Use Chores to Teach Life Skills
“When kids do chores, they’re learning responsibility. They’re learning that life requires work,” says James Sears, MD, co-author of Father’s First Steps: 25 Things Every Dad Should Know. For kids, chores are more than helping out; they are lessons in basic life skills. By loading the dishwasher, mowing the grass, or doing their laundry, “kids learn how the world works,” Sears tells WebMD.
Make Chores Predictable
To take the sting out of chores, Turner suggests setting aside a time each week when the whole family does chores, Saturday morning from 8 to 9 for example. “Then you don’t get into battles about when chores get done.” Having the whole family do chores at the same time also helps. “Your kid knows that every Saturday morning, this is what the family does,” says Turner.
Assign Chores by Age
Tasks that are clearly over your child’s head will make chore time dreadful for everyone. The following suggestions can get you started on assigning age-appropriate chores. Then it’s your turn to get creative.
- 4 and 5 years old: Sort socks, put away toys, help set the table, stack magazines.
- 6 and 7 years old: Take the dog for a walk, empty the dishwasher, prepare lunch, make the bed.
- 8 and 9 years old: Set the table, load the dishwasher, clean the bathroom sink, feed, brush, and bathe the pet.
- 10 and 11 years old: Put away groceries, run the dishwasher, fold laundry, take out trash.
- 12 and 13: Do laundry and put it away, change sheets, mow the grass, make simple meals, clean the shower and toilet.
Make Chores Personal
Cleaning his own room will make a lot more sense to your son than having to clean his sister’s room. “Personalizing it is important because you’re teaching your child self-reliance and how to take care of himself,” Turner tells WebMD. The rewards will be obvious: your son gets to spend time in a tidy room where everything is put away and easy to find.
Add Variety to Chore Time
You might set up a system of rotation, or you might have your children draw cards to see which chores they have that week. Either way, it’s a good idea to rotate chores rather than make kids do the same ones all the time. Your children will become competent in several different areas, and you can avoid charges of favoritism.
Make Chores Visual
Some chores need to be done every day. Others are once-a-week tasks. Sears and his wife posted a magnetic chart on the refrigerator to help their kids keep track. “There was a column for each day of the week and the chores each kid was responsible for that week,” says Sears. The whole family could see the chores and which ones had been completed. “Because it was visual, it was less overwhelming for the kids,” he says.
If your child is inspired by technology, you might check out some of the apps that track chores assigned and completed on mobile phones and tablets. Some have features that randomly assign chores. Some assign points for completed chores. All employ technology as a tool rather than an escape mechanism.
Be Realistic About Chores
While you can and should make it clear ahead of time what counts as a completed chore, you might also need to relax your standards, especially with young children. If your daughter knows you sneak into her room to straighten the bed after she made it, she might as well leave it for you to do. Praise will help build your child’s confidence and make chore time smoother in the future.
Work through Chore-Related Whining
Some parents enforce a 2-for-1 policy when kids whine about chores. “It there’s whining and complaining, the child gets another chore in addition to the one they’re already doing,” says Sears. “Usually the child learns pretty quickly that whining doesn’t work.”
Listen to Your Child
Withstanding whining does not mean turning a deaf ear to your child. “If a child says, ‘This is too hard for me,’ you might say, ‘OK, let me help you,’” suggests Turner. Your child still does the chore, but with your assistance. The message is that you are in this together, so your child is less likely to equate chores with punishment.
In his own household, Sears listened to his son’s repeated requests for pancakes, followed by complaints that he didn’t know how to make them himself. Eventually, the father turned his son’s requests into a new skill. “He whined and moaned through a few pancake sessions but now he knows how to make them,” says Sears.