I’ve had quite a few people asking me about chores – how to set them up, do you pay for them, how much do you pay, is allowance tied to chores, do I need chore charts with rewards, what do I do if my kid won’t do their chores. In this podcast I want to address all those issues and more. Chores let your kids develop life skills that, if taught well, will launch them into a good place in life. I’ll start with the research behind why chores are important and then I’ll get into the nitty-gritty of how to implement chores with kids of various ages.
First, the research…
Research shows that kids who do chores grow into happier, healthier, far more successful adults, and the sooner parents start them on them, the better off they are. There have been two ground-breaking studies looking at success and correlations with behavior and upbringing. One is the Harvard Grant Study which gathered data on individuals over 75 years and the other is a University of Minnesota study looking at individuals over 20 years. Both published a ton of results in 2015. Here are some brief observations I want to highlight for you:
- It starts young: The best predictor of success in young adulthood, on measures related to education completion, career path, and personal relationships, was whether they had begun doing chores at an early age — as young as 3 or 4.
- Professional success – doing chores was significantly correlated with academic and career success but there are even indications that early chores were linked to higher IQs.
- Relationship skills - “A kid who learns early to do chores will be a more generous and cooperative partner. It’s easier to live and work with a person who has learned to take care of his or her own stuff and to be responsible for some of the boring work that adult and family life requires.” Chores teach kids vital relationship skills like cooperation, teamwork, and respect for others. I bet we all know someone in college who was the biggest slob and thoughtless roommate ever - never picked up after themselves, didn’t do the dishes, left the counter dirty and disgusting after cooking. Yuck.
- Mental Heath - researchers found that participation in chores as children was a better predictor for mental health in adulthood than social class and family conflict.
- Organization, Time Management and delayed gratification - Kids who do chores learn to organize their time and to delay gratification. Both of those are vital skills for later success. If you have to do the dishes before playing video games and your friends are playing at 7pm then you’d better get those dishes done before then. Having to fit in chores forces kids learn to manage their time. Julie Lythcott-Haims who wrote the book How to Raise an Adult said, “While it can be tempting to give kids a pass on busy homework nights real life is going to require them to do all of these things. When they're at a job, there might be times that they have to work late, but they'll still have to go grocery shopping and do the dishes."
In the Harvard Grant Study, researchers identified two things that people need in order to be happy and successful: The first? Love. The second? Work ethic.
What's the best way to develop work ethic in young people? Based on high-achievers who were part of the study there's a consensus of what gave them a good work ethic - A "pitch-in" mindset. This is a mindset that says, there's some unpleasant work, someone's got to do it, it might as well be me ... that's what gets you ahead in the workplace.
The drawback we have as parents, however, is that having our kids do chores doesn't necessarily wind up being less work for us, does it? It takes more time to teach our kids to do chores and to do them well instead of just doing the chores ourselves. How many of us look forward to nagging our kids and reminding them day after day to do their chores away? Now that we know the benefits of doing chores for the long-term, let’s take a close look at the practical side of what we can do to help us arrange for chores in our households.
PRACTICAL SIDE OF CHORES
To Pay or Not to Pay For Chores
I want to start by addressing one major issue - should we pay for chores. I firmly believe we shouldn’t. A family is a unit of people who need each other and love each other. It takes work to take care of a family and there’s no reason why kids can’t learn at an early age that pitching in is just something they need to do. Remember that life skill we learned about earlier? The “pitching in” skill? We do need to set up chores with love and encouragement though instead of nagging and threats.
When we pay our kids for chores, they start to think that if they don’t get paid then they don’t have to work. Or, if they don’t need the money, then they don’t need to do the chores either. They become workers for hire and not contributing family members. We threaten to withhold money when they aren’t done and this shouldn’t be about money, it should be about pitching in.
I do want to say that I believe in giving kids an allowance as a means to learn about handling money but it should be separate from chores. Teaching kids about money is so important actually that I’ll do separate podcast soon on it so stay tuned for that.
To help you on the practical side of things, I’m going to go over my recommendations for chores by age. I’m going to give you some basic examples but after you’re done listening feel free to visit my PARENTING DECODED Pinterest board on Kids Chores.
For kids 2-3 years
You want to start young. Yep, really young. I’d start as early as two. Richard Bromfield who wrote the book How to Unspoil Your Child Fast put it nicely, “When kids are really young, they want to help you rake leaves or prepare dinner. Take those opportunities to let kids help. Those moments are infused with love and connection. By the time they're older and really able to do [those tasks] competently, they've lost interest." Cape diem! Seize the day! A 2 or 3-year-old helping to sweep the back porch, dust the book shelves, or make a snack in the kitchen with a parent is a happy kid. When they grow up and inevitably have to accomplish these things, they’re less likely to rail against them if you started early and naturally.
What can a 2 or 3-year-old do?
