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Chores for Kids

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Chores for Kids

There is a continuing trend in the parenting community that emphasizes giving children less structure and more freedom to explore their own ideas and interests. This philosophy dictates that kids should spend more time studying, playing and developing hobbies rather than fulfilling their traditional roles of helping out around the house. It has led to fewer and fewer parents assigning chores to their children, and those who do only enforce a few basics such as picking up toys. Some parents don't even have a positive reason for foregoing the chores; they simply give up after losing the battle with their kids. But is this having a negative impact on modern children? While it is certainly a good idea to promote creativity and independence in your children, responsibility is perhaps the most important trait of all. Chores teach a child that other people will rely on him or her, and that it is important to follow through on commitments, even when they aren't very fun.

At some point, you will need to decide what balance of chores and free time is best for your family. Every child is different, after all, and while some will benefit greatly from the responsibility of chores, other children may not need to have such a rigid schedule. The best way to determine what works for your kids is through gradual trial and error, starting with basic tasks and moving on to more advanced chores. You may find that as your children age and develop they will fall into their own routines and see chores as a normal habit instead of a miserable distraction from cartoons and games.

The Value of Giving Kids Chores

Even if you don't believe that asking your child to make a bed will profoundly affect his or her future character, there are plenty of practical benefits to spreading the workload around. Every parent knows that children are, at their basic level, adorable mess making machines. They may spend some time walking, talking and learning how to read, but for every productive moment they have there's another one involving spilled juice, muddy shoes or a toy left dangerously positioned on the staircase. Some mothers and fathers may have time to pick up every mess their children make, but do you? Even toddlers can help pick up their toys, so utilize whatever skills your child has to make your job as a parent easier. Every minute that you aren't feeding the dog or taking out the trash is a minute you could spend reading a book with your child, instead.

Asking your children to perform chores that are directly related to their own actions, like making a mess, is also one of the fastest ways to teach them about consequences and personal responsibility. A child is much less likely to leave his or her toys sitting out if picking them up later will cut into television time. Chores show kids that their parents respect them enough to trust them with important jobs, boosting self confidence and giving children a chance to prove themselves worthy of other privileges such as a small pet. Simply put, there are very few ways for chores to harm a child, and many benefits to introducing them to responsible habits. Of course, this is all theoretically wonderful, but what about the children who absolutely refuse to play by the rules and do their chores?

How to Implement Household Chores

It's no surprise that kids don't like to do chores. Their minds are still developing, and their attention spans are not conducive to boring housework when there are so many other exciting activities at their disposal. In old sitcoms, children did the chores while whistling a jaunty tune, happy to help and satisfied with the knowledge that they had accomplished something. Nowadays, you're more likely to find yourself exasperatedly arguing with a child lounging on the couch, who's insisting he or she will "do it later." As a parent, this can be infuriating, but chores should never be assigned or used as a punishment. The last thing you want to do is to give the child the idea that they only have to work when you are angry. If possible, start implementing little chores when your child is still a toddler. Ask him or her to help you carry some laundry, or dust off a lamp. If your child is older, you will need to sit down and have a calm conversation. Explain that, since he or she is getting bigger every day, you expect a little more help around the house. Be firm, be respectful and make it sound like chores are a good thing.

No matter what your child's reaction to introducing chores, you must be firm and consistent. Have a plan of which chores you would like to give to the child beforehand, and explain how often they should be done. If the child is old enough to read, writing everything up and sticking it on the fridge or a bedroom door is a handy reminder. No matter what, do not let a failure to complete shores slide. Kids will notice even a hint of weakness and start exploiting it at the first opportunity. Be patient, but don't be a pushover. If you have multiple children, dividing up chores can keep them fresh and interesting. Many families use a chore wheel, which has different chores written on wedge shaped segments. The kids each get to spin the wheel, which will land on a chore and assign it for the day or week. This is an easy way to choose chores for each child, and the kids can't argue that you're being unfair, since they spin the wheel themselves. They may also enjoy helping make the chore wheel as an inexpensive craft for kids. It may be more practical, however, to assign chores by age.

