by Winnie Griggs
I’m a mother of four wonderful children. At the time I was raising them, I was also holding down a full time job and trying to break into the novel writing market. So getting my family to pitch in with the chores was crucial to being able to keep my head above water. Here are a few of the things I tried:
When our children were very young, we started with just the notion of picking up their toys and their dirty clothes—personal responsibility. As they got older, I encouraged them to do small things like helping set the table or plan meals. By the time they were school age, I became a little more serious in my expectations. I taught them each to use the washer and dryer, and they became responsible for doing their own clothes, including putting them away, and washing their bedding once a week.
As they aged, I set up a chart that listed weekly chores and a point value assigned to each—they each had to earn a certain level of points by the end of the week. This was in addition to their personal tasks mentioned above. This gave them a certain amount of flexibility in choosing what work they would do and when they would do it. It also incentivized them to pick their chores early in the week so as not to get stuck with the less favored tasks.
Some of the easier tasks (e.g. setting and clearing the table, washing and folding a load of towels, etc.) were reserved for the under-eight kids, but these younger ones were also able to reach up and take on the more difficult tasks if they liked. Also, there were no boy chores or girl chores. My daughters were expected to mow the grass occasionally, just as my son was expected to clean the refrigerator sometimes. In fact, my son told me recently that he was glad he wasn’t one of the college kids who didn’t know how to use a washing machine or run a vacuum when they left home!
Since it’s been so long since I was in the position of assigning chores to little ones (my youngest, twins, will turn 30 in a few months), I turned to some friends and family who still have children at home to find out how they handle this. I thought I’d share a few of their responses with you.
My son is only 3, so we’re just working on picking up his toys. However, his newest “chore” is feeding the dogs. He loves it. We keep our dog food in a container with a handle, so it’s easy for him to carry. Digging the measuring cup into the food and really getting in there to fill it up makes him laugh, as does the dogs wagging their tails in anticipation. He feeds all three and puts the container back in its place. This small task has really allowed him to bond with our animals and instilled trust between them and him, and I think he feels he’s playing an important part in what we do everyday.
Kenny, 9, is in charge of keeping his room clean, emptying the dishwasher (the dishes he can reach), and making sure his things are put away. I don’t believe in allowances. He does it because we all have a role to play in the household. Ava, 6, is in charge of keeping her room clean, keeping her stuff out of the living area, and picking up all the towels after I fold them. Both kids pick up their own clothes after they’re laundered. I try to get my kids to do things because they see it needs doing, not because they get something out of it. I also want them to know we are all in charge of cleaning up our personal messes.
Several years ago we decided to treat chores like an actual job. For each year of age there were that many weekly task “options.” We have the list posted in the hallway along with the day it would need to be done. Each night before bed we “check” the list and “pay” for the task. We use chips which are redeemable for cash at the end of the week. We currently offer $1 per chip. There is no “re-do.” When the work is checked you get paid, if it isn’t done you don’t get paid. To us, this is how life works and we wanted that lesson learned early.
At 10 years old, his current weekly chores/options include:
1) Cleaning the fish tank weekly
2) Cleaning the rabbit cage weekly
3) Changing bed sheets
4) Bringing laundry to the washroom and SORTING IT on Thursday, then hanging and putting it away on Friday
5) Cleaning his bathroom
6) Putting toys away and vacuuming the playroom rug
7) Sweeping and using the steam mop in the TV room
8) Cleaning his bedroom (defined as bed made, floor swept and mopped, desk organized)
9) Feeding the fish daily
10) Scooping the rabbit’s litter box and feeding it daily
As he enters middle school next year, we’ll focus on increasing kitchen responsibilities. He’ll make his own lunches, clean his own dishes and make some contributions to meal preparation.
1) We have “spots” for things: a shoe spot, a sock box in her drawer, a clip box, an undies drawer, a pajama drawer, a book shelf, etc. Designating a spot to a particular item allows me to ask my 3 year old to put something in its “spot.” Or I can say something like, “Oh, I see your shoes here by the couch. Are they in the shoe spot?” And then she comes to the realization herself that they’re not and will run to put them away. And then I tell her how fabulous she is. 🙂
2) She has her own drawer in the kitchen. It’s on her level and is filled with her plates, cups, bowls, silverware, small napkins, small cutting board and bread cutters (e.g. shapes like a heart, elephant, etc). She loves HER drawer. It creates ownership and promotes choice. At every meal, it’s her responsibility to get the things she needs for the meal (and if she wants to eat cereal with a fork, so be it). And then at the end of the meal, she has to put her plate at the sink before going to play. Once the dishes have been cleaned in the dishwasher, it is her responsibility to put her dishes back in her drawer, in the places where they belong. I always place her dishes on the lower shelf of the dishwasher so she has no trouble getting them. As she grows and is able to reach more drawers and cabinets in the kitchen, she can start putting other things away.
3) I involve her in cleaning as much as she wants. If I’m washing dishes, I invite her to help. She usually wants to. I pull up a stool and let her at it. She washes on the left side of our sink, and I wash on the right. I give her a sponge or brush, some soap and a dish. She may wash the same dish for 20 minutes. I may finish all of the other dishes by the time she’s ready for another. She’s helping, but she’s also exploring, so I give her space to just be with me. She may even wash her arms. I always say, “Let’s keep the water in the sink” to avoid a major splash zone. And I usually wash her dish too when she’s done, just to make sure it’s clean.
4) I bought her a tiny spray bottle. When she was younger, I would put water in it, give her a rag and we’d wash the windows together (me with Windex). Now that she’s older, her spray bottle has diluted Windex and she can clean most anything with a hard surface, particularly windows or in the bathrooms. She loves it. Again, exploration and helping at this stage. And she can actually get some things clean. When she’s finished, I come behind her and wipe any drips or smooth any streaks, if necessary.
5) She also helps put away her clothes, particularly her undies, socks (after she matches them—a great time to practice that important little skill), pajamas and washrags. I typically put her clothes away because I keep them in outfits so it’s easy to grab each day.
Whether you need a helping hand around the house or are looking to teach your children responsibility at an early age, I hope you found these tips helpful.
Winnie Griggs is the multi-published, award winning author of historical (and occasionally contemporary) romances that focus on “Small Towns, Big Hearts, Amazing Grace.” She enjoys cooking, browsing estate sales and solving puzzles. She is also a list maker, a lover of dragonflies and exotic teas and holds an advanced degree in the art of procrastination. Winnie loves to hear from readers. You can connect with her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/WinnieGriggs.Author or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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