Why are chores such an issue with kids?

A lot of parents tell Ward about how, when they were kids, they did what they were told and that was that. The alternative was usually "some kind of beating" that they probably deserved anyway. Parents today are confused when children refuse to do chores around the house, do them sloppily, or show really negative attitudes about chores. All these concerns, in Ward's opinion, are perfectly valid: it's true. Kids today are different than 20 years ago - they're different than they were only 10 years ago!

So what do you do?

Ward's answer to the issue of chores is this: Whatever their feelings on the matter, children need to pull their weight in a household. That's just how it has to be. Not only does a child need to help out simply because their work is necessary, and valuable, but because a strong work ethic is one of the greatest determinants of future success in our modern society. Parents need to take that first step.

What's the first step?

Begin by evaluating the child in question in terms of his or her age. A 5-year-old should be able to do simple, regular chores around the house, while a young teenager can (and should) do a lot more. Here's a nice general list:

Ages 2 - 3

Help make the bed (pull covers up)
Pick-up toys
Hang clothes on hooks
Carry laundry to and from the laundry area
Help feed animals
Help wipe up spills
Bring in the newspaper
Mop a small area
Pour from a small pitcher
Help pick up the living room

Ages 4 - 5

Any of the others plus:
Make their own bed
Clear dishes from the table
Set the table
Retrieve the mail
Dust the furniture
Help in the kitchen
Help carry and put away groceries

Ages 6 - 12

Any of the others plus:
Take care of pets
Cook simple foods
Help wash the car
Vacuum, sweep and mop
lean the bathroom completely
Rake leaves and shovel snow
Use the washer and dryer
Hang and fold laundry
Take out the trash

Ages 13 and Up

Any of the others plus:
Change light bulbs
Replace vacuum cleaner bags
Wash inside and outside of windows
Clean out refrigerator
Clean stove and oven
Prepare a meal
Make grocery lists
Do all laundry functions
Mow the lawn

It's the parent's job to spell out specifically what the child should do. Chores should always be written down and clearly explained to the child. The most effective parents are those who explain things with complete confidence, respect, and calmness. The child, then, has an opportunity to ask questions. The child does not, however, have an opportunity to complain, argue, or otherwise attempt to get out of the chores. Now is the time for enforcement.

How do you enforce chores?

It's actually quite simple, just as is the approach to defiance. Whether parents can do it effectively or not depends on, frankly, their skill, or their confidence as a parent. It's a rare parent who can it really well every time. Nonetheless, here is a usually-effective system:

1. Lay out the chore, including the basic expectations of completion.
2. Make sure the time limits for the completion of the chore are clear.
3. Stand back and observe, over time
4. If the child is successful, provide a reward - something as simple as compliments. If the child is partly successful, provide friendly and non-critical feedback. Help the child a little bit, if necessary, but make sure the child is able to complete the chore without your help.
5. If the child refuses to do the chore, go back to the web page "Defiance" and seek further help from Ward if necessary.

What if my child has such a "busy schedule" that chores aren't completed?

Ward would ask more about that schedule, whether these are social distractions (less necessary, although an important part of your child's life) or academic or medical distractions (necessary). Social distractions may need to be cut down or reduced so that a child is able to take care of life's basic things. In this case, a parent must be reasonable but firm - here is where a brief session with Ward or discussion with another parent or two can be quite helpful. If academic or medical distractions are posing a problem, it would probably be appropriate to sit down with your child and lay out a simple schedule, noting that certain sacrifices may have to be made in the future, including certain chores. With good mutual respect, this issue can be worked out.

What if my child does a poor job on the assigned chores?

Ward would want to make sure the criteria for "complete" were clearly spelled out, and hopefully even written down. A parent with clearly-written criteria would only have to check the written description, compare it to the job at hand, and show that to the child. This can be done in a friendly, even humorous way, and be an opportunity to model mutually-respectful behavior (something every parent should consider, in Ward's opinion, on a daily basis). If the job is not to specific standards, then it's not complete. If ultimately completed, a nice compliment or other reward would probably be indicated, but if the child refuses, refer to the "Defiance" web page.

Should I pay an allowance?

An allowance should first be differentiated from payment for chores. Most parents - Ward included - believe that payment for chores is a good opportunity to both reward a child for specific behaviors and choices and help children learn good money management over time. The case against payment is that children will learn to expect money for otherwise-necessary life responsibilities, which can "set them up" for disappointment later, when they're not similarly paid for just helping around their own future houses. Like most problems in life, there's usually a balance somewhere in between, and consulting with someone else - or several others - is a good idea.