When I wrote the post on Allowance I promised a separate post about chores, so here it is. There are different ways to structure your family chores, but the most important thing is that children have chores. Children need to participate in family work to learn responsibility, a good work ethic, and what it means to contribute to the greater good. As I said in the Allowance post, there are benefits and responsibilities to being part of a family, and chores are some of the responsibilities.
When you first introduce a chore system or add new chores for children, they will complain and resist. (See post on Resistance to Change.) But if you stick to it (kindly), they will get used to that new system. If you put in the effort to teach your children to work hard and be responsible from the time they are young, it will pay off. Your life will be much easier! The other day I had to vacuum some rooms because my daughter was sick and couldn’t do her chores. It occurred to me that I almost never vacuum! I also rarely do the dinner dishes. My children are old enough now that they are able to take turns doing them every night. I am very thankful that we have been consistent in requiring our children to help out at home.
For children ages 3-8, the purposes of having chores are more to practice working and to get into a habit of helping. Don’t expect too much of a young child, or you’re going to be continually frustrated. Their efforts are about the process rather than the product. Read the post Go Clean Your Room! for more on this. It is important that you still have chores for young children, but don’t get into a control battle over them, and don’t fret if they are not done well or independently. It’s hard to wait until children are 8, but that really is the “age of accountability.” That is when children start to understand and care about right and wrong, and have the cognitive and physical abilities to be helpful and responsible.
The two most important elements in family chores are that children have them and that they are expected to do them week to week. Their exact chores and when they do them can vary from family to family. A good system is to have a set of daily chores and a set of weekly chores (usually done on Saturday). For children 3-10 their daily morning “chores” will include getting dressed and brushing their hair and teeth, as well as making their bed (to their ability) and possibly a dish chore (unloading the dishwasher for the younger ones or rinsing breakfast dishes for older ones). Their chores need to fit their age and abilities, and can increase in difficulty year to year. Their chores also need to fit your schedule. For our children, middle school and high school start much earlier than elementary, so when the kids reach that age they don’t have morning chores anymore (besides getting themselves ready), but after school they are expected to load the dishes, and they rotate doing the dinner dishes. Additional dish chores might include setting or clearing the table.
On Saturdays we do the bigger, house-cleaning chores that take a little longer. Cleaning bathrooms, vacuuming, dusting, and cleaning their own bedrooms are some of the chores assigned on Saturdays. It works best if assignments are clear and consistent; then there is no question about who is responsible for what.
As children’s abilities change over time so do their responsibilities. We’ve found it works well to reassess every fall, before school starts, and create a new chore schedule. We take into consideration the children’s increasing abilities but also their school work load and activity schedule. We write out a schedule for both the daily and weekly expectations. We present the new system at a family meeting and listen to any feedback they might have. This new schedule for the school year can also include assigned days for helping with dinner preparation and instrument practicing schedules.
Once you’re in a good habit, the regular daily and weekly chores will go pretty smoothly. But when there are extra chores, you’re sure to still get resistance! Periodically I decide the house needs some deep cleaning. I try to warn the kids when this is coming up, and give them a pep talk reminding them that when everyone helps the work is more enjoyable and it goes faster. We talk about how nice the house will look when it’s all clean. Sometimes I assign the chores, and sometimes we write them on slips of paper and choose out of a jar. Another way is to tell them the options and let them choose, but this can lead to arguments between the children, so you have to be careful.
In the summer we stick to the same daily and weekly chore schedule, but we add on some extra responsibilities. Kids have more free time in the summer, and it’s a great time to teach extra skills such as laundry or sweeping and mopping the kitchen floor. This is also a good time to pick a few days for all family members to help with deep cleaning the house. Again, I present the new chores and schedule to the kids at the beginning of summer. The particulars of the system aren’t as important as sticking to it and requiring all children to work.
The past few summers I’ve had a “special helper” assigned each week. That daughter helps me deep clean the kitchen, do the laundry, grocery shop, and plan and prepare the meals. It has worked really well because it’s easy to remember who to call on for help, it’s fun to spend time with that daughter during the week, and she enjoys the extra attention. I teach her specific things about how to do all the chores, and it makes life easier for me!
I had some quick ideas about a few topics and decided to group them into overrated and underrated.
While it is true that sharing is a skill that parents should help children learn, many parents focus on it way too early. Child development specialists will tell you that in the first few years of life, children are ego-centric and unable to notice or care about the needs of others. (This is a general statement. There are times when young children notice and care about loved ones, but the rarity of those times is what makes them so sweet.) Around the age of four they start becoming more aware of their peers and having more of a desire to “get along.” This is the time when sharing can be emphasized, and children will be able to learn and understand the concept. Focusing too much on sharing before this is like saying, “If I start young teaching him to tie his shoes, he’ll be really good at it!” We all know that kids will eventually learn how to tie their shoes, when their dexterity and coordination allow them to. Different kids reach that stage at different times, so there is some benefit in “starting early” but there’s also clearly a time when shoe-tying lessons would be completely ineffective.
When young children first start playing with other kids parents should focus more on keeping the peace than forcing kids to share. You can model problem-solving by talking problems out. At first you will do all the talking, but as you do so you teach the words and phrases that the children will eventually say themselves. (See Use Your Words). If a child is not sharing, don’t worry about it, and certainly don’t punish him for it! Soon his desire to please his peers will naturally kick in and sharing will become easier. Too much focus on sharing creates bossy kids. It’s better to have a child who is adept at problem-solving than one who makes sure everyone else ‘follows the rules!’
