I am all about time management and efficiency, especially when it comes to daily chores that I would love to skip if I could. It is hard for most of us to feel eager about doing chores, but they are necessary and inevitable.
So, like many moms, I thought about ways I could help my kids be more independent and gradually but very naturally develop their own understanding of the importance and necessity of chores, without perceiving them as cumbersome tasks.
Although there are many chore charts out there for children, I wondered what approach would help my kids get involved in daily chores without thinking of them as dreadful things to get over with, in return for some type of reward.
I did not want to use a reward system to introduce my child to chores, knowing that chores are not going to be temporary things in their lives. Eventually, they should get used to the idea that, at some point in their lives, they will have to manage chores as a necessity of life.
Also, I did not want to wait until my little kids reach a certain age, and then start dictating age-appropriate chores according to standardized development stages, through a one-way channel of communication. I want my kids to become naturally accustomed to chores around the house and voluntarily do them as part of their routine.
That is why my approach to chores was a little different than many of the tips I’ve found out there. I decided not to award them for completing a chore or make a chart to determine my children’s schedule.
Instead, once my kids were able to walk and understand simple instructions, I began to gradually include little tasks as part of their routine.
How to include chores as part of kids’ daily routine
No use of chore words
We all have but one life to live, and there are things we have to do no matter what, as part of living. For that reason, I recommend not using the word “chore” with your children. You do not want your kids to think of chores as unpleasant tasks. The goal is to get them to add one or two extra steps to their existing daily routine; for example, cleaning up little messes, fetching necessities, preparing things for later convenience, and so on.
Start by demonstrating at an early age
Verbally explain the necessary steps of each chore to your kids – how and why you do it. They have to know these are necessary things to make their home a hygienic, pleasant place to live, where we maintain our health by eating proper meals. Make a habit of explaining household tasks to your children even before they can walk or participate.
For example, you could explain, “Mommy is going to help you change your clothes.” And then, “Now that we’re dressed in new clean clothes, these dirty ones go to the laundry hamper.” Or, “Mommy is going to put the dirty clothes into the washing machine and put some soap in here, and push the button, like this. So we can have clean clothes to wear later.”
Delegate parts of chores to your child’s routine
Start assigning some of the steps of daily tasks to your children. Once they are old enough to start noticing things around them and understand your words, you can take a step beyond verbally describing what you are doing.
For example, when you change your kid’s diaper and explain the steps, conclude with something like, “Now we throw the diaper in the diaper pail.” Once your child can walk, you repeat the steps and say, “Now, we throw the diaper where?” The answer will come easy, and you simply have to hand the diaper to your kid and watch them go.
Do not reward your child for doing their chores
As my kids grow, I want them to get involved in household chores naturally. Chores are necessary tasks in our daily lives that every member of the family should be able to participate in.
My ultimate goal is to raise my children to be used to chores from an early age, so they do not relate to them as dreadful tasks, but rather as just a part of life.
Introducing chores with an award system at an early age, whether the reward is pocket money or treats, could leave kids with the wrong idea that if they do something unpleasant, they should be rewarded.
But as kids grow up and leave home, they will have to take care of their own daily chores in order to have a clean house, clothes to wear, and clean dishes to eat from. There will be no one rewarding them for living their daily lives.
Let children explore their abilities as soon as they are interested in learning about chores and willing to try
I was hesitant to let my kids handle breakable dishes or sharp utensils at first. But I quickly realized that with proper supervision they can learn how to carefully handle delicate or sharp things very quickly.
Guide your children to get used to kitchen gadgets and gardening tools safely, so they can get involved by exploring and observing things responsibly.
Should you enforce rules if your children refuse or hate doing chores?
This can occur when children have been introduced to chores as tasks separate from their daily lives, for which they earn praise and rewards. At some point, kids can refuse to do chores, and might even try to bargain for bigger rewards.
This is why children should know that chores are a necessary part of their lives, in order to take care of themselves responsibly. Chores are not just grown-ups’ work, nor are they something children should expect to be rewarded for.
Is it wrong to reward your child for doing chores?
I disagree with rewarding kids for doing what they should know how to do as part of their lives. I do not praise them or make a big deal of it when they do the little chores that are expected of them, because I do not want my kids to think that doing chores is something out of the ordinary.
Can you use chores as punishment?
