Look out parents – summer is here in all its apathetic glory. With classes out of session, extracurricular activities stopped, and required homework and reading suspended, most kids have WAY too much free time on their hands. A great way to keep their work ethic alive and foster responsibility over the summer is to institute some chores. We know, kids don’t like being assigned chores. But parenting is not a popularity contest. Good parents give leadership that helps grow their kids into responsible, hardworking adults. And where chores are concerned, the benefits far outweigh any potential grumbling.
Over the years, we’ve heard lots of twenty-somethings brag about how they neverhad to do any chores while they were growing up. Well, we’ve also known lots of young adults who sadly don’t know how to do laundry or clean a toilet. Reasonable chores are logical and effective ways to help your child learn the basic tasks necessary for making it as a grownup. And let’s face it, during the summer when we’re working and they’re playing, chores help to even the workload out a bit, so everyone can enjoy more free time.
- Worker in training
At what age should a kid be expected to do chores? Well, once a little tot is old enough to take belongings out of the toybox and scatter them around the house, he’s old enough (with some guidance) to pick up the toys and put them back. Toddlers shouldn’t be operating heavy equipment, of course, but there are lots of little tasks that can foster a positive habit of helping: emptying little trash cans into the big kitchen trashcan, using a rag to wipe off doorknobs, making sure decorative pillows are in their proper place. You’ll be surprised at the pride a little tyke can feel in a job well done!
- Mail duty
Whether at the end of your driveway or down the street, kids can pick up the mail and drop off outgoing letters. Of course, use good judgement about the amount of supervision is reasonable for your child’s age when walking near traffic or out of sight around the corner. But once he’s old enough, your child can take over this responsibility entirely.
- Pet care
It often seems that the kids in a family are the ones who beg and beg to get a pet, then mom or dad end up serving as the primary caregiver. Give those chores to your kids! Feeding, watering, walking, bathing, brushing – these are all tasks that kids in middle school and older can handle. Caring for a pet is a great way to learn that love is not just a feeling, but calls for action and responsibility as well.
- The dishwasher
No one enjoys loading or unloading the dishwasher. If someone told you he enjoys it, he is either lying or has some hidden issues to deal with. But just because it’s repetitive and unpleasant doesn’t mean your kids shouldn’t get to experience it. That’s how work is sometimes. Like all chores, show them what to do and explain your expectations, then turn them loose. Consider making a rotating schedule so everyone gets a turn.
- Clean the car
My father always said that a clean car runs better. I’m not certain that’s accurate, but a clean car is certainly more enjoyable! Kids of any age can pitch in with certain aspects of this job, and the older they get, the more they can handle independently. Once they start driving, consider attaching the privilege of using the car to the responsibility of keeping it clean.
Certainly one of the most unpleasant household chores, but one that can be handled by late elementary kids and up. Dumping small cans into the big can, taking the bin to the curb, replacing liners, even periodically scrubbing the cans are all good chores that teach the realities of running a household.
When considering chores for your children, look beyond your own four walls. Maybe a neighbor or family member needs some extra help. Running an errand, caring for a pet, getting the mail, or bringing the empty trashcan back to the house are all simple tasks that can become burdensome if someone is sick or recovering from an injury. Reach out and help your kids be a blessing!
It always makes us sad when we see a neighbor who hires a lawn service while their multiple, healthy, teenage kids sit inside staring at their electronic devices. When did we get so busy or sophisticated that we can’t care for our own property? Whether the family works together or the kids take it over, get them out there! The littlest kids can pick up fallen sticks or use a watering can. Older kids can handle the whole project. Learning this skill well can even lead to a profitable summer job!
We weren’t being facetious before about kids leaving for college not knowing how to wash their own clothes. We’ve seen this happen many times. At the very least, kids should be helping with their part of the household laundry process – putting their dirty clothes in the hamper, and making sure clean clothes stay put away appropriately. High school kids should take a more active role, perhaps even managing all of their own laundering needs. Imagine the freedom you’ll feel when asked, “Where’s my [insert name of garment here]?” You can say, “I dunno, you’re in charge of your own laundry!”
Last but certainly not least, the nightmare of many parents – the child’s bedroom. Out of exasperation, many parents take a hand-off approach: “This is their space, and if they want to live in a disaster area, that’s their business. But don’t expect me to ever set foot in there!” The problem with this tactic is that someday, very likely, your messy, cluttered, disorganized kid will have a roommate who will notwant to live in a disaster area. Appropriate bedroom chores now can bless a college dormmate or spouse with future happiness! Should you expect your kid’s bedroom to pass the white-glove test? Probably not. But do consider some minimal expectations and stick to them. A made bed, clear floor, closed closet door, stowed clothes, and absence of dirty dishes is an excellent start.
With all of these chores, it is absolutely essential to attach some consequences. Chores are not suggestions. Once you, the parent, have decided on a plan, it becomes mandatory. Completing the chores as expected earns privileges; failing to meet expectations removes privileges; and chronically treating assigned responsibilities irresponsibly leads to consequences. That is the real world, right there. We can’t tell you what those privileges and consequences should be, but you’ll know what will work best in your setting. Create a chart to aid in understanding and stay consistent. If you make a change, communicate it clearly beforehand.
What about paying an allowance? Well, there’sa loaded question! There are so many approaches to paying kids for their work, we’d rather not make recommendations. But we will offer a few guidelines. First, it’s reasonable to expect a certain amount of work ‘for free’ just by virtue of being part of the family. Do your kids create trash? Play on the lawn? Drink from clean glasses? Well, then performing associated chores is just part of carrying the shared responsibility of living together as a family.Second, if you choose to pay for certain tasks, by all means pay by the job, not by the week. This teaches clearly that income is earned by completing a task well, not by just waiting for a certain amount of time to elapse. Paying your child for having a pulse for a certain number of days is not an effective approach. And third, if you pay anything, it should absolutely not exceed minimum wage. For example, you assign your child to clean the toilets. You hate that job, so to you it’s worth $5 per toilet. Then you discover that he does a really good job scrubbing that toilet in about 10 minutes. Well, at that rate, he’s earning $30 per hour! WAY too much! That price structure sends the wrong message, teaches the wrong lesson, and is disproportionate with reality. Make it $1.25.
So far in our summer series, we’ve talked about quality family time, fostering responsibility, and some ideas for chores. We hope your household is benefitting from some of these ideas. Next week, helpful measures to keep your child safe during the summer!