- Pick up toys
- Wipe up spills
- Clear places at meal times
- Help put away groceries
- Sort recycling
- Put dirty clothes in laundry
- Make their bed
- Sort laundry and put away clothes
- Feed pet
- Set the table
- Make a small snack or help with dinner
- Pull weeds
- Water plants
- Sweep porch
- Get themselves out of bed in the morning
- Make lunch for school
- Do their laundry or at least fold it
- Cook a simple meal
- Load/unload dishwasher
- Clean up after the dog
- Clean the bathroom
- Take out the trash
- Do all of their own laundry
- Mow the lawn
- Cook a complete meal
- Wash the car
- Mop the floors
- Help with younger children
- Basic home repairs (light bulbs, dust a fan using a ladder, tighten loose screws)
I want to talk now to families with older kids who haven’t been doing chores or almost no chores yet. I’m mostly talking about families with teens or tweens but if you have elementary kids who aren’t doing chores this can be helpful to you as well.
If you have kids in this category, it will be a huge adjustment for them, that’s for sure. Our society has transitioned to valuing homework more than teamwork so we’ve given our kids a “pass” when it comes to contributing and they’re likely to resist your efforts to get them to contribute.
For starters, I am going to give you the number one chore you need to have your teen or tween start doing right now. It only involves them. If they don’t do this chore, it only hurts them – not you, not the rest of the family, not even the family dog or cat. What is it? LAUNDRY.
Set up a Family Meeting and announce that starting in one week you’ll allow your children to do their own laundry whenever they’d like as long as you’re not using the machines yourself. You allow them to choose when to have a lesson on how to use the washer and dryer. You also let them know that once they are trained, they are responsible for using the appliances appropriately or paying for the repairs. Lovingly let them know that you will always provide soap and answer specialty questions that arise but their laundry will now be their laundry.
Then, you implement this. Things might get stinky in their rooms. Just shut the door. They need to take care of themselves and this is the perfect life skill and chore for them to own. Some parents think they’ll waste water but that is much less likely than them not cleaning their clothes often enough.
Here’s what else you need to do: no yelling, no reminding or nagging. If you have an athlete, all the more reason to get them in the groove early. They might come to realize they need more underwear to stretch out washings to once a week or once every two weeks. Great! Let them buy more underwear! They can use their own money. If they dye a load of laundry pink because they didn’t separate their colors correctly, let them wear pink or replace things with their own money. If your child won’t fold their laundry, won’t put it away? Don’t lift a finger. Let them wear wrinkled clothes. Let them figure out what is clean and what is dirty. Just stay away. Assist them by answering questions by all means, just don’t do their laundry.
Ok, feeling better? Do you think you can get that one implemented at your house? Good! This laundry chore will get you on a path toward where you really want to be, getting them more involved in chores around the house. So, what’s next?
Here’s what I did with my boys when they hit middle school. This process I’m going to describe takes a bit of time to implement but I really think it is worth the effort. It absolutely was for me.
Start by taking a piece of binder paper and taping it to the fridge in your kitchen. Every day, many times a day, write the chores that everyone in the family does on the list. Take about two weeks to write all the chores so that you get a really good cross section of things that need getting done. Add pages as they get full. I told my boys about the list and encouraged them to write down their chores if they didn’t see them on the list but it was a list of all our chores, not just theirs.
What was on the list? Grocery shopping, driving kids to school, making breakfast, lunch and dinner, paying bills, earning the money to pay the bills, vacuuming, planting the garden, making beds, cleaning the dishes, setting the table, etc. Our list was about three pages long in the end.
Next, organize the list into categories – daily (making beds, setting the table), weekly (taking garbage bins to the street, combing the cat), monthly (clean their bathroom) and random (changing light bulbs, refilling TP, washing the car). I happen to put all mine into a spreadsheet so I could more easily manipulate them and add columns for who will do each chore but do whatever works for you.
Last step, have a Family Meeting and brainstorm who does what. True confession, the first time I did this I hadn’t categorized by daily/weekly/monthly and it was a disaster. I had to re-think my process and hold another Family Meeting a few days later which is what I’m describing now. Haha… you can learn from my mistakes!
My kids had already had chores but this magic list showed them that mom happened to be doing LOTS of the chores with dad in second place. I was a stay-at-home mom at the time so it wasn’t all that surprising.
For their daily chores I just asked before school for two simple things in their rooms –straighten up their beds and open their blinds. I love light in my house and I really wanted that help. They agreed it seemed reasonable. They had other daily chores but those were my wins by doing this.
For their weekly chores, they got to decide when they did them – which days worked best in their busy schedules. This is where using choices was key. I wanted them done, they could say when! They also chose that some chores they would own and others would rotate. It seemed that neither wanted to clean the litter boxes for our cats so they rotated that one with taking the garbage bins to the street. I was flexible! It didn’t matter to me when, just that they helped.
I also had commitment from my husband and boys that if I cooked, they’d clean the dinner dishes. We would all take our plates over to the counter but then one boy would help dad wash the pots and load the dishwasher and the other one was responsible for cleaning up the leftovers and counters. Again, choices! I could chill while they happily picked their after-dinner music and cleaned up. It never took more than 15 minutes. This again was a chore I used to pretty much do all by myself and not always happily. Another win!
