I’ve often marveled at how many young people are simply not prepared to take care of themselves once they leave home. I wasn’t prepared at all. I couldn’t cook; I didn’t know that you should separate dark from white clothes before washing them (picked that up pretty quickly though after ruining a couple of my favorite white shirts and ending up with off-pink socks and underwear). My attempts at cleaning the house were pretty minimal and forget it if I had to sew something. As embarrassing as it is to reveal- I had to call my mother and ask how to boil eggs after I left home.
My mother took care of all the chores except for cleaning the bathtub – that, I must say, I could do very well.
So that brings me to chores. While doing chores may be a tradition in some families, it’s never given a thought in others.
Chores are important. Not only will your child learn how to contribute to the household, but he or she will also learn self-sufficiency. And believe me, it pays off in the long run.
Another aspect of learning how to stand on your own two feet is the types of chores you learn. Too often girls are taught cleaning, cooking and washing dishes. Boys tend to be taught chores like mowing the grass, cleaning the car and taking out the garbage. Pet care seems to be an equal opportunity chore. Both sexes should be learning everything required in taking care oneself long before they really have to.
This doesn’t necessarily fall into the “chores” category, although some might disagree, but learning how to save, spend and make money is another great life lesson you can give your child. How many college students rack up way too much debt on easily attainable credit cards once they move out? We'll talk more about chores and money a little later.
Learning responsibility really does begin at home and the earlier the better.
Getting your kids to accept doing chores depends a lot on how it’s presented. You’ll probably get some pushback, but that’s ok. It’s normal for kids to question why they should have to do something that has previously been done for them.
A couple of good rules to follow:
- Don’t expect perfection. You’re not perfect and they won’t be either. The higher your expectations at the beginning, the bigger the battle you’re going to have. Start with something simple and age appropriate. Expecting perfection will only lead to being impatient and the temptation to take over and do the chore your self. That pretty much defeats the point.
- Start at an early age. Even 3 and 4 year olds can help pick up their toys and learn where they go. Helping out is a good start. Expecting them to do every step if they are very young is unrealistic. They learn by doing. They get better at it the more they do it.
- Praise your child. Don’t wait till they’ve finished a chore- encourage them as they make the effort. Let them know how proud you are they are taking on a new challenge and how “helpful” they are being.
- Be consistent. Kids will be looking for a way out and if you’re not consistent in what chores are expected and when you want them done they will quit doing them and expect someone else to do it for them. You’re back at square one.
- Make a chart. If you have older children (8 years old and up) create a list of every job it takes to keep a household running and ask them to choose two or three chores where they can help out. That’s a start but remember that eventually they will need to be doing chores that they didn’t choose. If you’re child is very young talk to them about helping and how much you appreciate it when they pitch in. Very young children may need creative thinking that involves making a chore fun to do.
- Once your child is capable of doing a chore or chores, don’t nag. It doesn’t hurt to remind them if they forget, but constant nagging builds a wall between you and your child. You can try the when/ then approach. “When you feed the pets, then you can watch TV, play outside, have dinner (fill in the blank.)
Delegating chores often brings up another topic – should you pay your child to do their chores? Sometimes it’s referred to as “earning an allowance.” There are a lot of opinions in this subject.
Some of the reasons given for paying a child to do his or her chores are:
- It teaches that money should be earned and not just given. This is often followed by lessons on how to save money and making choices about what to spend the money on.
- It teaches a child to be business-minded by encouraging an entrepreneurial spirit. Investing earned money can lead to earning more money. An example would be buying lemons to make lemonade and selling the lemonade at a profit.
- Hard work deserves reward. People have jobs and they get paid for those jobs. The theory is – if a child learns that the more work they do the more money they can make, they will be inspired to do more work and they will carry that lesson on into adulthood.
Many child experts do not agree that children should be paid to do chores. Some of the reasons given for this side of the discussion are:
- Chores are a responsibility that comes with being part of a family. They are about learning and sharing responsibility-not earning money.
- Children will expect to be paid for everything they do. “ Brush my teeth? That will cost you one dollar.”
- You shouldn’t pay someone for doing what he or she should be doing anyway. Lessons in kindness and gratitude can be overshadowed by the idea that one must be paid to donate time and energy to help someone else.
- Chores are lessons in self-sufficiency as well as learning to contribute. The reward is the lesson.
There is a middle ground that experts sometimes offer. Let’s say you have an older child (pre-teen / teen) who wants to go to the movies with a friend. You’ve got a chore to be done that isn’t on your child’s list. You offer to pay your child for the extra help and they earn the extra money to go the movies. Regular chores are not negotiable.
What are some age-appropriate chores for children?
Children are smart. They know more than we often give them credit for. Think about children and computers. It’s amazing how quickly they can pick up and navigate through a virtual world with clicks and swipes. They can certainly learn how to use a dishwasher.
Here’s an abbreviated list of age-appropriate chores kids can learn. A complete list of suggested chores is at www.webmd.com.
Children ages 2 to 3 can put toys away, wipe up spills, dust and put small books and magazines in the proper place.
Children ages 4 to 5 can make their bed, empty wastebaskets, pull weeds and plant flowers, wash plastic dishes in a sink.
Children ages 6-7 can sort laundry, sweep floors, help make and pack a lunch and keep a bedroom tidy.
Children ages 8 to 9 can load a dishwasher, put groceries away, help make a meal, put away laundry, mop floors, and walk pets.
Children 10 and older can unload the dishwasher, do laundry, iron clothes, cook simple meals with supervision, clean the bathroom, mow and rake the yard.
When children are taught the basics of taking care of a household, they also learn what it takes to be independent and self-sufficient, considerate and thoughtful. They also see that dad can cook, mom can mow the yard and everyone knows how to pitch in when needed.