Kids and chores: what should they do and when should they start

by Lara

The longer I've been doing this parenting thing the more I realize that I still have so much to learn, and I need to lean on my fellow parents for advice and ideas. My kids are now 9 and 6 and while we've been pretty good at getting them to be independent (with certain things,) we haven't been great in other areas - such as housework. As a result, I decided to poll the Kids in the Capital community to see what they get their kids to do and how that works for them.

What chores our kids do

To start, our kids have been responsible for putting their folded laundry away on their own since about the age of 5. They are also responsible for tidying their rooms, but they do a much better job with parental supervision.

They pack their own school snacks but we handle anything that's hot, and they unpack their lunch boxes themselves when they get home from school. My nine year old started learning to clean bathrooms this past year and he is also a fan of vacuuming; but neither of those things is set on a regular chore rotation. They also set the table and load the dishwasher.

What do your kids do and what should they be doing?

I think what kids should be doing will change based on your family dynamic. In our house, the more that everyone chips in, the happier we all are. Unfortunately, we haven't been consistent enough about certain things and so there are a lot of battles. Lunches and setting the table go off without much of a hitch but there are fights putting away clothes and tidying their rooms. When these things aren't done, they lose privileges.

I have seen a lot of different charts over the years on appropriate chores for different ages and this is a good one.

Here are a few of the answers our community shared with us about how things work in their houses:

  • The kids set the table and help empty the dishwasher. They're responsible for their school stuff and putting away their coats. My 10 year old does her laundry (I still fold) and will vacuum when asked. She gets $10 a month in allowance.
  • My tween's daily and planned chores are walking the big dog, emptying the dishwasher, dealing with her school bag (mittens on heater, lunch bag emptied, etc) and dealing with cat litter box. She's also expected to do what I ask: pick up clothes from floor, tiny room, get her own glass of whatever, help father with dinner, etc. She gets an allowance of 5$ a week, but it isn't dependent on chores because I felt she needs to know that chores are just a part of life. I still make her lunch and do her laundry because I like doing that for her.
  • My kids started young - I always find toddlers are really keen to do chores. We would have them do the easy stuff - emptying the (non-sharp) dishes from the dishwasher, dusting, and wiping baseboards. The "tidy up" song still helps my three year-old get in the mood to pick up toys. Now my oldest is doing harder chores, like cleaning part of the bathroom and even washing dishes. We also make tidying up a priority right before bedtime. We ALL pitch in and just get it done...because to be honest, I'm also leaving crap around the house too :)
  • We approach it from the perspective that our family is like a team and everyone must contribute to help things run smoothly and to allow for down time/play for kids and grown ups. I think that in general we can be tempted to underestimate what our kids are capable of doing - perhaps because we want things done our way or because we're in a hurry. That's certainly been something I've caught myself doing and I try hard to let that go.

    Specifically, the nine year old is responsible for making his lunch, setting and clearing the dinner table, bringing his laundry to the laundry room, getting his breakfast and his brother's, and feeding the pets. 

    The four year old is responsible for putting his dirty dishes in the sink or dishwasher, putting toys and books away, getting himself dressed every day (and changing himself when he has an accident), helping with baking (he loves to stir and wear the cooking mittens (oven mitts) and keeping us all entertained in the process. :)

    Other chores can be assigned as a consequence for poor behaviour or chosen as a way to make up for poor behaviour. If the kids want to earn money for something, they can choose to do other chores too.

The consensus seems to be that your kids should be doing something, and it can start at a really young age.

Should there be rewards for chores?

Some parents offer allowance in exchange for chores, others give allowance independent of chores, and some didn't comment on money. 

If you want to offer an allowance, try this idea: offer a weekly allowance that is independent of chores. Have a "base" number of chores your child does, but also create a chart that lists "extras." If your child independently decides to do an "extra" chore, he will be rewarded an extra $1 (or however much you have allocated to that particular chore.)

Whatever strategy you choose, most parenting experts will agree that tying rewards/money to ALL chores will not help your child develop the motivation to do them. After all, we don't get paid for chores as adults, do we?

Want consistency? Be consistent!

Seems easy enough, right? Children are little routine-machines. They thrive on consistent schedules, consistent guidance, and consistent feedback. Which sucks for those of us adults who don't identify with being consistent!

So if YOU have trouble being consistent, try these tips:

  • set alerts on your phone as reminders. I find bedtime chaotic, but if my phone dings me at 7pm, I know it's time to put on a bit of music, gather the whole family and do the "tidy up" song (if they're older, they might just enjoy listening to music.)
  • Make a chore chart. If you're a visual learner, it might best to have a large chart on your wall, with everyone's duties. A friend of mine has four children, and her chart is super simple - a regular sheet of paper stuck on the fridge with a magnet. It allocates some of the major tasks to each child on different days of the week.
  • Make chores fun. Put on some great tunes to get everyone working a bit harder. 
  • Break it down. Don't look at the hurricane that struck your kitchen and then hide in the basement. Start with one small part of the kitchen, and then move to the next. Jobs are much easier when we break them into manageable pieces.

What do chores look like at your house? How are your kids pitching in?