I do not recommend using chores as a means of punishment. You have to help children integrate chores into their lives as normal daily routines. If we use chores for punishment, it is passively hinting that chores are dreadful things that we impose on someone who does something wrong.
Examples of daily chores for kids that do not require charts or rewards
From a very early age, show children where each toy belongs and reinforce the idea that everything has a designated spot.
This can be expressed verbally with phrases like, “The puzzle goes right over here, next to the toy house.” You will have to repeat this many times until they get used to the idea, and learn to appreciate being able to find the same toy from the same spot.
When your child is old enough to follow instructions you simply have to say, “Put the puzzle back in his spot.” Eventually, your kids will know where each toy should go and with positive encouragement, they can get quite enthusiastic to show off what they know.
Many grown-ups still do not know how to properly clean up their space, because they do not know how to organize and find a home for everything.
Instead of trying to teach kids to put things in the garbage or the laundry hamper in a sudden cleaning spree, be sure to connect the action with their daily routines.
For example, when the time comes to change their outfit, demonstrate verbally and physically where the dirty clothes go. Once your child is old enough to follow instructions and walk, give them cues like, “Now that we’ve changed into our clean clothes, where do these dirty ones go?” Then let your child put the dirty laundry in the hamper every time from then on, until they get used to doing it without putting much thought into it.
Talk about cooking
From a very early age, talk to your kids about what to cook, and let them help you decide the menu and which ingredients to buy. Also, show them the steps involved in cooking and how to prepare each ingredient.
Once your child is old enough to develop adequate motor skills, show them how to wash the vegetables and let them try it out. One downside is that it will take longer to prepare each meal, with your kids asking endless questions and their little hands wanting to touch everything. But keep in mind that this is an investment in the future. Someday you will have children with an interest in cooking, who are willing and capable of preparing a meal with you – or even all by themselves for your birthday!
Have an audience
Instead of putting your kids in front of the TV, let them be around you while you are doing chores.
For example, let them sit at the breakfast table and watch you prepare ingredients as you cook.
If you are cleaning the bathroom, let them clean the mirror while you explain your process and why it is necessary.
If you are taking out the garbage, explain each bin’s purpose and what type of garbage goes where and why. Let your child help by sorting out the recycling and trash.
What are the benefits for children doing chores?
Become self-sufficient and independent
As much as we shower our children with care, they should eventually learn how to take care of themselves. From dealing with their dirty clothes to preparing their own meals, chores can help children grow into people who are able to take care of their health and maintain a clean living space. Additionally, doing chores from an early age can teach children more independence in handling other tasks.
Strong self-esteem, confidence
Children can gain a lot of self-confidence and a feeling of importance from finishing simple tasks, and later taking on more complex chores like preparing meals or managing yard work. This will benefit children immensely, as stronger self-esteem and confidence provide the foundation for achieving their goals and aspiring to successful careers.
A tighter family dynamic
Having children add a helping hand to chores around the house is a great way to strengthen the family dynamic. There are always things to be done, and every member of the family chipping in to do their part can make the family life more functional. This can leave more free time for the family to relax and play together, not to mention reducing stress and minimizing conflict.
Children can learn a lot about responsibility by doing chores. They can start to grasp from an early age that once they take out a toy and play with it, it is their responsibility to put it back where it belongs. As they age, they will be able to understand that neglecting to take care of plants will cause them to die.
The ability to manage daily chores requires a certain level of discipline, which contributes to more self-control. This is of great benefit to children, as self-control will make them more persistent and able to attain longer-term goals.
To summarize, we all want our children to become adults who know how to be responsible and able to take care of themselves. Chores provide a basic framework for developing the ability to take care of their daily lives.
If you want your child to be involved in daily chores around the house, I strongly recommend against segregating chores from the context of daily life with things like charts and reward systems. Instead, let your children ease into tasks from an early age and get used to the idea of chores as part of a routine.
If your child plays with toys, those toys go back to where they belong. If they change their outfit, dirty clothes should be put in the laundry hamper. If dinner time comes, set the table so food can be served.
Children should naturally accumulate chores as part of their daily routine instead of being introduced to specific tasks as a means to earn some reward or be sentenced to as punishment.
Start from a very early age, and verbally and physically demonstrate how each step of a chore is done and why, focussing especially on how it is connected with their daily routine.
As long as your kids learn from an early age that these chores are part of that routine, they will get used to doing them without negative associations, as second nature.
You also might be interested in reading, Why some kids cannot follow a routine.