Chores for Kids: How We Do It

chores for kids
source: Roy Luck

We’ve been talking about kids and chores lately. I shared our philosophy on whether chores should be tied to allowance, and Joshua shared a list of five everyday chores and why they’re important. And this morning I told you about a free online allowance-tracking tool.

I also want to share a bit more about our chore philosophy and “how” we get our kids to do their chores. Admittedly, it’s a little bit easier when pitching in is expected almost from birth (as it has been for our younger kids), but these are strategies you could use with any pre-school or elementary aged children.

Make It Routine

One of the most important part of Joshua’s post was this line:

They are just typical household chores that require our daily attention. But the more often we encourage our kids to see them as such, the more likely they are to develop these life-improving habits.

This is our goal for giving our children chores. It’s not to make our lives easier (because while there are times it does, it often requires a lot more effort to teach and help them do something than to just do it ourselves), but to give them the skills and habits to carry them into adulthood.

Chores are just part of everyday life, and that’s how we treat them. We want them to get used to cleaning up after themselves, leaving a room better than when they came, and doing all of those little things that they’re probably going to have to do for the rest of their lives — dishes and laundry and making their bed, etc.

Don’t Expect Them to Remember

And that brings me to my second point — and one of the keys to successfully giving kids chores: we don’t expect them to remember the things they’re supposed to do or do them without prompting. Our kids are seven and under, so that seems a bit unrealistic. Expecting them to do things without being asked is setting us all up for failure and conflict.

Instead, we ask them to do something when we want them to do it. We follow daily routines, so they know when to expect things in general — and we’re not dictatorial about it, requiring that they drop everything at our whim — but when it’s time to put the laundry away, we simply ask them to take the laundry basket up, fold the clothes and put them away. If they’re in the middle of something — for now — I keep the basket and remind them when they’re done.

At some point this will change and the onus to remember will be on them (and we’re already laying the foundation for that with some of our routines that have been in place longer, such as brushing hair and teeth in the morning), but for now the goal is not to have them remember what they’re supposed to do and do it without reminding; it’s to have them learn the skills and practice habits for the future.

Work Together

Similarly, chores are a family affair in our house. We’re often all working at the same time, and we share different parts of various routines (such as laundry, which everybody helps with in some way or another).

For example, Sean and our oldest daughter load the dishwasher together everyday. He rinses, she puts the silverware in the dishwasher. What seven-year-old girl wouldn’t want one-on-one time with dad, especially when she’s made to feel like an important part of the team in the process?

I’ve mentioned our after dinner routine before, but that’s another time when we’re all working together. Sean cleans up the kitchen or sweeps, I work on laundry or clearing clutter in general, and the girls put away toys, dirty laundry, etc. I know it seems unrealistic to call chores fun, but there is a definite energy that comes from all working together that makes them easier and, yes, sometimes even fun!

Focus on the Privilege of Responsibility

One thing that has really worked in our favor — and we didn’t even do it on purpose in the beginning, honestly — was to treat certain chores as a privilege. We encourage our kids to be faithful in the little things if they want the opportunity to work on chores that they consider more appealing. For example, our seven-year-old has been asking to do the dishes with dad for probably six months. We used that as an opportunity to encourage her to do the chores she did have without complaining or arguing and then she was allowed to join Dad to help with the dishes once she did that.

I’m not sure that this one will always work, but for now — at an age when they’re eager to help — it works perfectly!

Lower Your Expectations

When I mentioned on Facebook that my two oldest daughters had taken over folding and putting away their own laundry, one of the replies was that I might regret it when I saw the state of the drawers.

But here’s the thing: before I passed the baton to them on that chore, I decided that I would be okay with messier, imperfect drawers. And at this point, they’re actually doing a pretty good job, both because of their personalities (like their mama, they like things in order!) and because we have fewer clothes, so they each only have one drawer of clothes to deal with.

Expecting perfection from young children will result in frustrations all around. I’m a big believer that children rise to expectations — a byproduct of my Montessori education, I’m sure — but I also think it’s worth lowering my standards in order to give them a chance to learn!

chores for kids
source: D. Sharon Pruitt

Chores by Age

Here are a list of chores broken down by age, based on what our kids do (with some input from Shaina at Food for My Family based on what her kids do as well). These will no doubt vary by family, but hopefully this gives you a starting point to know what other people do and consider chores for your own family.

2 to 3 year olds:

  • put toys away
  • put clothes in laundry basket
  • throw things in trash
  • hang up coat and put away shoes
  • put their dishes on counter after meals

4 year olds:

  • everything above, plus…
  • clean toys from under the couch
  • sort toys
  • make bed
  • dust
  • set/clear the table
  • sort socks

5 to 6 year olds:

  • everything above, plus…
  • straighten shoes/coats
  • fold/put away laundry
  • fold napkins
  • wipe table
  • give pets food/water
  • water plants

7 to 8 year olds:

  • everything above, plus…
  • vacuum
  • help load/put away dishes
  • wipe down bathroom sink/tub
  • sweep

Of course the oldest isn’t expected to do everything on the list, but she does know how, and we rotate chores based on what’s needed at the time!

How do you handle chores in your home? What chores would you add to my list?

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