Time for Chores

I once overheard a father say his 8-year-old will be ready for chores in a few years.

Say what?

Kids can do chores, starting as toddlers. And if you teach them now about helping keep the house tidy, it will make your life easier.

For example, at my house, my children, ages 4 and 6, may not take out an activity or toy until the one they are currently playing with is put away. This keeps the playroom from becoming a disaster zone. It also teaches them to respect their space and, eventually, (I hope) their own homes. But this is an easy rule to follow at my house because there are just a handful of toys.

As for specific chores, my children:

  • Set the table for dinner and clean it off after, which involves wiping it with a sponge and vacuuming underneath with a hand-held vacuum.
  • Fold and put away their own laundry. Yes, my 4-year-old is in charge of his laundry. 
  • Feed the dog twice a day.
  • Make their beds.
  • Make their breakfast, which is mostly cereal, milk and fruit. My 4-year-old has started to scramble his eggs on the gas stove.
  • Make their lunches for school most mornings.
  • Help clean up for company and for just keeping the house picked up.

“How do they do all this?” you ask.

One, we expect it to get done, and there are consequences if they don’t. If they want breakfast, they must make it. And if one complains about setting the table, then he or she has to clean it up, too. Usually, they swap every week — one sets, the other cleans.

My children can manage their own laundry because they have very few clothes, so it’s not overwhelming. Your children only need a few shirts and a few shorts. Because, if you are like me, we are doing laundry every day or every other day, so something is always clean. There is no need for an entire store’s worth of clothes in their drawers.

Make lunch? Yes. Teach your children to use a knife, so they can spread peanut butter on the bread. We do not have dessert in the house (mostly because I will eat it), so they have only healthy food options to choose for their lunches. My 4-year-old sits on a stool to scramble his eggs on our gas stove. Yes, I supervise, but he does the egg-cracking and the scrambling. I help lift the pan to put eggs on plate, simply because he does not have the arm strength to do this.

Remember, children don’t have all the knowledge we have, so you must show them how to do their chores for a while before they can do it on their own. And one more thing: In our house, it’s not enough to just “do” your chore. You must also do it well.

It’s not always smooth. Sometimes there are tears because she can’t pull the covers up, or he is mad he has to come inside from playing to set the table. (The only chore they have no problem with is feeding the dog because they love her.) But when there is resistance, I just remember the lessons I am giving them now that will help them the rest of their lives. For instance, if you want to make a case for a raise, you have to show you don’t just do your job. You have to prove how you do it really well. 

So, please, don’t wait until your children are teenages to start doing chores. (Or, in some, cases there are no chores at all.) 

Help them become independent and recognize that they must contribute to the family (community) to make it work. That way, you are not always bending down, picking up after them, and your children can go on to do great things.

Leah Friedman is a mother of two and a professional organizer, who owns Raleigh Green Gables. She works with clients to help them clear the space to be in deeper relationships with themselves, their loves and their lives. And, yes, she lives what she preaches at home with a clean playroom, a clothes closet organized by color and an empty attic.

Categories: Get Organized