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!