Updated: Jul 14, 2018
“Do you think it’s important for children to do chores?”
That was a question I asked some of my friends. Here are their responses.
“Chores are necessary for several reasons. They: 1. Foster independence 2. Give a sense of pride and caring outside of oneself 3. Help bond a family together—as part of a family, family members help each other, and chores give importance to this helping 4. Strengthen a sense of belonging to the family.”
“I am personally pro chores. They build responsibility and a sense of independence. Chores appropriate for each age is an important tool of growth and fulfillment. They can develop a sense of community and social skills. Without chores a child can’t fully understand life and society.”
“Chores are essential! A family is a living organism, and as such, functions best when each part contributes to the whole. When properly honored, children feel their value. I’m against paying for chores. Allowance should be separate. A sense of value should be the payoff. This has been my advice to parents for decades.”
“Chores teach children that they are a member of a tribe and the family morays of doing household duties. Children are members of a tribe and chores help them understand they need to help the team out and that work is necessary. Things don’t get done by themselves. ”
The constant for all the responses is the belief that chores promote responsibility, independence, a sense of service, social and independent living skills, and expected behavior as a member of the group.
I also think chores teach the value of persistence, planning, organizing, self-discipline, practice AND succeeding– often doing what we don’t necessarily want to do. They promote feelings of competence, confidence, and being of value.
BUT WHERE TO START?
If we have never required chores of our children, we may want to start with only one or two, and they needn’t be difficult. Doing some on a daily basis can be helpful. I also believe paying for chores is risky. It has the potential of diminishing awareness that all family members are expected to contribute to the common good without reimbursement. It also misses an opportunity to promote a sense of service and independence.
Some chores may seem simple but executing them can be far from simple. For many, “clean your room”, may initially be just too big for a child to accomplish independently.
My 9 year-old nephew does a bang up job doing his laundry. He can render a kitchen spotless after a meal for six, but he needed help to dive into cleaning his room.
He didn’t know where to start and had no plan. So we developed a plan. We imagined in our minds “what we wanted it to look like”. We broke the chore into chunks, eventually creating sections–the stuffed animal section, the library section, the clothes section, the papers section, the art section, and the “I can’t get rid of this yet” section.
As he attacked each section, I encouraged him to continue picturing in his mind the end result he wanted. Sometimes, I asked questions aimed at helping him problem solve. “What do you think about a file for the papers?”… “If you don’t play this game very often, what do you think about putting it in the back row?”
We guessed how long each section would take to organize. His desire to beat the time helped him push through his moments of distraction. If I could do it over, I would have also taken pictures of the finished product he could refer to the next time he needed to clean his room.
In the end, he was thrilled. He had cleaned his room in a fraction of the time it would have taken him on his own and without his typical tears, screaming, and resistance. We followed a plan that succeeded because we “pictured it in our heads” and broke the chore into doable chunks.
My nephew is also a very sociable child. My presence made the chore a social event and, though arduous, more pleasant.
Much of this information was adapted from the work of Sarah Ward,M.A., an expert in executive functioning. She breaks down the training part into steps some children need on their way to independence.
I (the adult) do it/you (the child) watch me
I do it/you help me
We do it together/I help you
You do it/I watch you
You do it independently
One final point: chores provide us an endless number of opportunities to nurture our children by commenting on their actions.
“You emptied the entire dishwasher.”
“You’re learning how to be independent.”
“Thanks for being so helpful.”
Below is a chart that can assist us in selecting age appropriate chores.
AGE APPROPRIATE HOUSEHOLD JOB CHART*
3-4 YEAR OLDS CAN: • Pick up toys, clean up after themselves after meals (i.e. Take dishes to sink, help clean off table) • Fold dishtowels and washcloths • Match socks • Put small items in the garbage • Give food to pets • Water indoor plants • Helping with laundry, such as: helping sort dirty clothes by color, handing clothes to mom to put in washer, transferring clothes from dryer to basket • Carrying light-weight groceries from car • Put books and magazines in a rack • Helping set the table (napkins, plates, and silverware) • Dust with socks on their hand
5-6 YEAR OLDS CAN ALSO: • Answer the telephone • Sweep a deck/patio/porch • Wipe the bathroom sink • Put forks and spoons away • Put their own clothes in the drawer, set out clothes for the next day • Sort laundry into color piles • Use a hand-held vacuum • Sharpen pencils • Make bed/change sheets (w/ min. assistance) • Set table by self ((at this age, still not handling sharp knives) • Set out backpack, shoes etc (whatever is needed for school
7-9 YEAR OLDS CAN ALSO: • Take out garbage, empty trash cans • Set the table • Clear the table • Vacuum an area rug • Clean room and clean the inside of the car • Empty the dishwasher • Put away clean dry dishes • Water the garden • Make bed/change sheets (without assistance), fold blankets • Wash dishes with help from mommy • Set out clothes for the next day o Set out backpack, shoes, etc (whatever is needed for school) • Prepare simple meals, such as: sandwiches for lunch, salad for dinner, preparing drinks • Learning to use washer/dryer with supervision • Complete responsibility for their room on a daily basis • Cleaning yard • More difficult cleaning projects (scrubbing floors, etc.) • Saving and donating (if the child gets an allowance) • Assist in household projects/repairs • Write thank you notes
10-12 YEAR OLDS CAN ALSO: • Clean mirrors • Clean kitchen sink and counters • Fold and put away laundry • Put away groceries • Pack their own lunch • Light yard work • Load the dishwasher
13-14 YEAR OLDS CAN ALSO: • Clean the bathroom • Change bed sheets • Mow the lawn • Wash dishes by hand • Wash the car • Do laundry • Shovel snow • Replace light bulbs and vacuum cleaner bags • Wash windows • Clean out refrigerator and other kitchen appliances • Prepare grocery list
15 YEAR OLDS CAN ALSO: • Use a leaf blower • Use a snow blower • Clean the refrigerator • Reorganize storage area • Make dinner • Maintain any car they drive
*The ages listed are approximate, and capabilities will vary depending on the individual child.
Some of the techniques as well as the chart, were presented by Sarah Ward at the 2013 Social Thinking Providers Conference.
A myriad of other chore lists are available online.