Dear Aspire Too,
I am a parent of four children ranging in age from 2 to 11. Every year when the weather warms up I feel myself dreading summer vacation. The kids have activities they attend throughout the summer and we often get a neighbor’s daughter to come and watch the kids while my husband and I work. Every evening when I come home the house is a disaster. I feel guilty for being angry that the house is in shambles and I have talked to the babysitter repeatedly about tidying up the house but she says when she tries to clean up the kids get more out of control and she can’t enlist their help. I have the same problem when I try to clean the house – the kids seem to get more demanding when the caregiver is busy. Is there anything you would recommend that I do about this?
Summer is never an easy time for parents or children. Even though most kids look forward to summer holidays the lack of structure during this time can also create a lot of difficulty for kids and parents. It sounds like enlisting the kids to help with chores around the house would be beneficial for you and your family year round. Chores help kids to understand that work is necessary to keep the house in order and running smoothly. Their participation in those chores will give them a sense of accomplishment, help them develop the ability to do things that they do not want to do, and help them become more appreciative and conscientious in cleaning up after themselves. Some parents argue that chores is much like child labor and kids should not have to do them, while others believe it helps them become better adults. The research about kids that do chores as opposed to those that do not is clear, chores helps kids become more responsible adults. If you struggle with this concept think about what you hope your kids will be like when they grow up. You likely wish them to be responsible, able to care for themselves and their families and have the skill necessary to do that. If they are not taught how to cook and clean for themselves these goals will be harder for them to achieve in adulthood.
Chores also help kids to build the capacity (resilience) to do things they do not want to do. Most of us have times when we do not want to do a task, but getting past the feeling of not wanting to do them, so we can do them takes practice just like any other skill. The sooner you start teaching this valuable life lesson, the better.
Some families make up chore charts – enlisting the kids to develop this chart might create more buy in for the kids. You may provide rewards or an allowance if the kids do their chores. You may believe that chores are a task required that do not need to get rewarded, other than the intrinsic value of having done a good job. Every family has different values when it comes to chores. What ever you choose to do, keep in mind the simpler the strategy the more likely it will be followed.
Some examples of age appropriate chores:
- 2-3 years old – can help clean up toys, wipe down the fronts of fridges and stoves, throw away garbage, fold wash cloths and help set the table.
- 4-5 years old – can fold towels, get laundry out of the dryer, tidy up bedrooms, take laundry to the laundry room, put dishes in the dishwasher.
- 6-7 years old – fold laundry, unload dishwasher, put clothes away, small loads of dishes, some help with meal preparation (getting condiments out of the fridge, measuring baking items), sweep floors.
- 8-9 years old – dust, vacuum, help with meal prep (following simple recipes, cutting vegetables, using the microwave), organize cupboards, help put away groceries.
- 10-12 years old – mow the lawn, mop floors, help supervise younger children, clean kitchen, heat up soup on the stove, laundry.
- 13 + – can iron clothes, clean the tub or shower, make lunch or supper meals.
Of course each parent needs to make decisions about what their child can safely manage for chores but the sooner parents start allowing children to take responsibility for themselves and contribute to the family through doing chores, the more comfortable they will be in doing these tasks for themselves. Once your children have been given the necessary instruction on how to do the chore, limit criticism about how they did the chore. If they do the chore poorly, the next time they go to do the chore, you can remind them of how you want them to do it. Set clear boundaries about when the chore is to be done (each day before supper; each week before play time; or each day between 4-5) this will minimize the reminders needed for them to remember to complete the task.
Sherry Tucker, BA, BSW, RSW
Director of Family Services
Aspire Too Counselling & Professional Services