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Kids and Chores
Assigning children household chores is one of the best ways to build self-esteem and a feeling of competence. Regular chores establish helpful habits and good attitudes about work. Having chores also teaches valuable lessons about life and creates an understanding that there are jobs that must be done to run a household. Children who grow up perceiving chores as a normal part of life will find the flow into adulthood much easier than those without responsibility will.
Choose the right chores: Choose age appropriate jobs for children based on their physical and mental abilities. Most parents underestimate their children’s abilities in this area. Keep in mind that a child who has mastered a complicated computer game can easily run the dishwasher! Preschoolers can handle one or two simple daily jobs. Older children can manage two or three daily jobs along with one or two weekly jobs. (See the suggested list at the end of this article.)
Take time for training. Don’t assume that since your child has seen you do the task that she can do it herself. Be very specific in your instruction and demonstrate step-by-step as your child watches. The next step is to let your child help you, followed by your child doing the chore as you supervise. At the point you feel that your child has mastered the job she can take over responsibility for it.
Write it down: Children need a visual daily reminder to keep them on track doing chores. (This compares to your need for a daily planner sheet or to-do list.) A chore chart on which a child can make daily check marks is one helpful technique. An alternative is to use a pegboard made for hanging keys as a holder for tags that list a daily chore on each one. A child can flip the tags over as she completes each daily chore. At the end of the day, a parent can check for any open tags and have the child finish up before getting ready for bed.
First things first: Use the “when/then” technique. As an example, “When the pets are fed, then you may have your dinner.” As a quiet reminder, the child’s dinner plate can be left upside down, which means: “Run and feed the pets, then you can eat!” Other when/then routine suggestions are: “When your homework is done, then you can play outside.” “When your pajamas are on and teeth brushed, then we will read a book.” What makes this idea work best is when you follow the when/then rule every day.
Be specific: Be very specific in your instructions. As an example, “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.”
Bonus Day! Once in a while, just for fun, have a “Coin Collection Day.” Prior to having your child complete her chores, hide pennies, nickels, or dimes around the house under the items that need to be cleaned. When all the chores are done to your satisfaction, the child gets to keep the bonus!
Chore list ideas: What follows is a list of ideas from which you can choose a few chores for your child. The idea is not to turn your child into Cinderella! Simply review the list, consider your child’s age, ability, and personality, and select chores appropriate for your child. Preschoolers can handle one or two simple jobs. As children get older and more capable they can handle a larger quantity of jobs, as well as those that are more complex.
Ages 2 to 3: Put toys away, fill pet’s food dish, put clothes in hamper, wipe up spills, dust, pile books or magazines, choose clothes and dress self.
Ages 4 to 5: Above plus, make own bed, empty wastebaskets, bring in mail or newspaper, clear table, pull weeds, use hand-held vacuum to pick up crumbs, water flowers, unload utensils from dishwasher, wash plastic dishes at sink, fix bowl of cereal.
Ages 6 to 7: Above plus, sort laundry, sweep floors, handle personal hygiene, set and clear table, help make and pack lunch, weed, rake leaves, keep bedroom tidy, pour own drinks, answer telephone.
Ages 8 to 9: Above plus, load dishwasher, put away groceries, vacuum, help make dinner, make own snacks, wash table after meals, put away own laundry, sew buttons, run own bath, make own breakfast, peel vegetables, cook simple food (such as toast), mop floor, take pet for a walk, pack own suitcase
Ages 10 and up: Above 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), mow lawn, clean kitchen, clean oven, change bed, make cookies or cake from box mix, plan birthday party, have neighborhood job - such as pet care or yard work, or have a paper route.
(Excerpted with permission by NTC/Contemporary Publishing Group Inc. from Perfect Parenting, The Dictionary of 1,000 Parenting Tips by Elizabeth Pantley, copyright 1999)