Children need chores. Helping out around the house teaches social and family responsibility. It gives your child a sense of accomplishment and pride and helps her learn practical skills. Contributing to the household also helps your child feel important, like one of the "team," while gently underscoring that she's not the center of the universe.
It's never too late to begin assigning jobs to your child. But the earlier the chore habit begins, the more readily your child comes to think of it as just another part of family life. Most early-elementary-age kids are enthusiastic about pitching in — at least at first. They may need gentle prompts and reminders to keep routine chores going.
Start with age-appropriate tasks
If a job is too difficult, your child will get frustrated and be unwilling to follow through. As your child grows she can manage more complex tasks and those that can be done independently. But don't underestimate her, either. Some parents fall into the trap of doing things for a child out of habit, when the child can and should do them herself, such as picking up a room or making a sandwich.
At 5 and 6, your child should be able to:
- Keep her own room tidy
- Make the bed
- Set the table
- Sort her own clothes out of the laundry
- Match socks
- Feed and water pets
- Help prepare meals
- Clear her own plate at dinner
- Clean the bathroom sink with wipes
- Pick up wet towels
- Empty smaller wastebaskets
- Place newspapers in the recycling bin
At 7 and 8, your child should be able to:
- Take out garbage
- Empty the dishwasher
- Help with yard work
- Prepare her own packed lunch
- Clear off the table after meals
- Bring in mail
- Clean the cat's litter box
- Clean sinks and toilet
- Carry in groceries
- Entertain a younger sibling for brief periods
Make your expectations clear
Once you've explained how to do the job, it's best not to leave any room for arguing about it (which kids will spend more time doing than accomplishing the task). Show how you expect a job to be done and where all the necessary implements are kept. A chore chart can help everyone keep their jobs straight.
Some families have daily chores that are done separately and weekend chores that everyone does at the same time. Families with more than one child might swap jobs periodically or let kids choose which jobs they want to do now and then.
Keep it positive
Don't do the chore over the "right" way for your child unless something is really wrong and you can constructively show your child how to improve: "The bathroom really sparkles. Let me show you a trick to clean the mirror without streaks."
Praise a job well done
Kids thrive on positive reinforcement. Even with routine jobs, let your child know that you noticed she did them and that you appreciated her efforts. Find nonmaterial ways to reward her efforts: one-on-one time with you, watching a special movie together.
Decide whether you'll pay for chores
Many financial experts frown on paying for routine household contributions because this defeats the higher purpose of chores, which is to teach the value of contributing to the household and develop a sense of pride in a job well done. The best reason for an allowance is to teach kids concepts like saving and making financial decisions. But some families choose to make chores part of an allowance, while others offer money only for big extra chores, such as raking leaves in the fall or washing the car.