Children and Chores

By Sheila Gains, 2008
Colorado State University Extension
Arapahoe County

Are you constantly picking up after your children or nagging them to do their chores? Does your home resemble a battleground more than the peaceful domicile you dream of?

If so, perhaps you need to take a look at how you are handling this important part of your child's life and earn some peace of mind for yourself as a bonus.

Children who have regular assigned household chores feel a sense of self-worth and competency. They also tend to demonstrate responsibility in other aspects of their lives. These children exhibit a higher level of self-esteem and see themselves as an integral part of their family. This teaches them the importance of community and responsibility.

Children who don't have household responsibilities can drift away from the family and feel isolated. Children need to learn the value of work and contribution early in life.

Parenting experts Foster Cline and Jim Fay stress that helping with housework develops self-worth and enhances the child's feeling of being part of a team. Children who are responsible for household chores emulate family values and develop a sense of initiative and fulfillment. But how do we reach this desired state?

Believe it or not, doing housework should be fun. Why would anyone want to do something that is thought to be pure drudgery? Encourage your children's efforts by making such positive comments as "I sure enjoy doing dishes with you. It makes me feel good to have the kitchen clean." Or "I feel so good when my office is cleaned up and ready for me to work. I bet you will feel great when your toys are all picked up and ready for you to play with next time."

Demonstrate the correct way to do chores without belittling them. Say "I like the way you made your bed. Would you like me to show you how I get the wrinkles out when I make my bed?"

Preschoolers love to imitate their parents and often "help" with chores such as sweeping or washing dishes. Parents should encourage these early efforts by focusing on the process and not the end product. Teach them how to sweep up all the dust with the broom but encourage their efforts along the way.

None of us do a task perfectly the first time we try it, but with encouragement we learn to try again until we finally `get it.' The same is true of children. Our praise for their efforts and patience with them as they master a task develops children who want to help and feel that their work is important to the family.

By the time children are in kindergarten or first grade they are ready for regular chores. As they grow older they can assume more jobs and assist with laundry or cooking.

Post the chores that need to be done and ask your children to sign up for the ones they would like to do. Allow them the control of choosing which jobs they will do, then communicate the necessity of them following through on their commitments.

Keep in mind that this is a learning process for them and that we are trying to encourage their own sense of initiative and personal responsibility. Tell them that you expect the garbage to be taken out "before I take you to soccer practice" or "before we sit down to eat again." This allows them to set the schedule knowing what consequences will follow. Be sure that the consequences you have laid out are reasonable, then be willing to follow through with them.

What about an allowance or paying children to do their chores? Most parenting educators recommend that children be assigned chores because they are a contributing member of the family. They advise that we give children money to teach them how to manage money and to purchase some extras. We get money because we are a member of the family and because learning how to manage money is an important life skill. We do chores because everyone needs to pitch in so the household can run smoothly.

Other experts say that it is okay to tie allowance to completion of chores provided that the tasks and consequences are clearly defined. You will need to decide which approach is best for your family. Just remember to make your expectations clear and to follow though on the consequences.

Consider giving your child an allowance and then negotiate for extra jobs with pay to help him or her earn money for things such as sports equipment or a special toy. This allows your child to see the relationship between hard work and the positive consequence of getting an item they want.

We don't live our daily lives dining in restaurants or living in hotels. Learning to take responsibility for housekeeping chores is an important skill parents must teach their children. The reward will be a more helpful child today who grows into a responsible and capable adult tomorrow.

For more information contact your local Colorado State University Extension office.

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Updated Tuesday, July 22, 2014