Summer is the PERFECT time to train children in household chores AND let them practice. And, we’d argue that it’s ESSENTIAL for kids to have a little weight on their shoulders when it comes to their responsibilities within our homes.
Responsibility is a Kind of Power
To be entrusted to do a job means you’re considered trustworthy by your family members. To be asked to contribute to the smooth running of a household means you matter and we need you! To be given the know-how to do a job and the freedom to execute it yourself means you’re growing and learning. These all contribute to a sense of being Capable – one of the 4 Crucial Cs*!
Training kids in household chores also has the unexpected benefit of reducing power struggles. (This is a top tier ninja parenting hack – seriously!) A kid who continually pushes back against your wishes and engages in battles is a kid who is seeking power. We can hand them some power in a kind and respectful way through chores. It’s a form of positive power and fills that cup in a productive way (even if/when they complain the whole time!).
So How the Heck Do You Teach Kids to Do Chores?
Here’s some hard won, personal, in-the-trenches, “school of hard knocks” lessons I’ve learned about training and the practicing of chores. The terrain of chores and children is never straight, narrow or smooth. The Chore Road is curvy, loopy, bumpy, crazy and unpredictable.
Here are 6 particular bumps, curves, and loops to look out for:
1) Waiting until you are tired to ask for the chore to get done – folks, we simply have to go to bed if we are tired. Trying to engage children in “helping” us when we are tired and grumpy is impossible and almost always backfires.
2) Wanting it to be perfect – learn to love a lumpy bed, cherish the few Doritos that don’t make it in the ziplock, squint when you look at the swept-ish floor. There will be time to do it perfectly, this summer ain’t the time!
3) If the kids do one chore cheerfully . . .. well, we add on another. If they do one cheerfully, be grateful and quiet and satisfied. We all are so annoyed when we give kids an inch and then they ask, whine and beg for a mile! Don’t BE that person.
4) We don’t follow through or we aren’t consistent. We probably won’t be 100% consistent, nor will we follow through every time, but at least try. Aim lower to hit the mark, to get in the game, rather than announcing some big management change and then giving up because it’s too hard to enforce. Better they unload the groceries and change the towels to the dryer then nothing at all.
5) We are too controlling. We monitor, we check in, we comment, we give unsolicited nifty tips, we re-do. Stop. Take off your glasses so it all goes into soft focus and pour yourself a cucumber infused water and sit down. Good enough is good enough.
6) We don’t really hand it over. When you put a kid in charge of something, we recommend also giving them a vote/say in how it gets done. If they took the time and care to take all the stuff off that shelf to dust it, maybe they get to add their own personal touch to the decorative flare with which they put it back.
Age Appropriate Chores
Here are some examples to get you inspired, thinking and into action.
4-5 Year Olds: Set the table, put sandwiches and chips into baggies, dress themself (including choosing outfit), pour drinks for self and family. Keep your expectations in line for this age group — think of this age group as team players – they like to take chores on as a team.
6-10 Year Olds: Wake up to their own alarm clock (summer is PERFECT training time for this. Late for camp, who cares? Miss a morning playdate, so what?) If you stay out of their way you will learn their preferences, pitfalls, habits and when the school year starts you will be able to work with them. After a late and harried morning in which I didn’t BUTT in I realized the sleepy son I was so often annoyed with WANTED to get to school on time. He experimented with setting his alarm clock LATER and gosh darned if that kid didn’t start getting up on time with a minimum of drama. Magic.
11 – 12: Making or changing an appointment. This age group can practice looking at a calendar, determining when they can go to the orthodontist (or dentist, or doctor) and then CALL the orthodontist (or dentist, or doctor) to make the appointment. A good tip here is to role play the call a couple times and then leave the room when they make the call. Watch out for the drama of, “I can’t do that! YOU do it MOM! NO ONE else has to do this.” The more you accept and tolerate the drama, without reacting or feeding into it, the sooner it generally dies down.
13 – 18: Menu planning & cooking: Gotta learn some time, might as well be this summer. Kids this age can certainly plan and cook a meal and get it on the table. Have them select something when making the shopping list. Offer up your recipes, or let them explore on the internet. Watch out for the speed bumps of squishing their ideas, not eating the food, or making them choose something else to cook because what they want to make is too easy (or too hard). I learned to love, nay ADORE, a meal of pasta (white, delicious and yummy and fabulous ALL white pasta — nary a whole grain to be found) with sauce from a jar, broccoli and a warmed up breaded chicken patty from A BAG. Don’t knock it ‘til you try it, we forget how sublime a breaded chicken patty can taste!
*The Four Crucial Cs
Connect (the need to feel belonging)
Capable (the need to grow and improve)
Count (the need to feel significant/like you matter)
Courage (the need for encouragement/the belief that we can face life’s challenges)
*A Reference Note on The 4 Crucial Cs
Alfred Adler identified the four core needs: belong, improve, significance, encouragement. Ansbacher, H. L., & Ansbacher, R. R. 1956. The Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler, Basic Books. New York. Betty Lou Bettner and Amy Lew translated Adler’s core needs into the Crucial Cs: Connect, Capable, Count, Courage. Bettner, B.L. & Lew, A. 1990. Raising Kids Who Can. Connexions Press. MA.