When I googled chores to research this topic I came across an ongoing debate. The parenting community is deeply divided into two groups: the pro-chores group with many reasons why chores are necessary and against-chores group that advocates “children should be children” philosophy. I paused for a bit to reexamine my own attitude. My family was pro-chores and I raised my own daughter in the same way, but it is always worth looking into a different perspective.
I do like the idea of a carefree childhood, unburdened by housework. But then again, I got to witness the result of that kind of upbringing, often labeled as “spoilt”. On the other hand, some parents abuse chores and overload their children with inappropriate tasks, not leaving enough time for necessary children’s stuff. I also know that no matter how much I hated some chores at the time, I did get to acquire really useful skills, which otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to.
Children start displaying helpful attitude around the age of two. Actually, it is considered a sign of healthy psychological development. There is an evolutionary reason for that – as species, we have been able to evolve exactly because we learned to help each other, to support each other, to share work. Still, equally important is free play in children’s healthy development – that’s how they learn self-regulation, develop creativity and hone their problem-solving skills.
Being a fan of a “middle way“, I wondered if there is a way to combine both the pro and against philosophies. It dawned on me that the answer lies in HOW we approach chores.
HOW do you choose chores for your child?
- Chores should be age-appropriate. We can’t let 5-year-old iron clothes, but they can definitely help to wash vegetables, for example.
- Chores shouldn’t take too much time, we need to make sure to leave enough time for free play, socializing, school, sports, etc.
- Allow children to have a say in choosing. Offer two or three things: throwing trash out, walking a dog and dusting – and let them decide what they want to do. A bit of freedom of choice goes a long way.
- Take children’s inclinations into consideration. Kids who love physical activity can do outdoor chores, and children with the artistic inclination can do house decorating.
2. HOW do you set up the chores?
I remember Stephen Covey’s Book “The seven habits of highly effective people“ and 5 steps of delegating. His set of rules is used for executive delegating, but he was using them with his children as well. Let’s look at the rules through doing the dishes, as an example.
- Results: Dishes should be clean, soap-free, dried and packed on the sink.
- Guidelines: Using warm water helps with grease, use a cloth for drying, etc.
- Resources: hot water, sponge, washing liquid, etc.
- Accountability: should be finished before bed.
- Consequences: If not done, there will be no clean dishes for breakfast, you’ll have to wash them in the morning. If done well, everyone can relax and take it easy in the morning.
To sum it up, we need to be clear with the expectations, provide guidance and resources and make sure to highlight consequences. Consequences do not mean punishment, but rather a natural result of a work done or not done.
3. HOW do you view chores?
Our own attitude toward chores colors our children’s perception as well. If we complain, hate the chores, delay doing them, etc., that is exactly what children will do. After all, children learn by imitating.
- Try to add fun to chores whenever possible: dance while dusting, sing while cooking, make a game or a competition out of packing clothes.
- Chores can be viewed as a shared family activity, a way to do something together, like cooking. My daughter often approaches me asking that we make lunch together, she enjoys the energy and shared time in the kitchen.
- Be flexible. There’s no need to turn the chores into a rigid, army-like schedule. Negotiate time, alternate chores, discuss and make plans together.
4. HOW do you reward accomplished tasks?
This is a question of another big debate in the parenting circles. Many people believe that paying for chores teaches children the value of money and incentivizes them to stick with chores. My own view falls in line with my attitude that chores are a shared responsibility of a family and no compensation is necessary. I prefer sticking to natural consequences instead of a reward: more free time, taking pride in a beautiful home, savoring a delicious meal, etc. However, every family should decide for themselves how they want to handle this.
5. HOW to minimize problems with chores?
“Oh my god! Your room is a mess AGAIN!”
“It is my room, why do you care?!”
I’ve had this screaming match with my daughter more often than I’d like to admit. I was so stubborn to impose my standards of a clean and tidy room on her, as much as she was insisting that she has a right to her space and her idea of cleanliness. Eventually, we made a deal: her room can be any way she likes, as long as she adheres to my rules in the other parts of our apartment. That worked perfectly.
The moral of the story: It is okay to compromise. Choose your battles.
Having children contribute to household work doesn’t necessarily mean limiting their freedom and denying them free time. Set up in the right way, chores can be educational and helpful, while being fun. They can also strengthen the family bond while developing children’s skills and abilities. By addressing all of the above HOWs we can make sure to provide the right guidance and structure and still allow children to be children.