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Now Is the Right Time!
As a parent or someone in a parenting role, you play an essential role in your child’s success. There are intentional ways to grow a healthy parent-child relationship, and daily chores provide a perfect opportunity.
Chores allow your child to contribute to the maintenance and care of your family’s household. Children ages 5-10 are in the process of establishing lifestyle habits whether it’s making their bed in the morning, doing their dirty dishes, or cleaning up their toys, that will extend throughout their lifetime. Children who do chores learn that part of being in a family is contributing to the work and responsibilities of family life. When they pitch in, it creates a sense of autonomy, belonging, and competence.
In fact, research has found that the best predictor of success in young adulthood can be directly traced back to whether a child began doing chores at an early age, as young as three or four.1 But, it’s never too late to begin! Another study linked children doing chores to positive mental health in their early adult years.2 Doing chores teaches a work ethic that is essential in helping children persist toward any type of goal.
Yet, there are challenges. Children’s schedules are busy. After school, your child may have soccer practice, a full hour of homework, and grand desires for seeing friends and playing outside. “Why do I have to take in the garbage cans? My friends don’t,” you may hear from your eight-year-old. Whether it’s cleaning up their room or setting the table for dinner, your child may engage you in power struggles when they have other goals in mind like, “How can I play longer?”
The key to many parenting challenges, like chores, is finding ways to communicate so that both your needs and your child’s needs are met. And, daily chores are a way for your child to learn valuable skills like timeliness and responsibility. The steps below include specific, practical strategies along with effective conversation starters to prepare you.
Whether it’s asking your six-year-old to put away their backpack each day, reminding your eight-year-old to take their dishes to the sink after dinner, or battling with a nine-year-old to put yard game equipment away before coming inside, these can become daily challenges if you don’t create regular routines. With input from your child in advance, clear roles and responsibilities can be outlined alongside a well-established plan for success.
Today, in the short term, chores can create
- greater cooperation and motivation as you go about your daily tasks,
- greater opportunities for connection and enjoyment as you each implement your respective roles and feel set up for success,
- trust in each other that you have the competence to complete your responsibilities with practice and care, and
- added daily peace of mind.
Tomorrow, in the long term, your child
- builds skills in collaboration and cooperative goal setting;
- builds skills in responsible decision making, hard work, and persistence; and
- gains independence, life skills competence, and self-sufficiency.
This five-step process helps you and your child establish routines. It also builds important skills in your child. The same process can be used to address other parenting issues as well (learn more about the process).
These steps are done best when you and your child are not tired or in a rush.
Step 1. Get Your Child Thinking by Getting Their Input
You can get your child thinking about chores by asking them open-ended questions. You’ll help prompt your child’s thinking. You’ll also begin to better understand their thoughts, feelings, and challenges related to chores so that you can address them. In gaining input, your child
- has the opportunity to think through the routine and problem solve any challenges they may encounter ahead of time;
- has a greater stake in anything they’ve designed themselves (and with that sense of ownership also comes a greater responsibility for implementing the chore);
- has more motivation to work together and cooperate because of their sense of ownership; and
- will be working in collaboration with you on making informed decisions (understanding the reasons behind those decisions) about critical aspects of their day.
Consider what chores need to be done. You might start by thinking through rooms of the house beginning with your child’s room. You might ask and consider together:
- “What do we need to do in your bedroom to keep it clean and ready to use?”
- “How should we deal with dirty clothes and prepare clean clothes for school?”
- “When and how do we prepare for and eat family dinner together?”
- “When we are finished playing, how do we leave our play areas?”
For 5-7-year-olds: Get out a paper and markers and have your child write down their ideas in response to the above questions. Consult the developmentally-appropriate list of chores (below) to get ideas. For 8-10-year-olds: Create a checklist together of your household responsibility plan on a whiteboard or chalkboard. Children at this age enjoy checking off a list.
Be sure you create your plan at a calm time. Don’t create your plan when you are either in the routine itself, are hungry or tired, or have time pressures.
- Discuss challenges. As your child starts to take on responsibilities, you might start to notice challenges like wanting to play instead of clean up. Get curious and ask your child:
- “Why is clean up time a challenging time for you?”
- “How can we address those problems to make those times easier and help you remember what you need to do?”
- Brainstorm ideas to solve the problem like, “Could we set a timer at the end of playtime so that when it goes off, we know to put toys away?”
- Write out a plan for chores. Make sure your child is the one writing down or drawing the plan (it doesn’t have to be perfect!). Make it simple.
- Post your plan in a visible location and refer to it as a reminder. You could say, “What’s next on our plan?”