Underrated: Time Spent with Kids
Children need more of our time and attention than many parents realize. They are attention sponges, and their need for it can get overwhelming. But try to remember that when you focus directly on your child, you are helping him in so many ways: emotionally, physically, and mentally. Neural connections are created and strengthened in his brain when you listen to him and have conversations with him. In these interactions you non-verbally teach appropriate social skills, reinforce your emotional bond to each other, and build your child’s self-esteem. You communicate to him that he is important and worth listening to. So much is accomplished in these seemingly mundane moments.
For newborn babies, gazing into a parent’s eyes is exercise. Their heart rate goes up and their attention is focused. It is a mentally strengthening activity. For the first year of my baby’s life I try to have this one-on-one, focused interaction for 10 minutes every day. I smile and talk to her and rub her arms or legs. It’s a very bonding time. After about ten minutes the baby will look away, indicating she is tired. This is her cue that she’s done ‘exercising’ and needs a little time to look off in the distance. She is processing what she just took in.
For my toddlers and preschoolers I carve out at least ten minutes a day to spend one-on-one, playing or talking. I try to make this a habit by tying it to some other routine, such as doing it every day after lunch. I play whatever the child wants to play and let the child lead the interaction and discussion. It’s difficult to put other things aside and spend focused time with my child. I’d rather get to my ‘to do’ list than sit on the floor and play ponies. But I know it’s so important to the child’s development and to our relationship.
Once children are in school all day it’s harder to quality spend time with them. After school they have homework and dinner and activities. But it’s still important to have regular one-one-one interactions with each kid, even if it’s once a week or once a month.
This is a word that strikes fear in parents. They fret that if they aren’t consistent children won’t learn that they are serious about the rules. Being consistent is important, of course. You don’t want to have different rules and consequences all the time. Consistency helps children know what to expect and shows them that they can rely on you. But it’s a little over-emphasized. Situations come up where flexibility is important. When you’ve been out late or have a guest staying with you or your child seems to be going through a growth-spurt – these are times when you can stray from the normal rules and make exceptions. You don’t have to be so locked into being “consistent” that you can’t use your own judgment about the situation at hand.
I think follow-through is more important that consistency. Follow-through has to more to do with short term situations than overall rules of the family. If you ask a child to complete a chore, following up to see if it’s done is crucial. If you say you’re going to give a consequence for a certain misbehavior, do it. But, you should think about what you’re going to say before you say it! (Even then, if you speak in the heat of the moment, it’s okay to come back a few minutes later and apologize and explain that you weren’t really thinking clearly, and the consequence (or threat) that you gave isn’t reasonable. This is still a form of follow-through.) Follow-through has to do with you being present and aware of what children should be doing and when.
We encourage our children to use their words when they want something, including an exception to a rule, and that means that sometimes we end up bending that rule (not always, though). Consistency is a principle to look at over the long term – are you generally consistent? If yes, then it’s okay for exceptions in some situations.
Underrated: The Home Environment
You and your children probably spend a lot of time at home. The home is the environment your children are most comfortable in, and it has a great impact on whom and what they will become. Why not fill it with inspirational and educational materials in places children can easily see and access? Surround your children with the good things of the world. I’m sure you have family pictures on the wall and books on the shelves, which is a great start. Both those things are important. But you could also include poems, inspiring quotes, and scriptures. You could print out history facts and famous quotes and tape them to the wall. This will be of interest to your child and the papers taped to the wall can serve as a reminder to you to talk about those things and teach your child about that person or time period. You could also listen to snippets of classical music and learn about it together. Children are very interested in new stories and in learning about interesting people.
My husband has a small notebook of copies of famous paintings from a college humanities class. We hang one picture at a time on the fridge. The kids notice it and read the title, and sometimes we discuss it. My goal is that when they encounter that picture in their own college humanities class they will say, “I’ve seen that before!” One of the keys to this infusion of knowledge is changing the wall hangings on a regular basis. People quickly get accustomed to whatever is around them and stop noticing it. So every few weeks or months, change it up!
Overrated: Helping Kids
In this age of helicopter parenting, there are a lot of tasks that we rush to help our children with that they could very well do on their own or at least should be able to attempt to do. The importance of allowing children to try for themselves starts when babies are first playing on the floor. When they reach to grab a toy, don’t hand it to them right away. Let them reach and struggle; this will work new muscles and brain pathways and motivate them to move in new and different ways. That same logic can be continually applied as they grow. Children gain self-confidence when they are able to be independent. We should praise their efforts in trying to accomplish something, rather than rush in and do it for them. I like to say, “It feels good to do things by yourself, doesn’t it?!” to reinforce the positive feelings of self-reliance. Sometimes they end up doing the task by themselves because I was taking too long to come help them. In those cases I congratulate myself for being too busy to help because they learned they could do it on their own!
There are many situations where an adult can see that a child won’t be able to do the task, for example, opening a restaurant door. But to jump in and help before letting her try gives the impression that she can’t do things and shouldn’t try. We don’t want our children to think they should only try things they know they are good at or they know they can do. We want them to try all sorts of new things, even if they are unsure of their abilities. In general, people like to try. Let your children try. It’s hard to hold back when you know they won’t be able to, or when it would be easier to do it yourself. But it only takes a few seconds or minutes. Don’t help until they ask.
This goes for opening things, making things, doing homework, doing chores, and many more tasks. It takes longer and sometimes is frustrating to watch, but it creates independent, can-do kids. Allowing children to do things for themselves will result in teenagers who wake up to their own alarm clocks, do their homework independently, and remember their own appointments!
