Divide and Conquer Household Chores

Have a family plan for everyday household tasks and you’ll teach your kids a great life lesson.

From the WebMD Archives

Doing chores is a tradition in many families. Chores help kids learn responsibility, and sharing chores gives you help around the house.

Not sure your kids will go for it? Take heart! There are ways to make chores a little bit, well, less of a chore for everyone.

The Value of Chores for Children

Parenting expert Jim Fay, co-founder of the Love and Logic website, says we all need to feel needed and to know that we're making a contribution -- even kids. "But they can't feel that way if they don't have chores and make contributions to the family," Fay says.

Roger W. McIntire, University of Maryland psychology professor and author of Raising Good Kids in Tough Times, says, "A child has to have some responsibilities."

That may all sound fine, but how do you get your kids onboard?

Pitfalls to Avoid When it Comes to Chores

Don't insist on perfection. No one is perfect, and it's better to have a more relaxed approach to how well your kids do their chores. Otherwise, McIntire says, you might have a struggle on your hands. Or you might jump in and do it for them, which would undermine the whole point.

Don't delay. You might think your child is too young. But your kids may be more capable than you think. Kids can do a lot of chores at an early stage, McIntire says. For example, getting clothes to the laundry or cleaning up after dinner. "We hold back too long because we think they ought to be ready first. But that puts the cart before the horse," he says. That is, they'll learn by doing.

Don't be stingy with praise. Get that praise going right away! Don't wait until the chore is done. Praise and encourage the child while the chore is in progress. You want to build positive momentum, especially with young kids.

Don't be inconsistent. Elizabeth Pantley, author of parenting books including Kid Cooperation: How to Stop Yelling, Nagging, and Pleading and Get Kids to Cooperate, says if your kids aren't expected to regularly follow through, they might start putting chores off in the hope that someone else will do them for them.

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Make a Chores Chart

"Create a list of every job it takes to keep a family going," Fay says. Have kids pick out the chores they'd most like to do. Then create a chart.

First, check that everyone has an age-appropriate chore. Then divide the chart into three columns. One is for the list of chores and whose chore it is; another is for deadlines; the last one is for making a check mark when the chore is done. Put the chart where everyone can see it and let everyone follow through on their own assignments.

You might actually find it easiest to have two charts: one for daily household chores and one for weekly household chores.

Here are two more tips:

  • Be specific with instructions. Pantley says, "'Clean your room' is vague and can be interpreted in any number of ways. Instead, be explicit by saying, 'Put your clothes in the closet, books on the shelf, dishes in the kitchen, and toys in the toy box.'"
  • Ease into chores for children. First, show them how to do the chore step by step. Next, let your child help you do it. Then have your child do the chore as you supervise. Once your child has it mastered, she's ready to go solo.
  • Go easy with reminders and deadlines. You want the chore to get done without you micromanaging it. Pantley recommends the "when/then" technique. For example, say, "When the pets are fed, then you may have your dinner."

Allowance for Chores?

Should your child get an allowance for chores? Usually not, say most parenting experts.

Chores are partly about responsibility and partly about learning household tasks. They're not focused on earning money. Yes, kids need to learn how to handle money, but not by doing chores they're supposed to do anyway.

It's especially important to not tie allowances to chores for younger kids, Pantley says. That's because a younger child may be less motivated by money and simply choose to not do them.

There's an exception: For older kids who already know how to be responsible, money can become a nice motivator for doing extra chores above and beyond their usual tasks.

Fay suggests letting them bid on those extra chores and picking the lowest bid.

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Age-Appropriate Chores for Children

Your child may be able to do more than you think. "Keep in mind that a child who has mastered a complicated computer game can easily run the dishwasher," Pantley says.

In general, she says, preschoolers can handle one or two simple one-step or two-step jobs. Older children can manage more. Here are her pointers on kids' chores by age:

Chores for children ages 2 to 3

  • Put toys away
  • Fill pet's food dish
  • Put clothes in hamper
  • Wipe up spills
  • Dust
  • Pile books and magazines

Chores for children ages 4 to 5

Any of the above chores, plus:

  • Make their bed
  • Empty wastebaskets
  • Bring in mail or newspaper
  • Clear table
  • Pull weeds, if you have a garden
  • Use hand-held vacuum to pick up crumbs
  • Water flowers
  • Unload utensils from dishwasher
  • Wash plastic dishes at sink
  • Fix bowl of cereal

Chores for children ages 6 to 7

Any of the above chores, plus:

  • Sort laundry
  • Sweep floors
  • Set and clear table
  • Help make and pack lunch
  • Weed and rake leaves
  • Keep bedroom tidy

Chores for children ages 8 to 9

Any of the above chores, plus:

  • Load dishwasher
  • Put away groceries
  • Vacuum
  • Help make dinner
  • Make own snacks
  • Wash table after meals
  • Put away own laundry
  • Sew buttons
  • Make own breakfast
  • Peel vegetables
  • Cook simple foods, such as toast
  • Mop floor
  • Take pet for a walk

Chores for children ages 10 and older.

Any of the above chores, plus:

  • Unload dishwasher
  • Fold laundry
  • Clean bathroom
  • Wash windows
  • Wash car
  • Cook simple meal with supervision
  • Iron clothes
  • Do laundry
  • Baby-sit younger siblings (with adult in the home)
  • Clean kitchen
  • Change their bed sheets

WebMD Feature Reviewed by Roy Benaroch, MD on December 02, 2012

Sources

SOURCES:

Jim Fay, co-founder, loveandlogic.com.

Cohn, J. Raising Compassionate, Courageous Children in a Violent World, Longstreet Press, 1996.

Elizabeth Pantley, author, Kid Cooperation: How to Stop Yelling, Nagging, and Pleading and Get Kids to Cooperate.

Roger W. McIntire, PhD, author, Raising Good Kids in Tough Times.

Brooks, R. and Goldstein, S. Raising a Self-Disciplined Child: Help Your Child Become More Responsible, Confident, and Resilient, McGraw Hill, 2007.

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