Call them the building blocks of character: Chores cultivate autonomy, accountability, diligence—and research shows that children who regularly do household tasks are more likely to grow into well-adjusted adults. But with the demands of school and extracurricular activities starting as early as kindergarten, how do you balance academic achievement with family responsibility? Keep in mind: Chores don't have to be a burden. "A 20-minute daily task can become a point of decompression," says Kim John Payne, M.Ed., coauthor of Simply Parenting. Follow these pointers to make chores a seamless part of your child's everyday life:
Be Practical but Creative
Assign chores based on age: The younger set (about ages 5 to 8) can manage 15- to 20-minute tasks, like folding laundry and taking out the trash. Also consider duties that kids directly benefit from. "I hate making lunches, and my kids always complained about the food," says Eileen Kennedy-Moore, Ph.D., coauthor of Smart Parenting for Smart Kids. "So when they were about 10, I turned that job over to them."
Give Kids a Say
You're less likely to get resistance if your child has input: Present two or three tasks and let her choose. Then you can give direction, but don't micromanage. "When you allow your child to apply her own strategic and creative thinking, you're planting the seeds for innovativeness and adaptability," Payne says.
Make it Predictable
A chore is more likely to stick if it's done at the same time every day, like setting the table for dinner. As Payne notes, "That's when the task becomes something soothing that helps ground your child."
Be a Task Master
Figuring out how to dole out chores is the first practical step. The second, more subtle, part is framing your approach.
- Make the chore nonnegotiable: Instead of speaking in the conditional—"If you vacuum, you can watch TV"—say "When you finish…. " The difference is subtle, but makes it clear that your child doesn't have a choice.
- Be firm but upbeat: Chores are crucial to helping the household run smoothly. Broadcast that attitude—not that chores are suffering and punishment.
- Enlist e-motivation: Check out apps and sites like You Rule Chores ($3.99, iOS) and ChoreMonster (free online or for iOS), which turn chores into a game where kids earn rewards of their choice.