Kids are super busy these days. Between sports and homework and clubs at school and friends they barely have enough time to eat a healthy meal and get to bed on time and as a result of these hectic schedules parents have done away with routine chores (or family responsibilities as I like to call them). They often feel that kids have enough on their plates or that the nagging involved to get kids to do chores isn’t worth it. Sometimes parents have opted to farm out the tasks themselves hiring housecleaners, lawn and snow services, and carrying in meals or eating out regularly to take away the hassles of household responsibilities.
Somehow with all of this lack of household work we expect our kids would be willing to jump right in those few times we ask for them to do something for us. Instead though, what happens then when you ask your child to do a minor task like washing the dishes or vacuuming because guests are coming you get the inevitable push back: groans or snide remarks or passive-aggressive delays or flat out refusals. You then predictably respond with something like, ‘C’mon I need your help here. I never ask you to do anything and I do all these things for you, just help me out here.’ Your child may then stomp off and do the task. Or not. And you have to plead or get angry or threaten until it’s done. Why does this happen? Your child feels that he or she is entitled to leisure and not to have to do work within the family. Your child feels that you (or you and your spouse) have the duty of doing the work and they are entitled to decide if they want to ‘help’ or not.
Attitudes of entitlement are concerning. Expecting that the work of life will be done by others, especially the work of the household, creates helplessness, resentment, and anxiety in older adolescents and young adults when the work finally, inevitably falls to them.
Chores matter in today’s world. We are all busy and finding time to manage the family responsibilities requires some planning. Having responsibility and figuring out how to get things done on your own is empowering for all of us. Kids may not love the idea initially since it may feel like homework, but as you give children age appropriate responsibilities and then let them figure out how to do them ON THEIR OWN they will have a sense of pride and mastery. You will see their interest in the work of the household grow. The key is to let them do it on their own! Here’s how to get started:
- Write down all the tasks needed to keep the household running. Don’t forget to list the things you don’t expect the kids to do right now like grocery shopping, bill paying, driving people to activities and events, making meals/lunches, the list goes on!
- Figure out which tasks you and your spouse still want to do yourself (either because you won’t be able to allow your child(ren) to do it ‘their’ way, on their own because you are too anal or because they literally are incapable of it. **RED FLAG ALERT** You can only choose one thing to be anal about or your kids will never get the chance to do stuff! 🙂
- Refer to the chores-by-age list to help guide you if you aren’t sure what your children are capable of. PARENTS ALWAYS UNDERESTIMATE THEIR KIDS CAPABILITIES. DON’T SELL THEM SHORT.
- Sit down with the kids and let them choose a couple of age appropriate tasks (or you can choose if you prefer) and everybody’s name goes next to the items on the list. Parents’ names with be next to most things of course but make sure it’s all there so as time goes on kids can see what more they can do. Kids 0-6 choose 1 task, 7-10 choose 2 and 11 and older choose 3 tasks. Figure out the family reward and consequences for tasks (see 9, 10)
- As you see kids gain mastery, add new tasks or swap them out.
- If you have older and younger kids some tasks can be done together (i.e. put an 8-year-old and an 11-year-old on a team together to clean the bathroom)
- Plan the times the of the week the tasks are due to be completed.
- DON’T NAG. EVERYONE CAN REMIND EACH OTHER ONCE THAT THE TIME IS APPROACHING (KIDS CAN REMIND PARENTS TOO)
- If a task isn’t completed on time then a predetermined consequence is levied (parents get one too!).
- Family reward each week when tasks are completed on time.
- Revisit the assignments periodically when kids seem ready to move on.
Some families share some tasks like laundry with everyone. The 9-year-old may do it once a week, the 11-year-old once a week and the parent once a week so the burden isn’t as bad on anyone for example.
The language we use makes a big difference. Instead of ‘helping out’, let’s teach our kids about family responsibilities and their part in making a family work. It’s not about making our kids feel burdened but rather empowered and accomplished. The younger the kids are when you start the more fun it is but you can do this at any age and reap rewards.
Age appropriate Family Responsibilities (AKA chores)
(all kids are responsible for cleaning up after themselves and making their beds)
18 months – 2 years Shred lettuce for salad
Help dust with cloth
Help sort clothes for laundry
3 years Learn to make bed
Put books on shelves
4-5 years Water plants
Sort and fold clothes for laundry
Set and clear table
Put away small groceries
6-8 years Manage pet (feed, clean up)
Wake up to alarm clock on own
Load and unload dishwasher
Make lunch (sandwich)
Prep for dinner with supervision
Wipe down counters/sinks
9-10 years Walk dog
Put away groceries
Take out trash
Do some laundry
11-12 years Cut grass/shovel snow/use snow thrower
Supervise younger children for short times
Make a simple meal (stove/oven)
Do laundry for family
Make own lunch for school
13+ Years Babysit siblings/supervise chores
Make a whole meal for family
Clean out fridge