In the book Parenting withLove and Logic it says,
“Everything we fix for our kids, our kids perceive they are unable to fix for themselves. If there’s more than a ten percent chance that our child might be able to work it out, we should keep clear of the problem. The greatest gift we can give children is the knowledge that . . . they can always look first to themselves for the answers to their problems.”
I strongly believe that the words we use have a big impact on the way we view the world and how we feel. I think it makes a difference when we speak accurately instead of using what I call exaggeration words. Exaggeration words like never, always, forever, all over, and hate are rarely true. We use them when tensions are high or when we are frustrated and want to make our point more forcefully, but they distort the situation and often make it worse. If we take a moment to calm down and contemplate what we’re really feeling, we can find more accurate and productive ways of expressing ourselves.
Children seem to come pre-programmed to use exaggeration words and phrases. I’m sure you’ve heard some of the following:
“We never get to go there!”
“I hate her!”
“She’s always bugging me!”
“This will take forever!”
Even though children use these phrases naturally, parents can teach them how to express themselves more appropriately. One way to do that is by modeling the correct behavior yourself. Have you ever found your child walking in the house with muddy shoes and said something like, “You’ve got mud all over!” or “This will take forever to clean up!” If you change those statements to, “You’ve tracked mud on the carpet,” and “It will take me a long time to clean it up,” you will feel calmer, and your children will learn a better way to express themselves. It takes practice and self control, but it will be worth it. In addition, your child will respond better because he will feel that you are being honest and accurate. A child is like any other person – when he hears someone exaggerate he tends to tune them out. When people exaggerate, others around them roll their eyes and think, “Why are they getting so upset?” Your children will listen and respond better when you speak in measured words and tones. Start to notice how you speak to your children, especially in frustrating situations, and see if you can find ways to eliminate exaggeration words and phrases and replace them with accurate statements.
Many exaggeration statements are negative and demeaning to children. It may be tempting to say, “You never listen!” or “Why are you always making messes?” But these types of statements are not true for any child. Every child, every person, listens sometimes and sometimes doesn’t; makes messes sometimes and sometimes doesn’t. If you are concerned about your child’s problem with these behaviors, you can talk to them about it in a more direct, encouraging way, such as, “I want you to listen when mommy talks to you.” You should try to find times when he does listen and positively reinforce that.
We’ve all said these types of things in anger and frustration, and it’s okay if it happens occasionally. But you should make efforts to get in the habit of controlling what you say and speaking positively and accurately. Refer to the post Practice Patience for tips on how to stay calm.
When your children use exaggeration phrases, you can teach them that speaking like that is not factual. For example, if one of my daughters said about a friend, “She’s always so mean!” I would NOT respond by saying, “No, she’s not” or “Don’t say that.” Those responses shut down communication, don’t really get to the bottom of what is going on, and don’t teach the child about accurate speech. I would say, “Sometimes she is mean, sometimes she isn’t. What happened that made you say that?” This reply, “sometimes _____ and sometimes _____” is very useful for conveying the nuanced reality of the world. Life is complicated, and things are rarely black and white. It takes a long time for children to recognize this, but this type of response helps them begin to understand it. To the declaration, “She never shares!” I would say, “Sometimes she does, and sometimes she doesn’t. How can we solve this problem right now.” Focus your child on the current problem and possible solutions, and steer him away from making general statements about a person or state of affairs. Kids will often say, “I hate you!” to a sibling or parent. In this case, I would remind them of the rule of not saying hate with a simple, “We don’t say hate” and then explain, “Sometimes you like me (or her), sometimes you don’t, and that’s okay. But you need to be respectful when you speak to me.” You’re not criticizing the feeling. Feelings come naturally and can’t always be controlled. But words and actions can (and should) be controlled. You’re teaching the child that no matter what he is feeling, he still needs to speak respectfully, which is a valuable lesson. You should be modeling this behavior as much as possible.
A corollary to this is the inevitable time when your child says, “I hate myself.” Most parents will respond with strong emotion, saying, “Don’t ever say that! You’re wonderful!” But again, that conveys that he shouldn’t communicate how he feels, and it closes off the discussion from further enlightenment. The better way is to first remind the child of the general rule (without a lot of emotion): “We don’t say hate.” That rule applies in any situation. Then follow up with, “What is going on that makes you say that?” Ask an open-ended question that allows the child to express his feelings and have a conversation with you about what is going on in his life.
When my children say something like, “You never let me stay up!” they know I will respond with, “That’s an exaggeration word.” Sometimes I try to get them to restate the phrase, and I will help them if necessary. For instance, “Why don’t you try, ‘Mom, I want to stay up, and I feel like I haven’t gotten to for quite a while. Can I, please?’” I try to remind them that they can tell me how they feel and ask for what they want. They can say, “I feel angry,” or “I feel frustrated.” (I literally say this to them, giving them the exact words to use to express themselves). But they can’t speak unkindly or disrespectfully, and exaggeration words often fall under those categories.
Sometimes parents use exaggeration words when they compliment their children. Specific compliments are more powerful and more sincere. Exaggerating compliments are the easy way out. They don’t take much effort, they are vague, and they are often untrue. I’m irritated when I hear parents say, “That is the most beautiful painting I’ve ever seen!” I know this is simply the way some parents express themselves, and they don’t mean to be insincere. But it’s much better to give the painting some thought and attention and point out something specific that you admire, such as, “I like the red in the flowers!” or “It looks like you worked hard on that.” We are in an age where building up children’s self-esteem is highly emphasized. Parents tend to over-compliment. This can actually cause anxiety in children and make them believe that the result is more important that the effort. The adage ‘less is more’ applies here. I’m all for positive reinforcement, but a smile and a simple, accurate kind word can be very powerful. I try to avoid using “the most” or any adjective ending in ‘est’ (cutest, smartest, etc.) when I give praise. Those words ring untrue and don’t sit right. They also focus on comparison: if you were the cutest, that means you were cuter than all the other girls. It’s better to stay away from comparisons by saying, “You looked very cute in your class performance today.”
