Chores: Rolling up our Sleeves

Why are chores important for children’s development, and which chores are appropriate for what age? Michele Dennis tells us more. (Published along with Caring for our Homes…)

There are plenty of parents who incorporate chores into their children’s weekly routine with varying success. What is the reasoning behind children doing chores and how does it benefit our children later in life? Recent research gives parents a renewed incentive to find a way to successfully entice their kids to do their chores.

The research’s list of positive life skills developed through chores is worthy of finding a chore routine that works for your family. These skills include: Less likely to use drugs, an ability to build healthy relationships, higher IQ, more likely to complete their education and get a good start on a career. There are other more practical benefits as well.
Children who do chores gain confidence, have higher self-esteem and a good work attitude. Chores give children an idea of how to run a household and they ease the transition into adulthood.

Research shows that an early start is key; starting as young as three years, the child can put away their toys with you and help you with the daily chores. It does take longer with a little one’s assistance but it is worth it. If you didn’t start early, it is better late than never. You will have more success if you slowly incorporate chores into the child’s life rather than springing a whole schedule on them. It is also important to show children how to do a chore properly; it gives them that life skill and once they get it right it will make your life easier.

Age-appropriate chores

So you are ready to get started — what types of chores can your child do? Here is a list of suggestions for each age group. You know your child best and may come up with ideas of your own or know something is too difficult for them. However, don’t underestimate your child; let them surprise you with what they can do.

•  Two to three-year-olds can put away toys, wipe up spills and feed pets.

•  Four and five-year-olds can do the above and add to that make their bed, empty waste basket, bring in the mail or paper, clear the table, pull weeds and water the flowers. Young children love child-size brooms, wheelbarrows and tools; this will help them get involved.

•  Six and sevens can sort laundry, sweep floors, help make and pack lunches and answer the telephone.

•  Eight and nine-year-olds can put away groceries, vacuum, make snacks, wipe table after meals, put away laundry, sew buttons, cook simple food (supervised if using stove or oven), mop floor and walk pets.

•  Ten plus: add fold laundry, clean bathroom, wash windows, wash car, cook meals with supervision, do laundry, baby sit (with an adult home), mow lawn, clean kitchen, change sheets. They can also help you with budgeting and balancing the cheque book.

Implementing the program

Once you have an idea of what you would like your child to do what is the best way to go about setting up your routine or getting back on track if chore time has become unbearable in your home or you have let things slip?  

Discuss with your child what you would like help with each week. Have a list and let them choose what they would like to do. If the child is very young let them choose between two. Let your child rotate their chores if they prefer to. Your child may also like a checklist they can tick off after they have done their chore. It is also helpful to have spontaneous chores so children get used to doing things around the house that are not on their list.

If you are having trouble getting your child motivated don’t nag or criticise. If the chores are not done on time try offering to do it for them in exchange for one of your chores. This exchange should not be a threat, just an option. Remember to be positive and be specific. Let your child do some fun chores and include them in the decision-making and planning.

Sometimes with older children and teens, the request to do a task will be met with sighs, eye rolling or moodiness. There is no need to waste your energy engaging negatively with those responses. Simply ignore them and carry on, maintaining an unemotional, matter-of-fact attitude. The more the role of chores in the household becomes just another given, the easier it will become. If your children are out of the habit of regular chores, it might take a while to normalise. But remember, stay consistent, positive and firm.

To pay or not to pay?

Paying your child to do chores may undo everything you have worked for as far as instilling the proper values in your child, and go against the reasons for having them do the chores in the first place. However, it can be a useful tool once the child is old enough to understand financial matters. Decide ahead of time what chores you will pay for. There are extra chores, not a part of their weekly schedule, that might serve this purpose such as washing the car or cleaning windows. Then talk about the job and what you are willing to pay for having it done. After, check to be sure the job has been done well before you pay for it. You could also have a list of regular chores with bonus ones at the end and if all regular chores are done and the bonus chore, they can receive the pay for the bonus chore.

About teens

Teenagers have busy schedules and it can be difficult to get them to contribute around the home; however, it is more important than ever. Be sure their workload is manageable. On the other side of the coin, teenagers are on the cusp of adulthood and need to know how to survive on their own. It is our responsibility as parents to give our children the life skills they need.

The approach to household chores will be different especially with older teens. A teenager’s room should be their own space as most teens see their room as an expression of their individuality. As a parent, it can be difficult to back off but there are natural consequences to having a messy room — clothes that don’t make it to the laundry don’t get washed, or you are late because you can’t find things in your room. You can avoid lots of headaches by letting the room take care of itself.

With teens you can have a family meeting and discuss how much needs to be done around the house and what is a reasonable contribution they can make. Teens can choose from a variety of chores: menu planning, shopping lists, preparing meals, garden maintenance, doing the shopping, doing the laundry and folding, replacing light bulbs and vacuum bags, clean the refrigerator, light carpentry tasks, painting and washing windows.

If you do already have a chore routine with your children, but it has digressed into a constant battle, especially with older kids, maybe you can give it a positive boost by doing some bigger jobs together such as cleaning out the garage, or planting a veggie garden. It becomes terrific family time.

With all the reasons that chores benefit a child later in life there is no reason not to try incorporating chores into your family’s routine. It may be a bit of a struggle at first as everyone adjusts to the changes but it is worth doing. 

What the research says

University of Minnesota research shows that involving children in household tasks at an early age teaches them responsibility, competence, self-reliance and self-worth — qualities that stay with them throughout their lives.

Using measures of the individual’s success (such as completing education, starting a career path, IQ scores, relationships with family and friends, and not using drugs) and examining a child’s involvement in household tasks, Marty Rossmann, U of M Associate Professor of Family Education, determined that the best predictor of young adults’ success in their mid-20s was that they participated in household tasks when they were three or four. However, if they did not begin participating until they were 15 or 16, the participation backfired and those subjects were less ‘successful’.

Common wisdom holds that IQ and motivation have a strong bearing on success, but she found that these don’t matter as much as participating in household tasks.

For very young children, Rossmann advises that parents keep tasks simple, model how to do the tasks, work with them and offer lots of encouragement. As children grow older, pay attention to their learning styles. ‘Some children need to be shown several times. Some you can show once, and they pick it up. Some children need to be told in words. Some need to have it written out,’ she says. For example, a parent might write out what needs to be done to take care of a pet. ‘There is no way to say, “You have to do it this way.”’

Of course, it takes discipline on the parents’ part to involve children in daily chores. The number one reason parents give for not having their children help out is that it is easier to do it themselves. ‘One parent said, “I know my son likes to vacuum, but he rides on it and it takes longer,”’ Rossmann says.

She believes children should not be paid to do the tasks, or in exchange for allowance. Keep money and chores separate, she says. The earlier parents begin getting children to take an active role in the household, the easier it will be to get them involved as teens.

Published in Kindred, issue 21, March 07

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