Not too long ago, I posted a picture on The Parenting Passageway Facebook page about how I taught our seven-year-old (eight years old soon) how to do his own laundry and tossed a picture of our (rather ugly) chore chart up there as well. One of the major questions was how to get children to do chores without whining, complaining, bickering, fighting back, needing a million reminders.
I don’t think I have yet discovered that secret, but I do have a few things to share that have helped us over the years….
CHORES ARE JUST PART OF LIFE. For a long time, I didn’t even refer to doing household work as “chores.” That just sounds so negative to many of us! I referred to it as “taking care of our home” (or our pet, or each other). We do it out of love and gratitude that we are all living together and have a roof over our heads and enough to eat, and it isn’t a negotiable thing. We just do it. We are a team, and we take care of each other because that is what living in a family is all about.
So in that vein, I had to discover…
REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS FOR THE CHILD. For children under 7, I don’t expect much but weaving in and out of most adult work, being able to assist me with things as part of our daily rhythm (so maybe there is a wood polishing/dusting day, and all the supplies are out and ready. And we do it together! Maybe it is soup day and I have the veggies ready to cut, a cutting board out, etc, and we do it together!).
Self-care is part of “chores” at this age. The average age of a child being able to dress independently is five. So in allowing leeway for deviations above and below the mean, you can see how even this little bit of self-care might not be super realistic for some children. But, I would break things up that I wanted to see a child work toward into baby steps. Maybe it was helping lay clothes out at night. Maybe it was the child can get the shirt on, but needs help with the pants or shoes, etc. and just keep working slowly toward complete success.
We develop good daily habits by using our daily rhythm as mentioned above for things that are nourishing to our home and family, and in picking up the toys before dinner (unless it is a great building project or something!), putting our clothes in the hamper, picking up our room before or after dinner, etc. At this point, it is all routine and habit we are doing together for the more “personal” chores – self-care, taking care of our room.
If you have multiple children under the age of 7, I would divide them into teams so you are dealing with two at one time and not more than two. However, that is just me. I would make sure we were doing things together, and that the expectations were very clear as to what needed to happen – steps before bedtime, cleaning things up, where the supplies are, how to do it, and how to put the supplies away. If there was pushback, I tend to try either imaginative, pictorial talk (put that pumpkin in the wheelbarrow might be an example for putting a shirt into the hamper), or if I am exhausted, it may be more just standing there with me looking at them until they decide to do what they know they are supposed to, or we keep on doing it together if it really is to hard to do it alone. And I really evaluate that. Usually before bed is a generally terrible time to have a lot of expectations, so looking at what time you are expecting things to happen also helps.
Some little boys in particular as not really motivated unless you mention times, or a race, and then they race around to do things in order to beat the clock or what have you.
In First Grade, age 7, I have children do chores but often I am in the same room either doing it with them or sending them off with me watching them and available to help. Maybe I am folding laundry and they are off watering plants in that room or the surrounding rooms. I have shown them the expectations, how to do it, how to clean up the tools needed, and I am available for questions. Hopefully our daily rhythm and doing self-care for so many years has helped develop skills in taking care of self and self-space. I still expect a first grader to need help brushing teeth and bathing and all of that – some need help all the way into being 10! Every child is different, so look at your child, and decide how you can empower them to be capable.
In Second Grade, age 8, I expect more of an ability to get out the tools they need for family cleaning and care on their own and do the chore, but I am still around. A chore chart is a good reminder of what needs to be done. At this point, I do not include things such as dressing, or self-care or even making a bed or picking up a room as part of chores. These are things that happen because it is the right thing to do and the chore chart has things that help the whole family. I usually do include on the chore chart bringing sheets down to be washed, doing laundry, and cleaning of a room on the chart. You could do this any way that you wanted that made sense to you!
For Third Grade, age 9 to age 14, I know that children of this age are highly distractable. If you send them off to do a chore, chances are they will forget what you asked them to do before they even get there. So, my solution to that is to use a chore chart (less ability to argue when it is just what is on the board), pick certain times of the day when chores are done and I am around to help, assist, direct, or remind. I usually pick before lunch and after dinner, because it is easy to remind a child before they sit down to eat and ask if their chores are done and to check those chores out! Did they do it the way I wanted?
For those ages 15-18, I assume the reason chores do not happen is that these teenagers are so busy doing other things. They are engrossed in school work or doing something! So, my fix to this is to use a chore chart, and to make it so I check the chores before they are heading out somewhere else. If the chores aren’t done, then they need to take the 15-30 minutes to do the chores and then they can go.
I would love to hear your chore dilemma and how you do things in your house! We all do it differently, and there is no one right way. You will find the best way for your family and your particular children! Chores and caring for our surroundings is our first experience with team work that we need the rest of our lives, so I think it is super important and worth persisting and making the time to teach our children how to do it all.
Thanks, Carrie! This is really helpful. I love what Mary Thienes-Schunemann writes in the intro to “This is the Way We Wash-a-Day” about growing tired of running a country club for her sons! (Before instituting a chore process.) I’m definitely going to adopt your tip of talking about “taking care” of xyz, instead of calling it a “chore.” My seven year old cleans with me every morning for 15 minutes or so, and for an hour or so on Saturdays. We love folding laundry together. And I’m so proud of her, she’s been doing her own “job” since she was six, of putting away the silverware every day, as well as other dishes in cabinets she can reach.