Young children are less capable of more complicated tasks and should be kept to simpler jobs like feeding a cat or dog, making their bed and picking up toys. Older kids can handle taking out the trash, setting the table and even yard work. Most importantly, try to keep chores at a reasonable level, no matter the child's age. Unlike in the past, where children were vital hands on the farm, most kids today have much more complicated lives. Between friends and studies, your child may already feel overwhelmed, and too many chores can lead to resentment and poor grades. If your child is spending more than an hour a day doing chores, you may consider allowing them to cut back.

Whether or Not to Reward Chores with an Allowance

Running parallel to the debate on whether or not to assign kids chores is the argument over whether or not to pay them for it. Those who favor paying children an allowance claim that it teaches them the value of work, as well as promoting responsible money management from a young age. By making them earn their money from the start, these parents believe that their children have a much healthier relationship with money. Another viewpoint says that kids should never be rewarded for making their contribution to the family, as it is a mandatory part of living in a household.

The moderate viewpoint in between these two may be the best solution. Parents can choose to give their children an allowance but keep it entirely unrelated from the chores. Instead of withholding the allowance for misbehavior, take away other privileges such as television, games or cellphone usage. Money is not used to punish or reward anything to do with chores. However, this only applies to standard chores. This method of chore implementation gives children the ability to augment their income by going above and beyond their regular duties. For example, if your child shreds a large bag of old documents for you, you would pay him or her an agreed upon sum. This provides the benefits of the other two philosophies, as well as promoting an entrepreneurial spirit in your children.

Chore Ideas for Kids

If you've been doing the majority of the housework for years, you may have a hard time figuring out which chores you need done and what your child can handle. These are ten of the most commonly assigned chores, a brief description and the appropriate minimum age for a child to perform them.

  • Picking Up Toys

    This is usually the first chore a child helps with, and even a toddler can assist you at clean-up time. If your child is a little reluctant, turn it into a game by briefly playing with every toy before putting it away. Minimum age: Two
  • Feeding Pets

    While your child is younger, it's important that you help feed the pet and make sure that all meals are being given on time and in the right portions. This chore is one of the best for teaching responsibility. In addition, it can lead to pet sitting jobs for pay in the future for your child. Minimum age: Three
  • Making the Bed

    Keeping a bed neat and orderly is the first step toward cleaning a bedroom, and its the first task a child can complete by him- or herself. Check to make sure the bed is made before breakfast for extra motivation. Minimum age: Four
  • Setting the Table

    Having an assistant to put out the dishware can make cooking dinner much easier and less time consuming than doing it yourself at every meal. Once a child is old enough to carry glass, reach the table top and remember how to arrange them, this is one of the best chores to assign. Minimum age: Six
  • Picking Weeds

    As long as your child can differentiate a good plant from a weed, this is a fun way to spend some time outdoors together. Yard work and weeding and tending the garden can also be a paid chore, if the garden is large enough. Minimum age: Seven
  • Raking Leaves

    Fall leaves can make a yard brown and ugly, as well as kill grass. Raking them up doesn't require much strength, and can even be fun if you allow some jumping into the piles. Minimum age: Eight
  • Doing the Laundry

    Nobody really likes to do the laundry, so you may as well pass it on to your children! This can be started by having your child pick up stray clothes and then help you sort them. Eventually, your child should be able to deliver freshly folded clothing right to the closet or their chest of drawers. Minimum age: 10
  • Doing the Dishes

    This chore requires more coordination due to the delicate nature of dishes. Children must also be able to remember where each glass and plate goes. Minimum age: 10
  • Taking out the Trash

    This chore requires some upper-body strength and for the child to be independent enough to walk down the driveway. It is useful for driving home the importance of meeting a deadline. Minimum age: 11
  • Shoveling Snow

    Shoveling snow is hard work, but your child may be able to start a small neighborhood business in the winter to earn extra cash. Be sure to have a hot cup of cocoa ready for when your frosty little worker is done. Minimum age: 12

In the end, every set of parents must decide which rules and methods work best for them. Some families rely on their children to keep the house running, while others demand almost nothing at all of their kids. No matter what system you end up choosing, patience and moderation are always the right response to difficult kids who have decided they don't want to do something. Be consistent, be reasonable and remember that although chores may not always be fun, they are still an important part of your child's development.

This article was written with contributions from guest author LH.

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