03 Jul Kids’ Chores
Summer holidays afford more time and the opportunity for everyone to lend a helping hand. Although children don’t want a summer of “work”, they do need to have some time each day to contribute to the orderliness of the home and its cleaning. Having a 10 minute work spurt in the morning at a set time is a good way to go. Whether you assign each child a task, a room to tidy or pass them a piece of paper listing tasks (water deck plants, sweep porch), it’s a good way to do a quick blitz to keep the place looking respectable and functioning. Another spurt in the afternoon, tops it up. With many home for the summer, maybe orderliness will trump cleanliness so that you can find what you need, have rooms look decent and not worry so much about “perfect”. Summer has to afford fun in the sun, some sand in the house and fingerprints here and there. Some parents put together a job jar filled with slips of paper listing odd jobs that don’t take too long. When children complain they are bored, they are asked to take something from that jar to do. This can help whiners to simmer down and be more creative in using their time well. Others put sticky notes as reminders for regular tasks needing to be done, ie. feed the dog. It also helps to have ideas of what can keep kids occupied when needed.
It’s true that for many, the topic of chores does not often strike a good chord with anyone in the family. Mom may feel she’s a nag and Dad doesn’t want to be the bad guy always jumping down kids’ throats to get them moving. It often feels so much easier to just let things slide, do it yourself and have peace and quiet. Right? Easy yes, but not the way to go on a regular basis. Kids need to understand that being part of a family is a great privilege and honor. We love each other and we want to help each other. We’ve received a lot and we want to contribute back. Kids don’t think this way, but you must see it in this light. Chores can develop a greater capacity for loving and self-giving.
As soon as your children have either interest or ability in helping out, enlist them, even as pre-schoolers. Don’t wait for them to volunteer. The kids who are natural tidy-uppers will, but most won’t. You are the one to put them in gear – nicely, firmly and regularly. Whether you have only one child or a dozen, be aware that chores provide fertile training ground for much good. Like what? Let’s see:
- Chores build character (for example personal toughness, responsibility, generosity, patience, perseverance, obedience, and order)
- Chores teach life skills – how to take care of yourself (cooking, cleaning, laundry etc.)
- Learned early in life, these life skills will free up time and energy for more important responsibilities (school, work, family) once they leave home, since the skills are already second-nature.
- Chores build confidence, healthy self-esteem, and independence.
- Chores build a sense of community in the family. Everyone pitches in and everyone benefits by having more family time together with mom and dad.
- Children learn the value of work well done and the importance of dependability.
- By allotting chores, things get done faster. Everyone has more time for fun. There is a greater sense of teamwork, and less sense of resentment, particularly by the mother.
- Children need to feel they are needed and their contribution in the family makes a difference. This gives them a greater sense of belonging and security. Chores provide that opportunity.
- Children have a greater capacity to help out when guests are coming, time is at a premium and parents are stuck due to illness, hospitalization, absence, the birth of a baby and so forth. What an invaluable help this presents!! What self-esteem this can build in a child! All this being said, we still will have attacks of procrastination, whine-aramas, and bums glued to couches. Don’t despair. We all face it. But don’t give in. Start young. Teen years are too late. The lazy hormone kicks in big time by ages 12 and 13. If you haven’t laid good work habits prior to that time, you probably won’t get the cooperation later. You have more important battles in the teen years, so start young and be consistent. The important thing is to understand the child’s abilities, demand what is reasonable in quality and quantity, and most importantly praise, praise, praise. Kids want to see that their efforts, big and small, count and are worthwhile. Here are some tips:
- Preschoolers (2-3 years old) have short attention spans and little ability. However regularly get them to help pick up toys, tidy a room, make their bed etc. They work best when you do it with them. Motivate through great music, singing songs together and little perks. Small kids don’t understand time. Sometimes we work for the span of 5 renditions of the ABC song or Twinkle, Twinkle. Another good method is when/then. For example, when we finish ….(putting the puzzle away, cleaning up the dinky cars ) then we will …. (watch a show, have lunch, play hide and seek etc. ) So strategically think of regular fun moments in the day and precede them by small tasks. Stay calm, smile a lot and don’t give way. These little guys need to know you are in charge, gently but firmly.
- As they approach school age, demand a little more. At one point my twins (4 years old at the time) enjoyed getting a job chart in the morning. It would list 3 or 4 duties for each of them, either drawn or written, and a reward listed at the bottom. The jobs were short, manageable and very helpful to me. It would vary each day. For example – put all the cushions on the couch, put all toys from the living room in a basket, put all shoes in a row. They loved it, enjoyed getting stickers or check marks and were rewarded with something that made them happy, like their daily short movie, a yummy snack or a fun game with mom. Kids also love to work with music. Others might enjoy a race against the clock. Keep the tone positive, because these are good work habits you are forming and kids don’t need a drill sergeant or major hag on their back.
- Once school age, they should be regularly helping out. Realize no chore at any age can be delegated unless you take the time to train them. Some ideas:
- Have them first watch you do it. (For big chores like bathroom or room cleanup, I write out each step on a cue card so they can remember the sequence and approach. The cue card is stored in a drawer in the room for future reference.)
- Next time walk them through it, offering lots of encouragement and a bit of a hand.
- Then supervise them doing the whole thing, offering lots of praise.
- Once competent, it’s theirs. That ensures the job is done and to your liking.
- Eventually, you can fine tune the job to include other details or higher standards.
