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Kids and Chores

Household jobs will help your kids master the mechanics of running a home, and the skills needed for responsible living. Here's how to get them started and encourage their cooperation.

Four Big Pluses

Chores are for everyone.

Some parents are reluctant to encourage their children to take on chores. "The job gets done faster and better if I do it myself," you'll often hear parents say. Sadly, the children of these parents are being shortchanged. A child learns much more from chores than simply how to change the dust bag in a vacuum cleaner.

Household chores help children in four areas:

Independence: By the time they reach their late teens, children should be equipped with the skills they will need for self-sufficiency. In this regard, domestic skills are no less important than any other. By the age of 18, your children -- male and female -- should be familiar with and practiced at every single aspect of running a home. They should be able to wash and iron their own clothes, prepare basic meals, run a vacuum cleaner, disinfect bathrooms, replace furnace filters, mow grass, weed planting areas, reset a tripped circuit breaker, and so on.

Self-esteem: Chores create feelings of accomplishment. When your children know that their contributions of time and energy are regarded as important to the smooth running of the household, their feelings of worth and self-esteem grow immensely.

Good citizenship: President John Kennedy said, "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country." A responsible citizen looks more for opportunities to contribute to the system than for opportunities to take from it. This philosophy applies to families as well as to the nation. Chores teach children that the reward of membership in a family comes more from what's put into the family than from what's taken out of it.

Values: Chores bond your children to your family's values. Throughout our nation's history, the children who were most likely to carry their parents' values into adulthood were those raised on farms. Among farm families, chores are as much a part of daily life as three meals a day.

For a farm child, the family and its values take on importance not simply because of parental modeling and enforcement, but because the child performs a valuable function within the family. The child's labors contribute directly to the family's well-being. Because the child invests in the family, the family becomes more important. When farm-raised children grow into adults, they cash in on that investment and use it to create success, stability, and happiness in their own lives.

Common Questions

Q: At what age should I begin assigning chores to my children?

A: Three is a good age. A 3-year-old has a strong need to identify with parents and expresses that need by wanting to get involved in things they're doing. You can capitalize on this interest by assigning the child a few minor chores around the house. In order to become routine, the chores should take place at the same time every day. A 3-year-old can, for instance, help make his or her bed in the morning, help set the table at lunch, and pick up toys every evening before a bedtime story.

Q: How much housework can parents reasonably expect of a child?

A: At the very least:

  • A 4- or 5-year-old child should be responsible for keeping an orderly bedroom and bathroom.
  • A 6-year-old can be taught to vacuum, starting with his or her own room.
  • By age 7 or 8, children should be responsible for daily upkeep of their own rooms and bathrooms as well as several chores around the home. Once a week, children at this age should be required to do a major cleaning of their room and bathroom. This should include vacuuming, dusting, changing bath and bed linens, and cleaning the tub, lavatory, and commode.
  • By age 10, each child should be contributing roughly 30 to 45 minutes of "chore time" to the family on a daily basis and perhaps a couple of hours over the weekend.

Q: Should I pay my children for doing chores?

A: In general, no. Payment tends to create the illusion that if the child doesn't want the money, he or she isn't obligated to perform the chore. Paying for chores puts money in the child's pocket, but teaches nothing about the responsibility that accompanies membership in a family.

It's all right, however, for parents to pay the children for work beyond the standard routine. For instance, you might pay your child for an occasional day's work of helping you cut fireplace logs or trimming hedges. Even so, make clear that that payment doesn't mean the tasks are optional.

An allowance has nothing whatsoever to do with the child's chores; it helps a child learn how to manage money. It should not be used to persuade a child to carry out those chores, nor should it be suddenly withdrawn as punishment.

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