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Putting your kids to work

Silver linings amid the shelter in place
Sharing chores gets everyone involved and helps reduce the boredom. Photo: Rawpixel

There are many valuable lessons that can be learned from getting our children to help around the house. Chores can be a great way to teach responsibility, independence, and a strong work ethic. One of the silver linings during this pandemic is extra time to do chores and to help with housework. It also provides the opportunity to teach what can’t be learned from a book or a worksheet but are important life skills, like knowing how to cook, clean, do laundry, and clean a toilet. 

In our often overscheduled and too-busy lives we don’t have or create time for these things, but these skills allow us to better take care of ourselves and the spaces we live and create in every day. It makes it easier as parents if everyone is sharing chores, so we don’t feel like full-time cooks and housekeepers. Here are some tips to help set up a chore routine in your home. 

AGE-APPROPRIATE CHORES

There are two keys to getting our children to do chores. The first is making sure the chores are age appropriate. We want to make sure the chore is something they are developmentally capable of doing and sets them up for success. Experts say this can start as early as between 2 and 3 years old. They can help by putting away toys, dusting with a sock on their hands, and making their beds. By the ages of 4 and 5 years old they are eager to help and enjoy being needed, because it gives them a sense of importance. They can help set and clear the table, sweep the floor, and help put away groceries. The chores can gradually increase in length and responsibility so by the time you have tweens and teens they are able to do their own laundry and make simple meals like scrambled eggs and pasta. 

Remember, our children are much more capable than we think or we give them credit for. That said, the second key to success is not to expect perfection. The chore may not get done how you would do it, but fight the urge to redo or criticize. Teach them how to do it, and then praise them for their effort. 

CONSISTENT, SPECIFIC, AND ACCOUNTABLE

As with most parts of parenting, success is achieved with consistency. Consider assigning the same chores every week whether daily or weekly, and both should be personal and family chores. Personal chores are things like making their beds, getting dressed, and brushing their teeth. Family chores are those like vacuuming, doing the dishes, and helping take care of pets. 

The more specific you are the better — don’t just say, “clean your room,” be specific about each task that should be included in each chore. Pinterest has a plethora of free printable chore charts that can customized and printed. In our house, the charts are in the kitchen, and the kids also have a copy in their rooms. They check off the chores as they do them, and we can all keep track and make them accountable. This helps them see that as parents we are serious about expecting things to get done. 

REWARDS OR ALLOWANCE

Most parenting experts don’t believe chores should be rewarded with an allowance, especially for younger children. The thinking is that chores are a way for everyone to contribute. And while I agree, my feelings have changed during this shelter in place. I think we all need something to look forward to or work toward. This could be money, or it could be a different reward. Find out what motivates your child and base the reward or allowance on that. In our family, my youngest doesn’t have much to spend money on but he is highly motivated by earning extra screen time. My oldest wants a new phone, so she is motivated to save money for that. Money is only given if all weekly chores are done. The amount is based on the age and the number and type of chores, and it should be reasonable but also enough so it is motivating. 

We all like to feel that we are needed or contributing, even kids. Chores help them feel that. Another positive of this time and not outsourcing cleaning help is the pride we feel after giving the house a good clean. Nothing makes me smile more than seeing the sense of accomplishment my 7-year-old feels after cleaning a few toilets. I hope you are all able to find moments that make you smile. Stay safe and healthy. 

Liz Farrell is the mother of three young children and the founder of TechTalks, a consulting group to help schools and families have productive and healthful conversations around social media and technology. Email: [email protected]

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