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 It should not be used to persuade a child to carry out those chores, nor should it be suddenly withdrawn as punishment.