The Virtue in Chores

Home & Family
on June 18, 2000

With so many demands on todays busy families, assigning chores to children seems a natural solution. Yet, all too frequently, those same busy schedules find parents carrying more of the household load just to get it done.

This not only wastes perfectly capable hands, it relinquishes an important opportunity to teach children skills and teamwork, build independence, and enhance their feelings of accomplishment. Giving them responsibility allows them to succeed, which fosters self-esteem. Despite the inevitable protests along the way, children really do like to know theyre contributing to the family.

For this to be a positive experience for both yourself and your children, make your expectations clear. Do you expect your adolescent to unload the dishwasher every time? Only on weekends? Without being told? Small points can wind up as big arguments if all the what ifs arent covered on the front end. This is especially critical if siblings share chores. Map out who does what and when, and post them for all to see.

For children to be successful helpers, make chores developmentally and age appropriate. Even the youngest child can pitch in if you choose wisely and take plenty of time to show what needs to be done and how to do it.

Toddlers ages 2 – 3 years old can (and should) put toys away, put clothes in a hamper, or move stuffed extra animals off the bed at night, replacing them in the morning. Any chore that is simple, repetitive, and safe is good for this age. Expect to offer frequent reminders until they form a habit.

Four- to 5-year-olds can handle one or two simple daily jobs, such as making their beds, putting placemats on the table, or putting away their clean clothes. Make them responsible for putting away tricycles, balls, and other outdoor playthings. Solicit their help when pulling weeds in the garden.

Six- to 8-year olds can take on chores that require slightly more coordination: setting the table (if dishes arent heavy), helping with kitchen cleanup, carrying in groceries, vacuuming (if theyre physically able), dusting, raking leaves, or feeding and caring for pets.

Nine- to 12-year-olds can handle multiple tasks, so they can be assigned two or three daily jobs plus a weekly responsibility. They might empty the dishwasher, take out the trash, help in meal preparation, or sort and fold laundry.

This age should be trustworthy with chemicals, so cleaning kitchen and bathroom surfaces can be added to their lists, along with car washing. Some older adolescents also are ready to mow the yard; some arent. Parents need to judge whether their child can handle machinery safely.

Most teenagers are ready to take on any chore Mom and Dad can do, including caring for younger siblings, helping with grocery shopping, doing the laundry, and ironing.

Parents know best what their children are capable of doing. Assign chores accordingly. Dont frustrate your kids, but dont underestimate them, either.

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