Kids and Chores: How to Find Success without Losing Your Sanity!

Toys everywhere, tiny dirty socks in the corner, dirty dishes on the table and a dishwasher full of clean dishes, dust and dirt and clutter all around the house – this house needs a work crew. And there it is, parked in front of the TV, hanging from the porch rail, pouring out a bin of Legos.

Of course you didn’t create these precious creatures just to serve as a maid squad. And, anyway, how helpful could they be? They haven’t even mastered John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt. There’s so much you have to do, you’re just focused on getting it done as quickly as possible.

Do your kids a favor – put them to work.

Throughout human history, children have played an important role in maintaining the family and the household. Gathering berries, milking cows, watering the garden plot, taking care of younger siblings, hauling water. Did they resent it? Would they rather have been running through tall grass or jumping over sidewalk cracks? Sure. But they also had the satisfaction of making a contribution to their family. They learned a valuable lesson about postponing pleasure and doing what needs doing, and were better able to take are of themselves when they became independent. Finally, practicing the fine motor skills required for jobs improved their mental capacity. Your kids deserve the same.

There are some things you can do to minimize the inevitable whining and boost their learning curve:

  • Show them how. We all need guidance when we tackle a new skill. Show and watch or work together as they take on the sweeping or trash collection or dishwashing.
  • Be patient. You just want to get this chore done, but unless you can sit on your hands and stifle your criticism, you’re never going to get help with it. Let your kids learn how to do the job right, however long that takes.
  • Praise success. Let your children know how much you appreciate their help and how much they are contributing.
  • Take it slow. Introduce one new task at a time so your kids have time to accept it as habitual (in general it takes 21 days to create a habit). When they’ve got that one down, add another.
  • Don’t pay them for routine chores. The adults in your family aren’t paid for doing their share of the tasks; the kids shouldn’t be either. If your child does his chores because of the satisfaction it gives, his motivation is internal and lasting. If he does the work because you’re going to pay him, his commitment lasts only as long as there’s money coming in.
  • Let them choose. Make a grid of jobs and let your child pick; she’ll be happier and more committed to doing the job well if it is “her” job.
  • Tie chores to a game. There are apps to keep track of chores and reward their completion with points.
  • Don’t wait. If your child is old enough to make a mess, he’s old enough to pick it up. Match chores to your child’s abilities (a challenge is OK, but if he’s unable, postpone the chore until he’s a little older to avoid frustration):

o Toddlers can pick up their toys, put their clothes in a hamper, wipe up spills.

o Preschoolers can empty the trash, water plants, feed the family pet, use a handheld vacuum, pour cereal and milk (be close by just in case).

o Elementary age kids can make and pack their own lunch, sweep, set and clear the table, make their bed, load and empty the dishwasher, take out the garbage cans, walk the dog, clean the bathroom.

o Middle school kids can fix a meal with an adult “helper”, iron, babysit when you’re home, change sheets, run the washer and dryer, put away groceries.

o High school kids are skilled and mature enough to take on adult chores like babysitting without supervision, detailing the family car, planning and making meals, shopping for groceries, mowing, and on and on.

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