One solution for finding a fit between kids and chores:
work out a “plan” together (parents and children talking it out) that everyone feels good about. Each child selects (key: parents don’t assign; they let their kids choose) and takes total responsibility for 2 big chores that he/she likes to do and does well. My older son (15) is now totally responsible for taking out all garbage, doing the dinner dishes, and cleaning the counter tops. My middle son (13) is responsible for folding the clothes with mom and emptying the dishwasher whenever necessary. My youngest son (9) sets the table, clears the dishes, and washes off the table after every dinner. Mom and dad cook the meals, wash the clothes and manage the outdoor work. We each (i.e. parents and kids alike) make our own bed and keep our own rooms picked up. All kids can handle all personal hygiene tasks (e.g. bathing, teeth brushing, etc.) Start children early on this front! They can learn to pick up their room, toys and make their bed a lot earlier than parents think.
Even a 6 year old is capable of making a bed. Encourage it in a fun way. Make them feel proud of their new skill. At six, children can go get things for you, put the napkins around the dinner table, be sure the dog has water in its dish, help you sort clothes and take them to the different rooms. Emphasize picking up their room and toys and making their bed. (Note: parents — be happy with how the bed looks no matter how “bumpy” it appears!)
At 8, children can clean a sink, and make it shine, and have fun doing it. They can also help put groceries away, taking them to their correct location. They can perfect their bed making and, of course, continue to pick up their rooms. Also, they can help pick up movies, toys, and other items in the family room too.
At 10, children can begin to set the table, wash it off after the meals, clear the dishes, and begin to help out with yard work.
At middle-school age (12 to 14), tweens can wash the dishes and clean the kitchen after meals, hand wash the car, baby-sit sibs, keep track of sport events, uniforms and practice schedules, help with meal preparation, do outdoor yard work, help wash clothes, fold clothes, and empty the dishwasher.
During the high school years (14 to 18), a teen can get up in the morning and be on time for school, part-time work and persona engagements, juggle all outside commitments — sports, school and community — handle financial responsibilities like savings and spending accounts, shop for groceries, cook a meal, do laundry, and take complete care of the car.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Household chores are not tied to allowance! They are part of living together and helping out with household demands.
KEY MESSAGE: Give your kids plenty of age-appropriate responsibilities around the house. Be sure that all home chores transcend traditional gender boundaries. Young men need to cook, iron, and do laundry. Young women need to handle tools, change car oil, and maintain yards.
Kids have to see that mom and dad can’t do all the work all the time. Kids need to learn a leadership skill called “collective responsibility-taking.” As a member of the family group, they MUST help out, and learn that their help is critical around the house to it running smoothly. If they don’t do their part, there will be noticeable consequences for everyone involved. For example, the dinner is done, but no silverware has been set, results in eating cold food. If the dishes aren’t done, then they pile up and the kitchen is absolute chaos.
You never tell kids that “now it is time to be responsible.” They learn how to be responsible by giving them more and more responsibilities around the house. (Remember to have them pick 2 tasks, as described in point #1 above.) Bottom line: Self-sufficiency and responsibility-taking are learned from the common, daily mundane chores connected to their everyday lives — their personal, household, schoolwork, and social responsibilities. Start young. Start now!
Dr. Susan Kuczmarski, Ed.D. is the Chicago-based author of four books, including “The Sacred Flight of the Teenager: A Parent’s Guide to Stepping Back and Letting Go,” which received the prestigious “Seal of Approval Award” from the National Parenting Center and Book of the Year Award from Foreword Magazine. She has done extensive research into how teens learn social skills and become leaders. She conducts workshops for parents and educators. For more from Kuczmarski on teens, go to http://www.sacredflight.com/