Hopefully it is clear that there are many reasons to get in the habit of using accurate words and avoiding exaggeration words. Doing so can ease high emotions and give you a greater chance of resolving situations peacefully. It will help you and your children get control of and express difficult feelings. This type of speech helps children begin to understand the complicated world and learn that sometimes you feel one way and sometimes you feel another; sometimes a person is mean and sometimes they are nice. It also allows you to give compliments that motivate and feel sincere rather than provoke anxiety or comparison.
I’ve had two friends recently suggest I do a post on allowance and chores. One even gave me a list of questions she hoped I would answer, so I decided to do this post in a Q&A format.
Do you give your children allowance?
Yes, we give allowance because it enables them to learn money management. By practicing with their own money, children can try out concepts – saving for a rainy day, prioritizing goals, and delaying gratification – that might otherwise seem abstract or irrelevant. Allowances give kids room to make mistakes in a low-risk environment. They are able to learn early on the pitfalls of impulse buying and the value of saving.
When do you start and how much do you pay?
We start giving allowance when our children enter kindergarten. A child’s understanding of the concept and value of money does not fully emerge until 6 years old or older. Before then you will find him or her leaving the money around, not taking care of or caring much about it (beyond an initial excitement).
We pay $1/grade/week. For kindergarten and first grade they get $1/week, in second grade $2/week, and so on. This amount has worked well for our children, and it’s an easy way to remember when they get a “raise” in allowance.
How often do you pay?
We decided to give out allowance on a weekly basis, although biweekly or monthly can work also. The important thing is getting in a consistent pattern so you remember to do it. It takes some effort to have the correct change around each week; you need many one dollar bills!
Do you force your child to save or give to charity?
This is a tricky question because if the point of giving allowance is to let children learn money management, shouldn’t they be permitted to spend it however they want? The answer is yes, and no. We don’t force our children to save any of their money. Their allowance is not that much to start with, and I don’t think any amount they could save would make much difference in long term pursuits (college, etc.). Some of our girls have chosen to save up for some big-ticket item, which has taught them about delaying gratification and the benefits of saving. But if they choose to spend it all right away, I’m okay with that.
We do, however, strongly encourage them to donate money. In our church (the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or the Mormons), we are taught to donate 10% of our money as tithing. Ten percent can be tricky, though, when you’re paying $2 a week! I didn’t like the idea of giving allowance in coins, so I came up with a better way. I keep track of the weeks and have my girls pay their whole allowance as tithing every tenth week. It’s the same concept, one-tenth of your increase, but more convenient! Sometimes the girls have resisted and said they don’t want to, or it’s their money, but I just say, “This is what Hoelzers do!” and give them the pen to fill out the tithing slip. I remind them that the other 9 weeks they got to keep their whole allowance, and that this one week their money can go to help others.
Some families have their children divide up their allowance into spending, saving, and charity jars. This is a great idea if you have the small change on hand and the patience to keep up with this system. It was too much for me to keep track of, and I felt good about letting them spend the money, after they had paid tithing. Somewhere in middle school my girls started making more money from babysitting, keeping track of their own income, and paying tithing on it on their own.
Do you monitor what they spend their allowance on?
This question goes along with the previous one, both relating to children’s freedom to choose what to do with their allowance. Again, we give allowance because it is an educational tool, to help them learn lessons about what and how they spend money, so we don’t monitor very closely. But I do think there can be some general oversight, such as, “You can spend your allowance however you like, as long as it doesn’t cause a problem.” Buying something you’re opposed to, like fireworks or a pellet gun, would fall under that clause.
In general you should let children spend their money on what they want, even if you don’t think it’s a good use of money or worthwhile. I’ve had times where my child has bought something of low quality that I knew would break, but I didn’t say anything. When we got home and it broke, I didn’t say, “I knew that would happen;” I was sympathetic and kind and told the child I was sorry that happened. The child learned the lesson from the consequences far more powerfully than my predicting the consequences.
When my oldest two daughters were in middle school we decided to sell much of their accumulated American Girl dolls and clothes. The sale was a success, and they both earned hundreds of dollars. One child asked if she could open a savings account (and the money is still in that account to this day). The other got on amazon.com (with which she was already intimately familiar) and spent almost all of it! Both approaches were acceptable to me, and both girls learned lessons from the experience.
Do you allow your children to borrow against or get advances on their allowance?
I’m against this, more because of the inconvenience than any strong philosophical stance. It’s too hard to remember who borrowed what or how much they still get on Saturday. I also think it’s a bad habit to get into. The Hoelzer Family Bank doesn’t give advances. I want my children to learn to delay their gratification and not spend their money before they have it. A related problem is when they want to buy something at the store, but their money is at home. I mostly allow this. I will buy the item and have them pay me back when they get home. It’s one more thing to remember, but it’s a little more immediate.
What are your children responsible for paying for themselves?
Between the ages of 6 and 12 their allowance is pretty much just fun money. I pay for their movies or activities, and they don’t really go places that cost money with friends. They could use their allowance for toys or trinkets, food or candy, or save up for something bigger. Around middle school, children’s expenses increase. This is the time they want to do stuff with friends and want more clothes and accessories (at least girls do!). At that point we started having them pay for some of their own fun activities, but not all. We didn’t have an exact plan, but if I knew they had some money (if they were “cashy,” as I call it), then I would tell them to pay.
