Kids, Chores, and Avoiding Resistance

I was having a conversation with a friend of mine the other day about kids and chores.  How much is too much?  Too little?  Should they be given allowance?  Paid per chore?  Given no money at all?  It’s a complicated matrix, so I’m going to start simply: How to add a chore to your child’s routine.

First of all, it’s important to mention why chores are necessary.  Namely, they help kids learn how to do things around the house (duh), build a sense of responsibility, learn the work it takes to run a household, and help ease the parents’ workload so that they don’t feel like servants in their own home.  By 5 years old, kids are capable of doing many household tasks and are mature enough to grasp the concept of teamwork (as in, it takes the whole family working as a team to keep the household running).

So where to start when adding a new chore to your child’s routine?  Let’s take for example putting laundry away (see my post on Children & Clothing Battles for more on why it’s a good idea for kids to take responsibility for their clothes when they are young):

1. Give them some warning. No one likes to be surprised with new duties, and your kids are no exception.  A day or two before the new chore is to begin, let them know your expectations.  “Jamie, you’re old enough now to put your own clothes away after I fold them.  This week after I finish the laundry you will be responsible for putting your clean clothes away.”

2. Use on the job training. Putting laundry away can be a daunting task for a 5 year old.  When you are first adding the chore, consider doing it as a team, and/or help break up the job into small parts.  “Rosie, you put your socks in the sock drawer while I put your t-shirts on the shelf.”

3.  Play it cool. As in many other situations, your children will take their cues from you when it comes to their emotional reaction and their new chore.  If you are angry, too forceful, or overly authoritative in communicating the task to them, they will likely be angry and defensive in return.  If instead you are easy-going, matter of fact, and don’t dwell too long on the new job, you will likely find your kids more willing to comply.

4.  Don’t expect perfection. If you ask your child to put away their own clothes, they are not going to look perfect, so you might as well give up that expectation now.  What you can expect is for it to be in a timely manner, and with relative (according to age) accuracy.  With this in mind, resist the urge to correct their work or re-arrange their clothes (especially in front of them).

5.  Offer appreciation. Whether it’s in the form of a quarter, a dollar, or simply a thank you, don’t forget to let your child know how much you appreciate their pitching in.

6.  A family effort. If you encounter resistance, trying making the chore a family affair.  “Hunter, in 15 minutes we are all going to put our laundry away.  You, Jenny, Dad, and me are all going to work at the same time until we are finished.”

Good luck adding chores in your family!  Stayed tuned for my next post on negotiating an allowance!

Photo by: Don Nunn