Family life

Chores and allowance for 5-year-olds

Tracy wonders if Anna's ready for a chore list, or if she should just take the help when she can get it.

By Tracy Chappell
Chores and allowance for 5-year-olds

“Why do you think we had kids?” my parents would often joke when I was younger and complaining about cutting the grass, dusting the living room or running downstairs for more paper towels. They thought they were hilarious. I remember thinking it wasn’t very funny.
Until I said it to Anna last week. I asked her to put away a stack of plastic dishes I had just taken out of the dishwasher.
“Can’t you just do it on your own?” she said grouchily.
“Of course I can,” I replied. “But why do you think I had kids?”
And, like my younger self, she didn’t think it was very funny.
We’ve had a pretty lackadaisical approach to kids doing chores in our home thus far. The kids usually love to set the table and help put away dishes from the dishwasher, unless they’re engrossed in something else, but we’ve never made them do it in any official, scheduled capacity. They’re pretty good at tidying up their toys in the living room at the end of the evening, but only if we ask — and we’re not often strict about this, knowing they’ll just pull it all out again in the morning. They put their laundry in the hamper and dishes up on the counter after meals. They keep their rooms relatively tidy — I’m on clothes control, but they will slot their books and stuffies away (Anna more so than Avery). If I hand either one a duster, she’s thrilled.
But now that Anna’s approaching six (what??) I was thinking that perhaps it’s time to organize something more officially, or have specific jobs that are her responsibility. My goal isn’t to saddle the kids with housework, but to teach them about the different aspects of day-to-day upkeep that we all need to do. We already do this, of course. For example, my kids are learning that if you spill something, it’s not a big deal — but then you go get a cloth and clean it up, you don’t just stand there looking at Mom.
But I’m hesitant. Anna is an enthusiastic helper a lot of the time, but when she’s not, she’s really, really not. She has a difficult temperament, and it can be very challenging to get her to comply when she’s not in the mood (you’re probably saying that all kids are like this, but I think we deal with some stronger backlash than many). My worry is that forcing her to take on chores might backfire, and make her less cooperative about ever helping out, which would be a huge step backwards.
For example, I thought about starting to ask the kids to make their beds in the morning, which I’ve never worried about because I’m not a make-your-bed-every-morning person (luckily, my husband is). But I could see this becoming a daily battle, and backpedalling might be worse than not starting in the first place. Perhaps it’s about finding the right chore, one that can be done any time of day so we’re not forcing something when she’s feeling uncooperative.
Does your five-year-old have standard chores? What are they? Do you have any system set up, like a chart or reward system?
And I should probably ask if anyone out there gives allowance at this age, and if so, how much and what does your child do with it? I struggle with the allowance thing because I’m not sure we’re at the stage yet to plunge into money management (I may be wrong though). All I can anticipate is an avalanche of dollar store junk infiltrating my home!

This article was originally published on Nov 08, 2011

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