When my girls were in eighth grade I started having them pay for their dance clothes and shoes. There is a large price difference in leotards, and if I am buying, they really like the more expensive ones! Having them pay for their own leotards taught them a lot about the value of a dollar and how to look for sales and discount websites.
One fun thing about children having their own money is watching them use it to buy for others. For Christmas and birthdays we encourage our children to buy presents for others family members. It has been really cute to see their generosity and excitement over finding a present to give to mom or dad or sister. At Christmas we take them shopping to buy for others. We supplement the younger ones’ allowance so they can buy for everyone and sometimes a friend or two. But the older ones (10 years old and up) budget and decide what to get each person and pay for it all themselves. They are very thoughtful in gift giving, especially for my husband and me. Around November if they are talking about things they want to buy with their allowance I remind them that the holidays are coming and they should be saving. They have really come to enjoy this opportunity to give.
Do you link allowance directly with chores?
This is the question you’ve all been waiting for. This is a topic that many people feel strongly about on both sides. In our family we do NOT link allowance with chores. Most, if not all, of the parenting and financial experts I have read or heard have recommended separating the two, for the reasons I mention here.
We talk a lot to our children about family responsibilities and family benefits. We tie that in to family unity by saying, “Being part of the Hoelzer family comes with benefits and responsibilities. One of your benefits is receiving allowance each week. One of your responsibilities is doing family chores.” We use this concept in other ways, also. If we are going on a vacation, that’s a family benefit. If there are extra chores to do some weekend, that’s a family responsibility. We all work together for the good of the family, and we all enjoy certain benefits. If another family gets something our family doesn’t, we point out that every family has benefits and responsibilities, and that’s not one of ours.
Again, giving children money is an instructive tool that helps them learn and develop necessary skills for adulthood. It is given simply because they are part of the family. The main argument for tying chores to money is this: “Children need to learn that if you don’t work, you don’t earn anything. I don’t get paid if I don’t work, so they shouldn’t either. That’s how the real world works.” I completely disagree with the premise of this claim. Correlating chores and allowance seems to make sense on the surface, but it’s actually quite arbitrary. That same reasoning could be used to say, “Nobody pays for my vacation, why should my child get a free vacation?” or “I had to pay for this food we eat, why should my child eat for free?” When extended to these situations you can see that the logic starts to break down. Adults have to pay for everything they use or consume. And we have to work for all the money we earn. But childhood is a special time where things are provided for you so you can grow and learn.
It is essential that a child learns to work during childhood, and that’s where the family responsibilities come in. Children need to have chores and responsibilities around the house. They need to experience what being a family member, a team member, is all about. It’s important to teach them that all family members have responsibilities to the group. And that’s nonnegotiable. Though they may gripe about doing the dishes, the need to contribute in a meaningful way is fundamental. Tying that work to allowance doesn’t give the child a better work ethic. Sometimes it can even cause the opposite – the child can consider whether the chore is worth the money, and possibly decide it’s not. In that case, he doesn’t learn to work and he doesn’t have any money to spend.
I don’t think there is any child who will grow up thinking that money comes for free forever. This is just not a legitimate concern. If you instill a good work ethic in your child he will continue to work hard at whatever his current task is: family chores, school work, college work, or his professional job. Children are smart enough to realize the difference between a weekly allowance from mom and dad and money they will need to earn as an adult.
Connecting money and chores can give both an added layer of emotional power. Parents start to emphasize that you have to get the bad stuff over with (the chores) to get to the good stuff. I prefer to teach both as positive concepts. We get to work together and produce a clean house, and we also get weekly allowance.
Sometimes parents want to tie chores to allowance because they feel it gives them more leverage. They have something to hold over the child’s head to motivate him to work. But, again, it may not be motivation enough, and then you are stuck with undone chores. The better way to get children to complete their chores is harder and takes more time: talk to them about the importance of all family members pitching in, compliment them when they complete their chores, stay with them to ensure they are done, be firm but kind in insisting the work is done.
Do you have any chores tied to money?
We do have a list of “money chores” that the kids can choose to complete if they want to earn extra money. These would be the more difficult, extra chores such as cleaning windows or vacuuming the car; something that is not part of the child’s usual responsibilities. They are completely optional, simply there if the child wants to earn money. We haven’t been great about keeping this list up, but if a child is saving for something special and wants ways to earn extra money, then we will create a new list.
*Look for a future post for more about family chores and responsibilities.
Many people ask me what parenting books I recommend, so I thought I’d write a post summarizing the books I like and why I like them. I have joked that parenting books are more a cause of frustration than a help (see Here and Here). But really, I do like to read parenting books and see what suggestions they can give. And I wouldn’t be as knowledgeable or parent in the way I do if I hadn’t kept reading parenting books and come across the ones that spoke to me.
The parenting book that caused me the most frustration was one of the first ones I read: BabyWise by Gary Ezzo. This is a popular book about sleep training for infants. I liked the idea of establishing a schedule, and I loved the idea of getting my baby to sleep through the night! But the author is so matter-of-fact, stating that if you follow his formula, your baby will nap and sleep through the night easily.