- Stick to a predictable routine. Decide upon it as a family: who does what, when and how often. Post your chore chart in the kitchen. This alone will save a zillion battles. Everyone refers to the chart and it carries the authority. No one has to be a meanie. Decide at a family meeting how often people are willing to work, when things should switch up, who is capable of what. Listen and then adapt your chore chart accordingly. Also, make sure your children have enough time to get the job done too. Kids don’t operate at adult speed, be patient. For example our children wanted their Saturday house chore to last one month before changing. However their kitchen duties were to change daily. Find the rhythm of your family and adjust accordingly. You will get more co-operation when their input is solicited and reflected in your chore style. Work can be assigned to individuals, pairs, groups etc. with mom and dad included in the mix. Many hands make light work. Here’s an example of our housecleaning chore chart from years back:
CHORE Jan/May/Sept Feb/June/Oct March/July/Nov April/Aug/Dec Tidy, vacuum, dust main floor Tidy, vacuum,
dust second floor
Clean bathrooms Tidy toy room
sort toys, vacuum
Wash something, either
floors, walls or windows
- As much as possible stick to your routines. People function better when things are predictable, rather than chaotic. In my house, for example, Saturdays are always house chore days. We all know 1-2 hours are needed to accomplish the mission and it has priority before any fun stuff. Because we are consistent in enforcing it, there are few problems. Kids in my house know no chores, no computers. They bite the bullet and pull their weight.
- Expect what you are willing to inspect. Kids get easily distracted and are quick to pack it in. If you expect them to do the job, you must take the time to inspect the work to see if and how it was done. When your kids know you will be checking, they are more apt to make the effort. I often give kids time frames, ie. I want the work done and inspected before supper. Don’t hesitate either to get them to re-do sloppy work. You can teach a lot of good work habits and attitudes in this way.
- A word of caution: Don’t over or under use your children! Kids who are self-propelled, conscientious workers have a tendency to be overused by you. Be very careful in this! You can drive kids to great resentment if they realize they are being excessively used. I have heard so many women say they don’t want children because their childhood was burdened by excessive work and little play. Be careful! In the same way, some kids seem born slackers. You must put their butts into gear and get them to pull their weight. Don’t hesitate to hold back privileges (TV, computers, desserts etc.) if they don’t follow through. Here the question is one of obedience and generosity. Be nice but be very firm and stand your ground. Understand each child’s strengths and weaknesses; demand appropriately to help them achieve balanced character and harmonious development.
- When your kids start complaining “It’s always the same old thing”, take note. Maybe they need change and variety. Offer to rotate the chores, either on a daily, weekly or monthly schedule. In my house, the kitchen chore list rotates on a daily basis because that’s what the kids liked best. However, they voted that the house chore list rotates monthly. Complaints may also mean it’s time to move on to a newer and more challenging chore. Your kids are growing up. Think of something more grown up to introduce them to.
Regardless stick to your guns in getting your children to do chores. Kids mature not when they can take care of themselves, but when they can take care of others. Chores are a beginning in that direction.
IN MY HOUSE
- Beds made, bedrooms tidy on a daily basis (or school children lose 5 min off computer time for each day not accomplished).
- Weekly house chores as shown in chore chart below (no Saturday computer games for anyone until everyone is done).
- Kids take turns making breakfast for the family with dad.
- Starting in Grade 1, they make their own lunches. We provide possible contents on the counter and they “throw” it together on their own. Must have a drink, sandwich, fruit and/or snack. None are pre-packaged.
- Chore schedules are posted in the kitchen after a family meeting where everyone decides who does what for that year. Family meetings help everyone to have input, provide feedback and negotiate what will get done. Mom and dad have the final say, but it’s important to listen to the kids and incorporate some of their suggestions. We usually assign to the younger children what is appropriate for them and ask the older children to have a say in their responsibilities. This helps them to freely and generously contribute to the family.
- By high school: The kids do their own laundry, ironing, and mending. They also assist mom in grocery shopping, menu planning, and cooking meals. Our kids start off small in each item and work their way to total competence. Some are slower than others and level of enjoyment varies with temperaments. Our kids are not paid for these chores. They know it’s their way of showing thanks for all they are given in the family. This does not mean they never slack off or test the limits. It’s all about teamwork and together we make it happen.
- We engage our children in seasonal work as well, and pay them for it. This includes snow-shovelling, raking leaves, cutting grass, painting, resealing the driveway, cutting down branches, steam cleaning carpets etc. Kids aged 12 and older enjoy learning new skills and growing in confidence. My husband and I would sit down in the month of May or June and come up with a list of tasks needed to be accomplished for the summer. We would then approach the older kids to enlist their help. Now with youtube videos, we can all watch to learn how to effectively and efficiently achieve what we desire. Kids can thus learn to repair their own bikes, cook new recipes and learn new skills.
- Finally, have some flex as they become older teens and young adults who are juggling school, work, social life etc. Find the balance between accommodating and having them help. Every family needs to navigate these times wisely and effectively. Some have a passion for order, others for cleanliness; some have neither. There has to be some give and take, some freedom and responsibility, according to circumstances and relationship dynamics at play.
Read these excellent articles:
- Age Appropriate Responsibilities by Catherine and Joseph Garcia-Prats (used with permission)
- Teaching Your Kids To Be Tidy by Mary Cooney
Good reads on this topics include:
mrscleanjean’s Housekeeping with Kids by Tara Aronson
Confessions of an Organized Family by Deniece Schofield
Secrets of Discipline by Ron Moorish