacity in kids and foster healthy self esteem. Chores are jobs that need to be done around the house – they may seem mundane but they are very important. By assigning your child a chore, you are giving your child a challenge. By entrusting them with an important job, you are also sending the message that you believe that they can do it. This creates a similar framework to what happens in the art therapy session: the parent offers a task, the child is invited to meet the challenge, and the parent gets to step back and observe as a cheerleader.

The benefits of assigning a chore to your child are threefold:

  1. Your child has the opportunity to build a great life skill. Whether it’s taking out the garbage, putting away the laundry, or watering the plants, these are all skills that your child will benefit from learning. Follow the link for a fantastic printable age-by-age chore chart suggesting developmentally appropriate household tasks for little ones starting as young as 2 years:
  1. The assigned chore is one less thing on your to-do list. Parenting expert Andrea Nair emphasizes the importance of making sure that a child’s job is really their She recommends that parents never redo a job that a child has done, or do it for them because they are refusing to do it or because time is running short. When parents do a child’s job, it sends the opposite message that the child is incapable ( The time that you used to spend completing the child’s job is now free time in your day that you can spend investing in your relationship with your child instead – this is a win for everyone.
  1. When your child completes the chore, you have the opportunity to praise your child for something that they can do. Young children are concrete thinkers – they struggle to understand more abstract concepts such as their unconditional inner worth. But when you ask them to do a task and they do it, you can offer praise for something concrete and help them to see how great it is that they can do things like taking out the garbage. You can emphasize how important this job is and help them to understand that they have a very special role to play in the family. Suddenly instead of being the kid who is always being told to quiet down, they become the kid who helps to keep the house from being smelly by taking out the trash. Your praise is very significant as a reward. Not only does it increase self esteem but it also encourages internal motivation for completing tasks, helping children to develop healthy independence.

Gradually over time, children begin to see that if they can take out the garbage, then maybe they can do other things too. Maybe they can try that tricky math problem again, or maybe they can work up to facing their fear of speaking in front of the class. As they build the internal notion of “I can”, they will feel increasingly confident in facing challenges.

What kinds of chores and challenges are your kids taking on? We’d love to hear from you! Call us at 519-307-9000 or send an email to and brag about your housework helpers. If you or your child would benefit from additional support for building self esteem through art therapy, we would love to work with you. Contact us today to set up an appointment.

Written by Rubi Garyfalakis, Art Therapist at Art as Therapy