There are many parts of this book that I think are correct and helpful. I believe in the Eat-Awake-Sleep routine. I used it for all four of my babies, and they all slept through the night within the first few months. However, the author is very rigid about sticking to the scheduled eating and sleeping times. Any veteran parent knows this is not realistic, but I was seduced by his claims and felt betrayed when I didn’t get the same results. Now I know parents have to adjust and be flexible with the baby’s needs and wants and the changing events of each day (doctor’s appointments, outings, etc.). I wanted to do everything “right” though, and couldn’t help but be frustrated when my baby’s behavior didn’t seem to conform to his examples.
He talks about the nap cycle where the baby sleeps 45 minutes and then wakes, but can and will go back to sleep for another 45 minutes to an hour. In a general sense this is true; all my babies have exhibited this pattern and have learned to go back to sleep for the “second” portion of their nap. But day-to-day this was not always the case. When I had my first child and she wouldn’t go back to sleep, I let her cry for a while. But then I started scouring the book for the part about what if she doesn’t?! This was never addressed in the book. The author completely assumes the baby will do exactly what he predicts. As a new mother this left me terribly stressed! He really should have had a portion for what to do when the system doesn’t work!
Anyway, there are a few other books out there that recommend this Eat-Awake-Sleep cycle, and many of them are less rigid and more forgiving, letting parents know that it doesn’t always work perfectly. One I particularly liked is Secrets of the Baby Whisperer. The author, Tracy Hogg, writes about really getting to know your baby and watching her cues, which I think is important.
After my experience with BabyWise I read other parenting books with a little more skepticism. This is the only way to read them. Parenting books have to claim to have the magic answer in order to convince readers to buy them. But there is no magic answer, and most books simply have good ideas and some new insights (at best!). They can be helpful if you understand their limitations and don’t get frustrated when your children don’t respond exactly as they outlined.
The book that had the greatest impact on my parenting is Smart Love by Martha and William Pieper. I don’t even remember how I found it, but I’m so glad I did. This book literally changed my life. It was a big part of my transformation from an angry, continuously irritated parent into a patient, happy parent. A quote from the back cover describes the book perfectly:
“Get out of the discipline zone with smart love, a patient and caring approach to parenting. . . It replaces the old rewards-and-punishment style of parenting that turns parents into disciplinarians, which they don’t want to be, and treats children as miniature adults, which they aren’t.”
This book taught me appropriate expectations and changed my perspective on my role as a parent and my child’s needs. It teaches how to parent from a place of compassion and love, which was exactly what I was looking for.
As my children grew from infants and toddlers to preschoolers and school age, I read Parenting with Love and Logic. This famous book by Foster Cline and Jim Fay is a no-nonsense approach to teaching children responsibility. This book is a must-read for parents, full of practical principles and advice. These authors encourage parents to be compassionate and empathetic with their children while being firm in their rules and consequences.
About the same time I read The Power of Positive Parenting by Glenn Latham. It is a long and exhaustive book but very informative. He goes through many specific situations with step-by-step family conversations and instructions. The basic premise of the book is the quote I’ve used in other posts:
“Research has shown that the most effective way to reduce problem behavior in children is to strengthen desirable behavior through positive reinforcement rather than trying to weaken undesirable behavior using aversive or negative processes.”
Don’t get the idea that the whole book is written like that! That is just a quote from a different resource called the International Encyclopedia of Education. But he believes in that principle so much that he puts that quote at the end of every chapter! The first two chapters are very informative and interesting, and most of the rest of the book applies those principles to specific situations.
The Parenting Breakthrough is one of my all-time favorite parenting books. Merrilee Browne Boyack is an LDS author who has written a few different parenting and marriage books. She is down-to-earth and humorous with straightforward and sensible advice. The first half of the book focuses on teaching your kids to work, save money, and be independent. The second half is full of strategies for building family unity. I was already doing many of her suggestions, but she explained how and why they were so meaningful.
I highly recommend The Read-Aloud Handbook. Jim Trelease’s influential book on how and why to read out loud to your children is convincing and inspiring. The second half of the book is a long list (he calls it a treasury) of books suggestions to read aloud to your children, sorted by type and level.
Nurture Shock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman is a fascinating book about recent research on children’s growth and development. This book has been called the Freakonomics of parenting books. It goes through some fascinating new science about children that goes against conventional wisdom. They make child development research accessible and enjoyable to read. There are chapters on speech development, self-control, teen rebellion, siblings and many more topics. I loved it!
A dear friend of mine introduced me to the book The Blessing of a Skinned Knee. It is another amazing book full of realistic wisdom much needed for modern parenting. The author, Wendy Mogel, is a clinical psychologist who has counseled families for many years. She saw patterns in their struggles, and she realized that many of their problems stemmed largely from overparenting and coddling. She is also Jewish and applies wisdom from important Jewish teachings to parenting. Even though this may not sound like the typical parenting book, the format works really well, and the book contains some great information and advice.
When your children reach the age of 9-12, you must read How to Hug a Porcupine by Julie Ross. It helps you navigate difficult tween behavior. You learn how to talk to your child about important issues, break the nagging cycle, treat your children with respect, and cultivate an increasingly mature relationship. Her approach is very compassionate and relationship-based, which I loved.
There are other parenting books I’ve read throughout the years, but these are my stand-out favorites. I hope you read and enjoy some or all of them!
It’s funny that I can write a whole post on getting kids to clean their rooms, but it’s actually quite a complicated skill, and sometimes an emotionally-laden one as well. All parents want their children to be neat and tidy and keep their rooms organized. But it’s one of those developmental processes that takes years to complete (approximately 18!). I want to talk about the appropriate developmental expectations for children keeping clean rooms (at various ages), and give some tips and tricks to help your child learn this skill.