However, my real coupe, if you ask me, came when I showed them the “random” list of jobs, the ones that don’t have a schedule. It had about 40 jobs on it. I was pretty much doing most of the 40 jobs and they all could see that now. Before we created this list, they had no idea how long it was. I asked them to each pick 4 jobs from the list. I didn’t care which ones, just pick and be responsible. Their eyes lit up. Only four! Wow! That’s a steal! They were expecting 15 or something. While that doesn’t seem quite fair in some ways to me, I was thrilled to have one son now be the permanent light-bulb-changer and the other the toilet-paper-refiller and foaming-soap-refiller.
I can’t even remember the other ones but it was awesome. Just the week before we did this list I had asked one of my sons to replace a lightbulb. They had no interest whatsoever especially since we had high ceilings and a lot of them needed a ladder to get to. Well, the very next week after the new jobs were selected, I got 4 light bulbs changed from a happy teen. Yep! He smiled and just went off to change them.
I encourage you all to make your list and get buy-in for some assistance. Chores are good for your kids even if they won’t admit it.
Chore Charts, Chore Jars and Chore Events
Next, I’m going to talk about how you might track and set up the chores. There are quite a few clever ways I’ve been researching that parents accomplish getting their kids to know what chores to do - chore charts, chore jars and chore days or mornings.
Chore Charts – a simple chart that has chores listed and maybe the days of the week. You can use a marker or stickers that the child can show they are done with a chore. Simple. Some families collect stars and give a reward but since rewards are kinda like paying for chores I’m not all that keen on rewards, just charts for tracking what’s to be done. If your child can’t read, by all means use pictures. If your child is older, have Family Meetings to discuss what chores will be done by whom and when. The more choices you can give your kids over chores, the more ownership they will have in completing them.
Chore jars - I love some of the Pinterest ideas where you take popsicle sticks and write all the chores on them and put them in a jar. Each person in the family can then pick a stick, do the job and then put it in the “completed” jar when they’re done. Have different jars for different ages if you need to. Be creative!
Chore days or mornings - Some families pick one day on the weekend, maybe Saturday morning, where they all do chores together. A list is posted that morning of what needs to be done and everyone pitches in until they are all completed.
Consequences for Not Doing Chores
Let’s move on. We might agree on the concept of chores but what if our kids won’t do them without lots of nagging and threats? We need to stop nagging and threatening. I need you to go back and listen to Podcast #10 on how to set up good consequences. Using the Love and Logic technique called Energy Drain that those of you who came to a class learned as well as setting some good limits as to what will happen if chores aren’t done is the direction you need to head in. If you don’t know the Energy Drain technique I’ll put a link to the audio you can download it from Love and Logic Institute.
When kids are younger a simple limit stated positively like: “Anyone who has finished their chores is welcome to sit down at the dinner table.” Or “I read books to kids who have put their clothes in their hamper.” These work really well for little ones. For snarky teens and tweens you might need something more like, “Gee, it really drains my energy to see all those dishes sitting in the sink. What are you going to do to put my energy back?” If they refuse, just like I describe in Podcast #10, the next day might look like: “I drive kids to school or soccer practice who have put my energy back.” Or, “I allow kids to use electronics who’ve put my energy back.” You need to keep calm and you need to not nag or yell. I know it can be hard but, believe me, if you’re consistent, your kids will trust that you mean what you say.
I do want to cover one more advanced concept that worked great for my own boys. I never yelled or nagged about doing chores. I let it be known that I’d be happy to do any chore for them and I posted a list of charges on my kitchen bulletin board. It was only $20 for me to take the garbage bins to the street, $5 to refill TP and $10 to comb the cat. Everything had a price. I collected my charges once a month from the pink note cards that went on the bulletin board to track when I did a job for them. It allowed me to be a happy mom and they got to be responsible since they didn’t like giving me their money. This whole setup I’ll explain in a future podcast on how to teach kids about money but for now put prices on things. I also bargained to take down a pink card if they did one of my jobs. I was flexible! I’d even tell you to feel free to post what you’ll pay kids to do your chores if they want to earn money as well.
Did I give you enough practical ideas on how to get some chores done at your house? I hope I haven’t overwhelmed you. Realizing that our kids need chores is what I hope I’ve accomplished here. Let your kids grow and experience real life, get them out of the academic and performance-oriented bubble our society has been forcing them in to. Help create humans who care to pitch in and understand that life isn’t all about them; it’s about creating a loving environment where we can work to solve problems together.
I loved how Julie Lycott-Haims wrote in her book, How to Raise an Adult, “By making them do chores -- taking out the garbage, doing their own laundry -- they realize I have to do the work of life in order to be part of life. It's not just about me and what I need in this moment."
Here's the link to PINTEREST KIDS CHORE BOARD