The Chores GuideMar 28, 2023
Although we have both been in clinical practice, working with children and families, for over a decade, we only made the foray into social media parenting advice a little over a year ago. Hands down, one of the most surprising things we have noticed on the parenting side of social media is vehement opinions against children participating in family chores. Typically, the primary reason we hear for arguments that children should NOT do chores is something to the effect of:
“Children should be children. Let them play.”
So, let us start this chores blog by saying: we 100% fully agree with the above sentiment! Children SHOULD be children! We absolutely should prioritize our children’s opportunities for play. Play is how they learn, socialize, express emotions, develop physical skills, and expel energy. It is so important. Chores should not take up a significant amount of your kid’s day. There should still be plenty of time left for play and downtime!
However, we also believe that families are units. Units that play together AND work together. We all mess up the house together, and we all clean up the house together. By participating in chores together, our kids learn:
- That their family is a team! We all pitch in to make the team function properly.
- That they are trusted and valued members of the team.
- That we all pour effort into things that are not enjoyable but still need to be done.
- Basic life skills, like cleaning up spills, sorting laundry, and learning to put the correct amount of detergent in the dishwasher.
Before we get into the specifics of chores, let’s talk about some important mantras to keep in mind.
- Do not expect that chores, completed by your children, will be helpful or save you time. This one is incredibly easy to forget. The goal is for our kids to learn how to do these important life tasks, learn responsibility, and feel the value of being a part of the family team. They will NOT be as efficient as you at doing the chores (at least for a while). They are going to miss spots while vacuuming. They may break a dish or two while cleaning the kitchen. They are going to spray way too much window cleaner on the mirror, making a secondary mess to clean. Remember that they are still learning how to do things that you have been doing for decades!
- Start Young. When your kids are toddlers, include them in your household tasks. This is an ideal age in which kids so desperately want to help (even though it is, without a doubt, the least helpful age!). Even though it is often so much more efficient to just do it yourself, by allowing your toddler to participate in chores with you, you are facilitating the “team” idea from an early age. (Sidenote: we are not recommending that your kids help you in EVERY SINGLE chore you ever do. But be mindful to include them, whenever possible).
- Chores are a part of the routine, not a punishment. Set up the concept of “chores” as a part of your regular daily and weekly routine. It is a natural cause-and-effect expectation for all family members. Chores are not something anybody does because they were “bad” or are being punished. Think about your own role in chores. You do not have to do extra dishes because you said a curse word, you do dishes because the dishes are dirty. In order to keep “chores” from becoming a negative concept in your home (or, if it already is), try the following:
- Focus on the family team and model what you would like your children to do. Everybody puts their plates in the sink. Everybody helps takes in groceries.
- Use language that emphasizes teamwork and the desire to help, like:
- “It’s time for our Saturday Spruce”
- “Let’s tidy together”
- “Let’s help our house”
- Appeal to your kid’s desire to play games and compete. For example, make a competition for who can clean up the most Legos in 5 minutes.
- Give your child a choice in how they would like to help. For example, if cleaning the bathroom together, ask, “Would you rather wipe down the counters or the shower?”
- Break down larger chores, and give them to your child, step-by-step. Large tasks, with multiple inherent steps, are often too overwhelming for children and they often do not know where to start. This is why, whenever you ask your child to do a big job, like, “Go clean your room,” they are not often very effective (and easily distracted). This is largely due to brain development. The prefrontal cortex of the brain is responsible for things like organizing, planning, initiating tasks, and breaking large tasks down into sub-steps. These are called “executive functioning” tasks. This part of the brain hits several developmental leaps throughout the lifespan, a major one occurring in late elementary school. This means that most kids truly NEED help and guidance in knowing how to tackle large tasks. So, instead of saying “Go clean your room,” break it down for them step-by-step. You can create a checklist with different steps, or, verbally give them one step at a time, and give them the next step when they are ready. We talk about this concept, and, the idea of creating “zones” for organizational tasks, in a recent redfin article. Check it out here: Refin Clean House Article. Here are some ways to break down the large tasks of “cleaning your room”:
- Put trash in the trashcan
- Put cups and plates in the kitchen sink
- Put books on the bookshelf
- Place your stuffed animals in the animal bin
- Put your crayons back in the drawer
- Put your Legos in the Lego box
- Pull your blankets tightly across your bed
- Arrange and fluff up your pillows
Want specific ideas on how to include your kids in chores? Here are some ideas, broken down by age:
Toddlers and preschoolers can participate in chores by helping a parent:
- Tidy pillows and blankets on their bed
- Put laundry in the washing machine
- Push the “start” button on the washing machine, dryer, and dishwasher
- Match clean socks together
- Put their dirty clothes in the hamper
- Put one category of toy in its respective bin
- Put their cups, plates, and bowls in their drawer in the kitchen
- Water plants
- Rinse dishes next to a parent (we love “toddler towers” for kitchen chores…Toddler Tower).
- Rinse out sinks
- Cut fruits and vegetables with toddler-safe knives
- Break pasta in half before cooking
- Carry in light bags of groceries
- Take in their cups or toys from the car
- Wipe window cleaner off of mirrors or windows after parents spray them
Elementary-aged children can do all of the above, plus:
- Move their laundry between the washing machine and dryer
- Put their laundry away once folded
- Prepare and heat simple snacks and foods (PB&J sandwiches, grilled cheese sandwiches, apples and peanut butter, macaroni and cheese, cereal, heated quick meals in the microwave)
- Unload the dishwasher
- Re-load the dishwasher.
- Wipe down counters
- Take out the trash and replace the trash bag
- Carry in, and help put away groceries
- Make their bed
- Strip their sheets
- Tidy their room (putting dirty laundry in the hamper, putting toys away, throwing away trash)
- Wipe down bathroom counters, toilets, and bathtubs/showers
- Clean out the car
- Push the mower (older elementary)
- Pull weeds
Middle Schoolers and High Schoolers can do all of the above, with increasing levels of independence as they grow older. They can also:
- Prepare simple meals (eggs, pancakes, spaghetti)
- Coordinate all parts of cleaning up the kitchen, when they dirtied it (unloading dishwasher, loading the dishwasher, putting food away, wiping down counters, sweeping floors).
- Clean all of the parts of the bathroom
- Clean out and vacuum the car
- Edge the yard and help with fertilizer/grass treatments
We'd love to hear how you include your kids on household chores. If you haven't already, friend us on social media, we'd love to hear from you! Mind & Child Instagram
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