From a parent’s perspective, cleaning a room should be a simple task for a child. The room is messy; clean it up. There are clothes and toys on the floor; put them away. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Children’s brains don’t function in the same way adults’ do. If children could verbalize their subconscious processes, they might say. . .
“Why would I want to put things away?” For some reason small children get way more pleasure out of taking things out of a cupboard or drawer rather than putting things in. I think this is a joke God played on parents! Children naturally want to explore their world, and that requires emptying any space they come across. In my efforts to positively reinforce behaviors I wanted, I tried to make a big deal whenever my little child would put something in (it was a rare occurrence, but I kept a look out). If she started putting toys in a toy bucket or socks in a drawer I would say, “Yay! You’re putting them in! I like it when you put the toys in!” I did not show as much excitement when she took things out :).
“I don’t see any mess.” Their enjoyment of emptying containers is one reason why small children have difficulty keeping their room clean. Another reason is their lack of attention to detail. They can walk right past (or through) a mess and not notice it. They don’t necessarily know how their rooms should look, so they literally don’t “see” a problem.
“I don’t know where to start.” A third struggle is the overwhelming nature of a messy room. If you say, “Go clean your room,” to a child under ten, it really is too much for them to handle. There are so many aspects to the task: the unmade bed, clothes on the floor, scattered toys of different categories. They don’t know where to start, and they don’t have the ability to break the task down to smaller chunks. This means they are discouraged before they even start.
“I want someone with me.” Furthermore, children are social creatures. They don’t want to work by themselves, and we all know they get distracted when they are working alone. Most children work better with someone by their side. They don’t think it’s “fair” that they do the cleaning on their own.
“Or what?” Instructing children to go clean their room can set you up for a battle of wills. Children, especially between the years of 2-5, are willful and defiant; they are working out that separation between their parents and themselves. They test boundaries – it’s as if they are saying, “Clean my room – or what?!” If you approach this the wrong way, you are faced with enforcing stricter and stricter consequences (punishments) for not obeying. As you hopefully know by now. . . there is a better way.
When my oldest daughter was two and a half (and before I knew or understood any of these principles), I got in just such a control battle with her. I remember a time when the living room was littered with toys, and I wanted her to help me clean them up. I’m sure I didn’t say anything more original than a few versions of, “Please clean up the toys.” She wandered around aimlessly, not picking up any toys. The less she did, the more frustrated I became (I had very little skills or tools for calming myself and remaining patient). I made threats about taking the toys away, etc., but these threats were not working. I was getting very angry and didn’t know how to motivate her. She had a beloved stuffed Big Bird which she called Birbie. She took him everywhere and slept with him every night. I decided this would be the threat that would finally propel her into action. I threatened to take him away if she didn’t clean up, and . . .nothing. She cried and held tightly to Birbie but wouldn’t clean any toys. Now I had painted myself into a corner. As I took Birbie away and put him on a high shelf I felt terrible and ineffective. I knew I hadn’t changed her behavior for the better. I’d only been the mean mom who took her favorite lovey away. It was not the solution I was looking for.
Now I know the better way! I have learned many more tools for motivating children, and I know to avoid these battles of wills. Here are a few ideas to consider and tips to keep your children motivated and you sane.
I mentioned above that children want company when cleaning. I’ve learned to avoid saying, “Go clean your room” to a young child. Instead I would say, “Let’s go clean your room together.” It’s always a group project. I stay in the room with her and work beside her. Sometimes I work slowly, or I put away the same item over and over! Things will go more smoothly if you stay with the child, giving her companionship and some direction, keeping her focused and making it fun.
If the child is old enough to read, break down the individual tasks of the overall chore on a 3×5 card. Write “Clean Your Room” at the top and then list the parts such as: make your bed, put dirty clothes in the laundry basket, put away clean clothes, pick up any items on the floor and put them where they go, etc. This card will help prevent them from getting overwhelmed and frustrated. (You can do this same thing for other chores like cleaning the bathroom or yard work.) A child doesn’t have the cognitive capacity to do this break down on his own. It’s very helpful if you teach him how to do it by modeling it and/or writing it down. This point-by-point list is much more manageable for a child than just tackling the whole room or the whole chore at once.
When you go together into a room to clean it, they might have this card with them, or you can verbally guide them through this same approach. You can explain the various individual tasks and ask, “Do you want to make the bed or find dirty clothes first?” You can each take one portion after another until the room is done.
For young children, give even smaller, simpler tasks that will be manageable for their age. This avoids overwhelming and discouraging them. For example, “Would you like to do Barbies or books?” They clean up whichever category of toy they choose, and then you give them another choice. Giving choices is very important in a chore such as cleaning, where they don’t really want to do it in the first place. Always try to present different options of what they can do. It gives children a sense of control and melts resistance. It also makes the job seem easier because they don’t have to think about the whole room at once. Don’t overdo the choices, though. Two is really enough; more can be overwhelming.
Try to motivate kids to clean by being creative and fun. Tell them to pick up all the blue toys (or ask them if they want to do blue or yellow toys, for instance), or have them pick up ten items and put them away. If stuffed animals need to go into a toy box or bucket, make “baskets” and give two points for each shot (sneak some math in, also!). If they like a certain character, have them pretend to be that character (say, Superman) and show you how fast Superman could clean up the blocks. Sometimes I would tell my kids we were pretending to be the Clean Up Fairies, and when we were done the real us would come in and be amazed at the clean room and wonder who did it! (I also do this to encourage “secret service” to other family members: pretend you’re the Clean Up Fairy and do your sister’s chore, then she will be happily surprised and want to know who did it!).
