Do we ask too little of our kids in terms of chores? And what benefits would the family gain if age-appropriate tasks were assigned to children on a routine basis starting at an early age?
In one of my recent etiquette classes for children between the ages of 6-8, we focused on the topic of “chores.” I started the class by reading a wonderful story titled “The Berenstain Bears and The Trouble with Chores.” The story provided valuable insights and lessons for children on the importance of cleaning up after themselves and helping their parents keep a neat home.
The students were captivated by the story -- demonstrated by their wide-eyed expressions and fits of laughter as the Bears’ tree house became dirtier and dirtier as the family began to disregard their designated household chores. There were piles of dirty dishes, “dust bunnies” gathering, messy bedrooms, and an “icky” green mold growing on the inside shower curtain -- sound familiar? Well, hopefully not…
When the story was done, we talked about the various chores that need to be done in order for the home to remain reasonably neat. The children were asked if they were responsible for any chores at their own homes. Some responded immediately with a “yes,” while others said that “I don't have any chores because my parents won’t let me help,” and still others had chores for which they were paid an allowance. And then there were those who had no chores simply because “we have someone who comes to clean our house.”
Personally, I feel money only should be given to a child for an outstanding accomplishment or on a special occasion, such as birthdays or a holiday gift. And when money is given on those occasions, it is a good opportunity for parents to teach their children about the importance of “saving some and using the rest” for a well-earned treat.
But, otherwise, I do not think children need to be rewarded for doing standard household chores. In the end, what message are we sending our children if we pay them for straightening up the bathroom they’ve made a mess of or for picking up dirty clothes they tossed around their room? We certainly don’t pay them to go to school and learn, do we?
And while I am not crazy about doing household chores either, I do believe children should play an active role in helping out. This should be the case regardless of whether you have a housekeeping service or just believe that “the job” could be done quicker if you did it yourself.
When it comes to household chores, I believe in a “democratic society” where we all help each other out. Otherwise, parents will begin to feel -- and often the mothers the most -- that the burden of work weighs heavily on their shoulders with the rest of the family marginally involved. It’s time for everyone to get on board and participate … and a great way to start this journey would be for parents to hang a chalk board in a prominent place highlighting the assigned tasks each child will be responsible for on a weekly basis and with no expectation of money.
Then, having made the effort to establish the expectations, parents must remain patient and stick to the established routine. This will teach your children to be responsible, respectful, and considerate of not only their “space and property” but that of others as well. Remember that as the parents, you need the help. Trust me -- otherwise you will burn out and become angry and frustrated when you trip over that shoe lying in the hallway for the umpteenth time, or find that sticky, gooey mess someone left on the kitchen counter.
So, go ahead. Let your children be active helpers in the home. Each person in your family should be accountable for keeping the house reasonably neat and organized. Parents are not the handmaidens to their children. Doesn’t this have a better ring to it? “Mom cooks, Dad shops (or vice versa), and the kids set the table and wash the dishes.”
As I told my students: Everything in your house has a “home.” Shoes “live” in the closet not on the stairs. Books belong on shelves not on the floor. Legos get returned to the toy box not the dining room table. The kids loved this lesson and can learn it. And the good news is that children as young as three can be taught to place things where they “live.” Wet towels get hung on appropriately hooks, beds get made as they get older, clothes should be placed in drawers not on the floor.
While styles will vary from one household to another, involving your children as members of the family in cleaning up after themselves will provide them with invaluable lessons. By starting young, you will be instilling good habits early on that will last a lifetime. Your children will develop qualities like being responsible, dependable, and supportive of others. By giving them chores and holding them accountable, you are teaching and encouraging your children to grow into young people who will become self-sufficient, industrious, and mature.
Abigail Van Buren said it best “If you want children to keep their feet on the ground, put some responsibility on their shoulders.”