Cincinnati Family Magazine

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May 29, 2024

Children and Chores

Lots of parents complain that their kids don’t help around the house enough.  The solution?  Start them on chores when they’re young.

I have three sons, ages 13, 10 and 8 – and every day they help with chores around the house.  What kinds of thing do they do?  They do everything from loading the dishwasher to dusting to laundry.  They even iron!  Obviously, not all my boys are old enough to do every type of chore, but they do what’s appropriate for their age and ability level.

Start teaching chores when children are toddlers.  I say teach chores because if you want something done a certain way children must understand your requirements.  To understand how you want it done they must be taught.  Plan to spend more than one day teaching each chore, several days in fact. Children aren’t going to do things perfectly from the start, they’ll learn as they go, but parents must have realistic expectations of a child’s ability.

Once you’ve taught something, allow the child to practice the newly learned skill independently, offering constructive criticism when necessary.  If the job is a large one, such as laundry, a visual, like a poster placed on the back of the laundry room door, will serve as a great reminder.

Using “chore sticks” helps to mix-up the chores on a regular basis; popsicle sticks or clothespins with chores written on them in permanent ink work well.  Pull the sticks with those items you want accomplished in a given day, creating new ones when necessary.  Divide the number of chores by the number of family members completing chores, and that determines how many sticks everyone chooses, even Mom and Dad.  This way everyone gets a fair mix of chores and no one gets stuck doing something they dislike every time.  Another idea is to create a chore chart for each child or one for the entire family.  You can create your own or visit and pick from 15 different charts; one is sure to fit your family.

Of course your kids aren’t always going to be thrilled about chore time but making it fun will help.  Set a time limit – “we’ll do chores for one hour, not a moment longer.”  Then set a timer.  Offering positive reinforcement, small rewards such as a surprise in the dryer for the person who folds laundry or a token on the bottom shelf of a table to be dusted, offer huge incentives.  Also offering occasional “free chore” days makes the next chore day not so bad.  

To pay, or not to pay, that is the question!  I personally don’t believe in paying children for chores.  I clothe them, feed them, provide them shelter, pay for schooling, etc.  They also get lots of extras – game systems, family vacations and so on.  So, to me, that is their payment.  However, I do offer incentives.  For instance, if the boys do an exceptionally good job at a chore or show initiative with something, rearranging a drawer or cabinet while their putting away dishes, I’ll give them a “bonus.”  It may be extra TV time or an actual monetary reward. 

I’m very infrequent and unexpected with these so they’ll never know when one might be awarded, or for what.  It works to keep everyone doing their best job all the time and looking for additional ways to help.  If you decide to offer payment, you’ll need to decide whether to pay per chore or a weekly rate.  Also, offering payment, once in a while is great idea, like right before vacation when kids are likely to need spending money for souvenirs anyway.  This way they’ll appreciate what they purchase even more.

Don’t feel guilty asking the children to help around the house.  Chores provide training for adulthood.  Chores teach responsibility, work ethic and prepare children to be on their own.  In college, I visited the dorm laundry room and found another student walking on top of the clothes in the washer trying to get everything to fit; you don’t want this to be your child.  In addition, chores teach your child to appreciate the person that normally does the chores (YOU!) and all that person has to do around the house.  Trust me, they’ll think twice before making a mess the next time.
The main things to remember are to start slow, teach well, don’t expect perfection and work alongside your children and things will get done!

Angela Chastain is a freelance writer and the mom of three helpful boys.

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