When it comes to doing chores, there is a positive approach that can be summed up in two words: Take Time.
To teach, that is. Chores, while seemingly straightforward to us parents who do them all the time, take time for kids to learn. And we need to take time to teach them. And to expect independence with them. And also to form a habit of them. Oh, and enjoyment of them. Well, we might be waiting a LONG time for that one!
But promises of rewards and threats of consequences aren’t necessary as long as the chore-learning process is cooperative and encouraging. In our house, “We do it together,” is our motto right now, with an addendum of, “(until you can do it alone)” to come later. Here are the four steps that help us get there:
1. Model. They see me do stuff first.
2. They help me. I get to have an assistant.
3. I help them. Now it is their turn to take the lead.
4. They do it alone. We’ve done it enough times together that it is not unreasonable to expect them to get a job done on their own.
Of course, the length of time to get through this 4-step teaching process depends on the task. Getting the dog her food is much less complicated than cleaning one’s bedroom.
For big tasks, break the job up. Make the bed. Put toys away. Pick up clothes. Vacuum. Clear dishes. Throw away garbage. Wipe surfaces. Each one is its own learning process. That’s why it’s overwhelming to say, “Clean your room,” and expect it to be done 1) quickly and 2) without supervision/ direction/ guidance/ help.
Here are some jobs that my kids were able to handle alone at various ages:
Age 1-2 (not expecting perfection)
- window washing
- fruit & veggie prep (washing & drying)
- choosing clothes
- unloading utensils from dishwasher
Age 3-4 (also not expecting perfection, and expecting some “No”s)
- food prep
- setting table
- feeding animals
- sorting clothes
- folding laundry
- shelving books
- clearing the table
- get dressed
- laundry (Depending on the machine…ours is fool proof with a 1-button setting)
- helping to cook
- doing dishes
- get the mail
- making lunch
- measure ingredients
- clean bathroom sinks
- pack own carry-on for trips
- pet care
- JJ enjoys plunging the toilet!
Though my kids can do these kinds of jobs on their own, I still expect to give directions as to when they need to be done. I don’t expect them to notice on their own and take the initiative to do some chores (except when the toilet needs to be plunged…that takes no prompting for JJ). At their ages, they simply have other priorities than I do. I think the first time I started taking initiative for doing chores is when I had my own house! That’s when it began to matter to me.
What if they say ,”No,” or argue when it’s time to do chores? My answer is, “Yes, let’s do it together.” Even if it’s a task that I know they can do on their own, they may simply be needing some extra encouragement right then. So my answer is, “Yes, it needs to get done. Let’s do it together.” I break the job up into “You do this and I’ll do that…” No arguing, negotiating, reasoning, bribing or threatening…just cooperation and some re-teaching.
I expect to remind my kids often to do chores. I expect to teach them (do it together) for a long time. I remind myself that their whole childhood is time for teaching. Like me, my kids may not exhibit “proactive-chore-behavior” until they’ve moved out into their own place. But because of the years I’ve invested teaching chores and instilling the importance of getting jobs done, it will be second nature to tackle their own chores with confidence.