Giving kids chores sets them up for success in many areas of life, but getting started is half the battle. Here’s a guide to where to begin and how to be successful.
See 13 of the Best Chore Charts for Kids to help organize kids chores in your home.
Years ago David Hinckley and his wife repeated a family motto over and over and eventually hung it on their wall: “Hinckleys are Hard Workers!”
It’s just one way the Hinckleys remind their four kids how they should see themselves – that when there’s a job to do, Hinckleys are the kind of people who get it done.
And get it done they do – in addition to taking care of everyday tasks, the entire family has what they call a “hard work session” on Saturday mornings after breakfast of more intense yard work or cleaning.
Chores to the Hinckleys aren’t just a way to even out the family’s household work. As David Hinckley put it, “We tell them they’re going to walk into adulthood knowing how to take care of themselves. So when we periodically expand their responsibilities…it’s no surprise because they know it’s coming.”
The Hinckleys may be on to something.
According to new research, chores, if started at a young age of three or four, can lead to adults who are more likely to be self-sufficient, achieve academic and early career success, and have good relationships with family and friends, as found in a study conducted by Marty Rossmann of the University of Minnesota.
Introducing Kids to Chores: the Survival Guide
But while many parents want their kids to do chores, finding the motivation to get started can be the biggest hurdle to overcome.
It takes effort to determine who does what, when chores will get done, and how to get everyone on board.
And then there’s the perfectionist factor – adults can complete chores better and in FAR less time than it takes a four-year-old or even eight-year-old. A kid’s definition of “clean” often means little scraps of paper left on the playroom floor, crayons pushed into the corner and utensils left on the kitchen table after breakfast.
But while we can dream of a future time (and perhaps alternate universe) where our kids clean their rooms or scrub the bathroom sink to our standards, the idea here is to give our kids responsibility.
Getting kids started on chores CAN be done and while the upfront work can sometimes be demotivating, keep in mind the lasting benefits to kids – and more selfishly, the possibility that you’ll be doing less housework.
Here’s how to get started:
Step #1 If at All Possible, Start Young: Tom Stagliano, the father of two grown sons, says if you give tasks to your children beginning at age one, helping out becomes a habit and increased responsibilities over the years are simply part of being a family “team”.
Step #2 Let Kids Help Out: Introduce the idea of chores by letting kids help their parents out, suggests Tammi of My Organized Chaos. If your toddler asks to help fold laundry – take him up on it. Yes, it will take you 5-10 minutes longer to get the task done, but keep in mind the payoffs down the road. If kids identify themselves as helpers from a very young age then easing into the next step of having assigned chores will be natural.
Step #3 Assign Chores – with Kids Input: At even the young age of two or three, kids can begin to have assigned chores. Getting kids involved in the process gives them ownership over tasks and removes the feeling of chores being unwillingly forced on them. As a family, sit down and determine who is responsible for sweeping the floor, who needs to feed the cat, and who takes out the garbage. Including parents in this list provides perspective on the work that everyone contributes to the family.
Step #4 Age-Appropriate Chores are Key: Kids are capable of more than we realize, but we also don’t want to overwhelm them and potentially make them feel helpless. Make sure kids are assigned chores they can handle. Use this guide for ideas of how your child can contribute:
Step#5 Teach Kids How to Do Their Assigned Tasks: Kids need guidance on how to complete their task with semi-competence. You are their teacher. The first few times your child does a chore, be there with them to show how it’s done. And once they’re semi-proficient, stand back and let them take over – remember that half the “fun” of chores is the ability to accomplish something on one’s own.
Kids Chores: How to Keep Kids Interested and Motivated
Hooray!! You’ve made it this far and the kids are well on their way to becoming exemplary housekeepers. But how to keep up the momentum? Here are a few tips to keep kids engaged and willing to do chores over the long haul:
- Don’t Expect Perfection: What kids get out of chores is the satisfaction of contributing to the family and feeling grown-up. That enthusiasm is sapped if parents are constantly critiquing the work they do. While it’s important to teach kids how to do their task, keep in mind that little kids in particular will probably never rise to the level of cleanliness you desire. Offer continued support to teach them how to do their task but don’t condemn them for having done a poor job.
- Don’t Bribe Kids: There’s really no need to bribe kids to get chores done if the expectation from the beginning is “we’re all in this together”. Parents don’t get paid or get a sticker for completing chores, so kids shouldn’t get one either. Research also suggests that giving kids a tangible reward for completing a task can backfire and harm the parent/child relationship in the long-run. Once kids have been given money, stickers, or treats for doing household tasks, they may decide the task isn’t worth the payment and stop doing chores altogether.
- Don’t Call Them Chores: “Like the way you talk to them, the way you approach chores needs to pass the “imagine they were adults” test.” says David Hinckley. “Can you imagine asking your spouse, ‘Have you done your chores today?’ No? Of course not, it’s talking down to them. We build responsibilities like cleaning up into routines, but we don’t call them chores.”
- Pick a “Chore Time”: Doing chores at the same time every day makes chores apart of the family’s day-to-day life. Kids are less likely to question the need to do chores or complain if they’re in the routine of completing them after breakfast every morning, for example.
- Be Consistent: Consistency is key. If one day it is expected that chores be done and the next three forgotten about, kids notice. Kids thrive on structure and routine. Don’t catch them off-guard.
- Provide Kids with a Cleaning Guide: Joy Carney, a mother of four, goes a step beyond teaching her kids how to do a task. She’s written a checklist of what needs to be completed with each chore so that kids don’t forget and parents don’t need to nag. For kids who aren’t old enough to read, drawings can be used in place of words.
- Make Sure Adults Have a Positive Attitude: If adults complain about housework, kids will get the message that chores are no fun. While there’s no need to beam in delight over doing dishes, just be conscious of keeping your negative comments to yourself.
And finally, the last step to being successful with kids chores is to make it visual. There’s no question of what needs to get done if it’s in writing and in a prominent place. Use this chore chart to help your kids remember what tasks they need to get done every day:
While managing and giving kids chores isn’t always easy, it’s worth it to know you’re equipping kids with life skills they’ll need as adults. And the upside? Having more hands to help with work around the house.
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