One fun and creative way to motivate kids to clean is called Five and Five. Carry a timer with you and set it for five minutes. That’s how long you all work on cleaning the room (you can give the choices and direct as needed while cleaning). When the timer goes off everyone stops and does something fun together – maybe read a book, play blocks, rough-house – until the next five minute timer goes off. Then you go back to cleaning. My kids loved this method, but it was so hard for me! Once we got into cleaning, I just wanted to finish! It killed me to stop and do something else.
As a proactive parent, you should think about the timing of your cleaning. Is your child more cooperative in the morning or in the evening? Maybe it’s best to wait until after he’s eaten a meal. Timing can make a big difference in how helpful your child is. If you’re trying to get a room clean and getting a lot of resistance from the child, maybe leave the mess (which is hard, I know!) and try again later. If you can find the time of day he’s most compliant, try to assign chores during that time on a consistent basis.
Here’s another great technique that has to do with timing. Use something your child is requesting as a motivating factor for cleaning. For instance, you know the basement toys need to be put away. The children finish and meal, and one asks, “Can I go to a friend’s house?” You answer, “Yes, as soon as the toys in the basement are put away.” Or if she is working on a craft project at the table and then asks to watch a show, you say, “You may watch the show when the craft supplies are put away.” There have been so many times when I’ve said yes to the request and realized later that I missed a golden opportunity of motivation! It’s easy to get kids to do some chore when they want something else. The chore seems painless and quick because they are looking forward to the next thing.
Think about your own attitude toward cleaning. Do you view it as drudgery? Do you go into a room and make negative comments about how messy it is or how long it’s going to take to clean? If you do, your child will sense that and be less likely to clean cooperatively! You can change the statement, “We have to go clean your room now” to “We GET to go clean your room!” Act like you enjoy it, talk about how nice it will look when things are put away and how your child will be able to find things. Have a good attitude about your own cleaning chores. When you’re done cleaning a room, comment to your children on how great it looks and how nice it feels to have a clean space. Your example will have a great effect on their cleaning behavior.
Each family’s standard of cleanliness falls somewhere on a “clean” spectrum from every last item put away every day to rarely cleaning and never seeing the floor of the child’s room. There are many variations along this spectrum that are normal and work fine for families. Some families clean each night before bed. Some thoroughly clean bedrooms once a week. There will be times when extra cleanings are in order and times when the kids play without making too much of a mess (not many of those, though!). It doesn’t matter where you fall exactly on this spectrum as long as you have a system or routine for encouraging cleanliness.
Don’t force children to clean. You won’t win. Some days your children will be cooperative, other days not so much. Encourage them to do at least something, such as pick up five toys. But if it’s not going well, it’s best to do it yourself or leave it for another time. There’s no benefit to having a battle about cleaning up. Don’t fret about your children not learning to be clean or responsible. View your children’s abilities to clean with a long-term perspective. Don’t overreact to one day’s failures. Just let it go and hope for a better day tomorrow.
I know it’s hard to know what age you should start expecting responsible cleaning behavior. My main answer is, older than you think! Once your kids reach ten or twelve or sixteen you will see how little and young a five year old is. When your oldest is five you expect a lot of him and worry that he will never be responsible. But there are many, many years for him to learn this! Here are the main ingredients for clean and responsible kids: 1. Your good attitude toward and positive modeling of cleaning. 2. Your kind but firm guidance for them to clean, with increasing responsibilities as they age.
By age 8-10 you can start to expect them to clean their room independently. I still like to be in the room with my kids, though, or close by, putting other things away. If you send a child off to clean her room on her own, be sure to follow up on that task. Inspect their work after or have them tell you when they finish the job. Otherwise kids will learn to dawdle and avoid the chore, knowing you won’t realize it wasn’t done until much later. (See the last section of Positive Ways to Speak to Your Child, Part II for more on this.)
Expecting teenagers clean their rooms is a whole new parenting challenge! You probably know that for teenagers, their rooms are their sanctuary. They want privacy in their rooms, and they want to keep their rooms how they like them. As the saying goes, parents have to “choose their battles” with teenagers, and if this is a battle you choose not to fight, I think that is okay. Eventually your example will sink in, but maybe not until they go to college. Still encourage cleanliness from time to time, in a playful way if possible. If and when they do clean their rooms, be sure to make a positive comment about it, but don’t be sarcastic! For example, it’s tempting to say, “We can finally see the floor!” but this type of sarcasm just annoys teenagers. It’s better to simply say, “Thanks for cleaning your room; it looks great!” At other times try to find any part of the room to compliment, such as, “Thanks for making your bed every day,” or “I like the way you keep your books organized on your bookshelf.”
I’m a pretty clean person and for me a clean house is a high priority. I still “make” my teenage daughters clean their rooms; although make is not really the right word. I encourage it often and even offer to help them. They don’t usually want my help, but they are pretty cooperative about keeping their rooms clean. I communicate my feelings to them on a regular basis, telling them why I feel it is important to keep their rooms and the house clean. Their rooms might get messier and messier for a few days or weeks, sometimes because they are extra busy. When I know we have a free weekend, I’ll instruct them to work on their rooms. I still give discrete instructions such as, “Please pick up the clothes on your floor” or, “Your garbage needs to be emptied.” I try not to bother them too often about it, and I try to be very positive about the clean portions of their rooms. If it became a real battle and rift in our relationship, I would lighten up.
In summary, getting children to clean their rooms is more complicated than you would think. You have to work with them at it (literally, both of your working together), have a positive attitude about cleaning in general, try to make it fun, don’t expect too much too soon from them, and model cleanliness in your own life.