How to Start Chores

A mom wakes up to realize she’s been doing entirely too much around the house and that it’s time for her three young children to step up in the chore department. Her question revolves around how to implement chores and what to do if the child in question refuses to do the task.

Q: My children are 3, 5 and 7 years old and until now I have done everything around the house—chores, cleaning, laundry, you name it. Why?? Because I stay at home and thought it was my job to make life easy for them. But now I am changing a lot of things around here. We have just implemented the ticket system to help curb some of their entitled behaviors such as disobedience and complaining, and it is working well so far. I would love some insight on where to begin with chores. Is it best to give them specific, listed-out daily tasks? And what if they choose not to do them? Is that something that can be added to the ticketed target behaviors? Or is this something that should be approached differently and separately? I’m not trying to complicate things but want to get started with giving them the responsibility of household tasks.

A: First of all, good for you! You are on the right path toward restoring the proper order in your home and instilling in your children the proper respect for Mom and Dad by reorienting your marriage to the center of your household. Part of that reorientation is giving your kids chores—lots of chores. My four kids complain sometimes that they are my “slaves,” which makes me laugh. Then again, they feel that way because many of their friends either have no chores or only have chores related to them personally (like cleaning their own room but not the living room, for example). Since you’re making many wholesale changes, I recommend starting slowly with chores but building toward a more robust schedule.

When starting a new chore, you’ll need to do it alongside your child, outlining the steps. This avoids confusion and makes sure it’s done to your satisfaction.

Start by writing down all the things your children are capable of doing. At these ages, your kids can clean their own room, sweep/mop floors (and possibly run a vacuum if you have a light-weight one), clear and set the table, take out trash, weed gardens, dust baseboards and underneath furniture, wash windows, clean sinks, wipe down door jambs, make their own breakfast and lunches, put dishes in the dishwasher, wash dishes, sort laundry and put away laundry, care for the family pet, and start to help you cook dinner. This isn’t an exhaustive list, so think about what you do and then think about the steps involved–most likely, one of your kids can do it either now or soon in the future.

Next, break it into age groups. Then break it down by daily and weekly. Each child should have daily chores and weekly chores (daily chores might be morning and evening too). Then start each child off with at least two daily and two weekly chores. After a week, add a third chore, and so on.

When starting a new chore, you’ll need to do it alongside your child, outlining the steps. This avoids confusion and makes sure it’s done to your satisfaction. Make sure you don’t overcriticize or micromanage after the first couple of times. Your kids will make mistakes–i re-washed a lot of pots in the beginning!–but by allowing them to make those mistakes, and only correcting every once in a while, you’re encourage their independence and create an atmosphere of “we’re all in this together.”

For more tips, chore suggestions by age and examples of outlining chore steps, check out my ebook, Chores for Kids.

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