Life Lessons with a Vacuum Cleaner

The Value of Chores — and Some Tips on How to Get Them Done
By Heather Cameron

Have you ever considered that by teaching your child to scrape their dinner plate you have taught them a valuable new life skill that will impact upon their future? Think that sounds a little dramatic? Think again. In teaching your children to do simple chores around your home you are encouraging them to be responsible and preparing them for a lifetime of actively participating in a household, whether they are living alone or with family or friends. So, how can you work with your children to teach them the valuable life lesson of chores? Like many family decisions, you need to set your goals and then figure out how your family will best meet them.

What needs doing?
First you need to determine what chores you want your child to do. Remember, you know your child best, so think about their physical and emotional maturity. Maybe you are comfortable with them feeding the family pets but not with them walking the dog on their own. And while a good-sized 12-year-old might be fine pushing a lawn mower, another 12-year-old with a smaller build may not have the physical strength to do so.
Keep in mind that kids are kids — yes, some responsibility is good but don’t overwhelm them with a part-time job’s worth of things to do.

Get their input
After you have determined a list of chores, present it to your children. Ask them what jobs appeal to them and explain the steps involved in each chore so they know what they are taking on. Letting kids have some say in what chores they will do makes for a better level of buy in. If they come up with chores you haven’t listed, discuss what the expectations are for that particular job and whether you both think they can manage it. You might be surprised at what chores hold the most appeal to your kids!

Set timelines
Even after they offer their input on what chores they feel ready to take on, you cannot expect that all kids will carry out their new chores with unbridled enthusiasm. That’s why you need to set some timelines to make it very clear that the dog needs to be fed more than once a week or that the dishwasher has to actually be switched on if there are to be clean dishes in the house. Make it very clear what the job is and how often it needs to be completed.

Set the standard
Let’s face it, children are not going to always do a chore the way you want it done. So, you need to first determine your acceptable level of completion. Then you need to invest a little time in helping kids to reach and perhaps exceed this acceptable level. Think of them as young wizards and you are their Dumbledore in the magical world of Choredom. Sometimes it can be overwhelming for a child to take on a new task, so be sure to offer your assistance and feedback. I’m not saying do their work for them, but start off by working with them and then slowly ease off on your actual level of hands-on help to become more of a coach. For example, if they are struggling with tidying a room, you can offer to pick up the garbage while they corral all the books. Next time you can suggest they pick up the garbage — and then the books — all by themselves. Breaking a task down into easy steps will help them to complete it much more quickly.

Make it routine, for now
Parents are always hearing about the value of routine in a child’s life and, for the most part, this can be true with chores as well. Having the same chores day by day or week by week not only makes it easier for the child to remember to do the chore, it actually helps to build on their expertise for completing an oft-repeated chore. But be careful about routine.
Children can get bored with the same old same old and then start to slack off on their duties. Ask them if they are ready for a change or whether they are happy with their current situation and respond accordingly.

Teach, don’t preach
Feedback is important, but remember to keep it positive. Praise them on their loading of the dishwasher but point out they also need to wipe the counters to finish the job of tidying the kitchen. When offering feedback, be careful not to set your (and their) standards too low. A poorly done job doesn’t do anyone any favours.

Chore challengers
Not doing assigned chores must have some kind of consequence, otherwise there is a very good chance that the chores will never get done. Maybe it is that friends cannot come over to play until your child’s room is tidy or that there are no video games until the family room is vacuumed. Make the consequences clear so there is no room for bartering.

Should you link your child’s chores to their allowance?
This can be a tough one for parents to decide. Chores go hand-in-hand with being part of the family unit, so you may want to consider that if your child is a contributing member of the team they deserve their weekly allowance. But if they are not contributing, they may not deserve it.
Families must decide the question of money and chores for themselves, but the need for consequences in some shape or form is a definite must.

The long term
It will likely take much effort on your part as a parent to make sure chores get done, and it won’t necessarily get any easier as your kids get older. But rest assured that in assigning chores you are teaching them a valuable life lesson in responsibility and the value of being part of the home team. Who knew a vacuum cleaner could be so educational?

Heather Cameron is a professional home organizer with Ottawa-based Edited Interiors.

Little Life Lessons
Assigning chores to your kids is about more than just adults sharing the workload in a home. Chores can teach your family about:
Self-esteem. Have you ever looked at the face of your little one after they have completed a chore? They are so proud of their efforts and even more proud when Mommy or Daddy praises them.
Being part of a team. Every parent wants their kid to be a good team player on the hockey rink or soccer field. Well, your family is a team too. So help your children to realize that your home is the playing field and every team member is important. And nobody wants to be the one to let the team down.

Who and What
You know your children best, so in the end you need to help them decide what chores they can handle, but the list below can give you a bit of an idea of what to expect at what age.

Kids 4 to 6 years of age can:
• Pick up toys and put them in clearly marked bins.
• Put their clothes in the laundry hamper.
• Set out the cutlery for dinner.
• Help make cookie batter.
• Hang their outdoor clothes on low hooks.

 Kids 7 to 9 years of age can:
• Feed the pets.
• Clean a bathroom sink.
• Make their bed.
• Tidy their room.
• Set the table.
• Scrape their plate after a meal.

 Kids 10 to 12 years of age can:
• Put away their laundry.
• Start to learn how to do laundry.
• Clean out the cages of small pets.
• Make their own breakfast, lunch and snack.
• Do yard work.
• Shovel the walkway and laneway.

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