Kids doing chores almost seems like a thing of the past. So many parents I speak to say that they vividly recall doing chores when they were younger but that their own kids barely help out around the house. It's never too late to get your kids involved in helping maintain their rooms and the home, so today I will share with you some of the ideas that have been helpful to other families.
We didn't start when the kids were young, how do we what's right at each age?
Brian is a twelve year old boy that I have been seeing for a while. At the start of the school year his parents mentioned to me that they were coming off of a lazy summer and now that Brian is in middle school and getting older they want him to help out around the house. Brian didn't seem so interested and made it clear that while he would "try" to keep his room clean he didn't understand why he needed to help out in the kitchen or in the yard. When his parents explained to him that they needed help and that he was capable he said that none of his friends had to do chores and that he didn't think it was fair.
Once we started to discuss the idea of "fair" it was clear that Brian thought that his job was to go to school, get good grades and plays sports. He said that the only way he could think of doing chores as fair would be to get paid. I asked the parents how they felt about paying him for chores and they seemed torn. On the one hand they felt it could be a good way to motivate their son and on the other it made them angry that they raised a son who wouldn't naturally want to help out with no incentive.
I explained to Brian and his family that the mere act of doing the chore was reward enough. According to extensive research, children who do chores are more responsible, independent, and fare better in adulthood. Doing chores is very positive for a child's development in terms of overall happiness and health.
Brian eventually stopped arguing with his parents and we spent a session discussing what chores he and his two younger siblings could on a regular basis. Here is how we broke it down by age groups:
Ages 2-4 years old - toddlers in this age group can do simple tasks such as put away their dishes, set a table, or picking up their toys. At this age, I don't suggest calling it a chore but rather just helping out. Be sure they receive verbal praise paired with smiles, a hug and a general sense of appreciation.
Ages 5-9 years old - in addition to helping out with the tasks listed above, school age children can also put away their backpacks, lunch boxes, shoes and coats. They can also make their beds and hang up towels after baths and showers. They should get praise for their ability to be responsible in addition to helpful.
Ages 10-12 years old - at this age kids should be expected to clean up after themselves and their rooms and less praise should be necessary. They are able to learn new skills such as doing folding laundry, vacuuming and even preparing some simple meals. It should be established at this age that to go out and do the fun things they want to do they need to help out to earn money for the movies and the mall.
Ages 13 and up - teens are typically highly motivated to earn money so this seems like a good age to pay your children a weekly allowance for helping out. It should be linked to healthy habits around spending and saving money and be used as a part of lessons around economics. In this age range teens can mow lawns, cook dinners and do laundry start to finish. They eventually start driving and can be expected to go to the grocery store and help with errands.
One thing to pay close attention to is how chores are divided up in your home by gender. Pay attention to what mom does versus dad and what you expect your daughter to do versus your son. It is healthy for children to see their parents able to do a variety of tasks and also for males and females to share in indoor and outdoor domestic duties.
Whether to call them chores or to pay your child or use apps or even use a token economy system (such as stickers) it doesn't matter as much as if they are just simply expected to contribute to the home. No matter the age you can start enforcing chores, it may a take a little bit of negotiating at the older ages but it is worth it.