Cincinnati Family Magazine

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July 15, 2024

Happy Helpers

Keeping a clean house is important to me. I like things tidy, but I don’t want to be the only one pitching in.

To raise kids who have a sense of responsibility and take pride in their appearance and that of their home, I say give them chores.

“A school-age child begins to develop an understanding of responsibility and teamwork when he takes on appropriate chores,” says Bill Corbett, a certified parent educator and director of Redirecting Children’s Behavior of Nashville. “They also begin to feel like a valuable and respected member of the family.”

Though motivating children to help out around the house can at times be challenging, it’s not impossible. Here are some ways to encourage children’s involvement.

Make a Plan

A vague “I need more help around the house” doesn’t work with kids. Sit down as a family, and make a list of jobs that are age-appropriate for each child. Involve them in establishing a fair workload – it prevents such complaints as “I have too many jobs!” or “Jesse doesn’t have to do anything!” It may take several family meetings to get this ironed out, so be patient.

A “Put-Away Basket”

Giving kids one or two simple chores at an early age establishes the idea that they’re expected to contribute. Corbett says that preschoolers – children ages 3 – 5 – can be introduced to the concept of helping with tasks but not necessarily taking on chores. By age 4, my own children each had a “put-away basket.” At night, they’d collect toys from around the house and put the contents away while we listened to a story on tape. Often I’d have to help, but it was the routine that was important.

The reason for not handing chores out when the child is too young is because they are still in a mode of discovery and experimentation for learning. As children approach the end of the preschool years, they are ready to play a familial role, says Corbett. Some age-appropriate tasks for 3- to 5-year-olds include picking up their toys, putting their dirty clothes into the hamper, pushing in their chairs and clearing their plates after a meal. At age 6, children can take on chores such as bed making, feeding the family pet or setting the table.

Give Step-by-Step Instructions

To make happy helpers out of your children, you’ll need to make your expectations clear. If “taking care of Kitty” includes topping off the kibble and changing the water, make that clear. Write down the tasks and a complete job description for each one. “Chores and their requirements should be very clear and concise so that both parents and children know exactly what the chores require and when they must be completed,” says Corbett. This helps avoid a lot of unpleasant “l-didn’t-know-I-was-supposed-to’s” later.

Simplify the Schedule

Chore systems often fall apart when kids can’t remember what they’re supposed to do or whose turn it is to do what. Whether you have one child or six, the key is to keep it simple. Corbett suggests the “KISS” method, which stands for “Keep it Simple, Silly.” “Charts should be simple and easy to manage,” he says. Give permanent jobs, or have kids trade off at easy-to-remember times. One child can do dishes on odd days, the other on even, for example. In our family, parents do all chores on the 31st (so that one of our sons isn’t stuck doing dishes two odd days in a row). Keep track of schedules on a calendar that’s kept with the job descriptions.

Be Flexible with Standards

Remember that the point of kid chores isn’t perfection; it’s developing good habits. “Parents should be gentle with their children’s performance while the child is learning and not focus too much on perfection,” says Corbett. “Children who are constantly corrected on how they do things will become discouraged and eventually give up.”

When my son Sammy took on counter-wiping duty in the kids’ bathroom (which guests also use), I wanted to hang a disclaimer on the wall: “Cleaned by Sammy, age 6!” Nevertheless, I didn’t destroy his confidence or make him feel his help was for nought by snatching the sponge out of his hand and redoing his job. I ignored what I could and did touch-ups when he was at school.

Help Your Kids Succeed

It’s easier for kids to tackle their chores when the tasks at hand aren’t overwhelming. For example, I make sure the dishwasher is unloaded so whoever has dinner-dish duty has an easier time of it. If I cook something that uses every pot in the kitchen, I cleanup as I go.

Let the Job Grow with Your Child

As my kids became more capable, I increased their responsibilities. Once Sammy mastered wiping the counters, I asked him to do the mirror. Now both boys know “bathroom duty” includes scrubbing the toilet, cleaning the bathtub and mopping the floor.

Be Flexible

At my house, our chore system is clearly spelled out, but I may bend the rules if a child has a lot of homework or needs a break because he’s had a tough day. I find this makes them more accommodating too, and they’ll help me out if I’m in a time crunch.

Establish Consequences

If the kids fail to do their chores, decide together and ahead of time what the consequences should be. Amazingly, once my sons learned what was expected, when to do what and believed that their work loads were fair, I rarely had to use punishment.

Do Chores Together

Start a family tradition of scheduling time on the weekend when everyone can work together. Everyone can weed the garden or wash windows as a group. A team effort can produce measurable results ‘ it helps children see that even tough jobs aren’t so bad when everyone pitches in.

Pass Out the “Thank You’s”

“Thanks for dinner, Mom.” Even though making dinner is my responsibility, I love to hear those words. Likewise, thanking my kids for doing what they’re expected to do, whether it’s taking out the garbage or folding laundry, shows them that I notice and appreciate their contributions as well.

“A child who is sabotaging an agreement on a chore may be feeling a lack of respect,” says Corbett. “You can have the best chore system in the world, but if the child isn’t feeling love, valued and connected, it makes the system useless.” Always remember: gratitude can be contagious, and it’s a nice thing to catch.

Vicky Mlyniec is a freelance writer.

Chore Chat

The key to successful chore completion depends on how the parent explains and delegates the assignments. Here are some tips for assigning chores so that children will accept them and take full responsibility.

  • Give assignments to kids at eye level and speak in a calm, respectful tone. You’ll have more success by holding their hands and looking them directly in the eyes
  • Do not give assignments when you are tired, stressed or angry
  • Come from a position of “I need your help” rather than a demand or command
  • Come up with two or three different chores for kids to choose from. All chore choices must be valid and acceptable to you
  • Hold family meetings once a week, and make the assignments part of the agenda

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