It just makes sense: If your kids contribute to the mess around the house, they should help tidy it up. Not so much for your sake, but for theirs. “One of the biggest problems children experience is that they don’t feel needed,” says Maggie Reigh, the Kelowna, BC, author of 9 Ways to Bring Out the Best in You & Your Child. To help kids mature into emotionally healthy adults, “they need to feel that their contribution matters,” she says. “Chores are a really tangible way to do that.”
Here are some tips to help get the vacuum rolling—plus check out this age-by-age chore chart.
Match the chore to child Even the littlest one can pitch in and feel useful (though asking your three-year-old to do the laundry might lead to a hefty plumber’s bill!). “The best time to start them working is when they’re underfoot in the kitchen,” Reigh recommends. “Put them at the sink and get them to rinse carrots.”
Accept imperfection Remember that your most important goal is not a spotless bathroom, but to help your children grow. “Maybe your four-year-old’s dusting won’t be perfect, but get your priorities straight,” Reigh counsels. “Look for what’s working,” she suggests, and be appreciative. Encouragement is a greater motivator than criticism.
Train your troops “Break things down into the simplest steps,” says Reigh. “Help clean up after dinner” involves too many steps for a five-year-old, but if you say, “Bring me the plates, and then I can scrape them and put them in the dishwasher,” young kids can lend a hand while learning what needs to be done.
Be consistent Be clear about the expected time frame for your child to get the job done, and be strong enough to endure a little short-term pain if you have to follow through with a consequence. If your eight-year-old doesn’t get her chores done, for example, tell her firmly but kindly, “I was really hoping you could go to that game too,” suggests Reigh. That said, if your child has a really busy week, you could help her come up with a plan to get her chores done another time.
Work as a team “Chores are an opportunity for you to connect with your children,” says Reigh. It’s a chance to invite them to be part of something and to experience the benefit (and sometimes the fun) of working together. The key, Reigh says, is to involve them in choices and decisions. For example, ask your 10-year-old if she would prefer to take out the garbage or organize the recycling.
Beware of tying chores to allowance Are you prepared for your 12-year-old to pass up on his allowance if that means he doesn’t have to take his turn washing dishes? If you give him this choice, know that you could be facing a chore boycott. Plus, says Reigh, linking chores to money may take away the good feeling of contributing to the household.