Step 2. Teach New Skills by Interactive Modeling
As parents, it’s easy to forget that children are learning to perform everyday typical tasks with greater independence each year of their lives. Though they may competently throw their dirty laundry into the washer, that same child might struggle with making the bed. Learning about developmental milestones can help you know which tasks might be more difficult. Here are some examples of developmentally appropriate chores:3
- Five-year-olds enjoy helping out. They are eager to follow and learn about rules and need consistent routines. Ideas for chores include: sweep the floor with a broom (adults may need to help with dustpan), take dirty dishes to the sink, put toys back into the designated bins.
- Six-year-olds thrive on encouragement. Ideas for chores include: set the table, get out and put away holiday decorations, rinse dishes, empty dishwasher.
- Seven-year-olds want to keep toys neater and they tend to be more organized. Ideas for chores include: work together to create new organization systems for toys, make sure bins or storage units are labeled and large enough for contents, dust or mop floors, rake leaves.
- Eight-year-olds love cooperative work with peers. Ideas for chores include: dusting, vacuuming, cleaning as a team together, washing the car with friends.
- Nine-year-olds have greater social awareness and begin to understand the value of all members pitching in to care for the house. They take pride in their work. Ideas for chores include: make bed in the morning, organize, clean up common household spaces, take out trash, move cans to the curb by themself or with support, learn to care for pets.
- Ten-year-olds work well on cooperative teams. They have high sensitivity to fairness. Ideas for chores include: bring laundry to the washer, move clothing from the washer to the dryer, begin learning about how to do laundry, make breakfast, snack, or lunch with support and choices.
Teaching is different than just telling. Teaching builds basic skills, grows problem-solving abilities, and sets your child up for success. Teaching also involves modeling and practicing the positive behaviors you want to see, promoting skills, and preventing problems. This is also an opportunity to establish meaningful, logical consequences for when expectations are not met.
- Consider what tasks are challenging to your child so you know where to focus your teaching. Ask, “What’s my child challenged by?” If it’s several tasks, write them down and think about how you might use the following teaching tool to help your child learn.
- There is a simple process called interactive modeling that teachers use that can become a powerful teaching tool for parents and those in a parenting role.4
- Say what you will model or demonstrate and why.
- Model or demonstrate the behavior.
- Ask your child what they noticed.
- Invite your child to try it.
- Ask what they noticed with their own modeling.
- Practice together.
- Provide specific feedback starting with strengths using “I notice…”
The following is an example of how this might look between a parent and child who are talking about preparing for a family dinner. You might say, “Watch how I play waiter. You can try it after me!” You could wear an apron like a waiter might or put on a name tag.
Now set the table as you would like it, and as your child watches and you go through the motions, be sure to notice any areas that may pose difficulties for your child such as getting out and placing knives at each place setting. Address those directly. “Since the knives can be dangerous, I’ll do that part of the process each night and you can do the rest.” Ask, “What did you notice when I was acting like a waiter?” You might say, “Okay, your turn to pretend to be the waiter.” Dress your child in the apron and name tag to maintain the fun. After they play their role ask, “What did you notice when you did it?”
Now practice it together. Don’t skip this! It’s important that your child gets the chance to work alongside you while cooperatively going through the process. In providing feedback, be specific and start with strengths. “I noticed you handled the silverware carefully. Terrific! When you put the napkins down, be sure to count so that each person gets one.” If you share too many issues, your child might tune out, so pick your top few areas for improvement only.
Be certain and pick a time to do this when you do not have time pressures.
Remember, children learn through play. Play act like you would a game.
Requiring a child to do a household task before teaching first is bound to create power struggles. Without teaching, your child may not feel like they can do the job competently. Take the time to teach the new job first before incorporating it into their routine!
Step 3. Practice to Grow Skills and Develop Habits
Daily chores can be opportunities for your child to practice new skills if you seize those chances. With practice, your child will improve over time as you give them the chance with support. Practice grows vital new brain connections that strengthen (and eventually form habits) each time your child performs the chore.
Practice also provides important opportunities to grow self-efficacy — a child’s sense that they can do a task successfully. This leads to confidence. It will also help them understand that mistakes and failures are part of learning.
- When a child learns a new ability, they are eager to show it off! Give them that chance. Use “Show me…” statements and ask them to demonstrate: “Show me how you make your bed.”
- On days with extra challenges that make completing chores harder, proactively remind your child to help them be successful. In a gentle, non-public way, you can whisper in your child’s ear, “Remember our next step? What is it?”
Step 4. Support Your Child’s Development and Success
At this point, you’ve taught your child a new or challenging task so that they understand how to perform it. You’ve practiced together. Now, you can offer support when it’s needed by reteaching, monitoring, coaching, and, when appropriate, applying logical consequences. Parents and those in a parenting role naturally offer support as they see their child fumble with a situation in which they need help. This is no different.
- Actively reflect on how chores are going. You can ask questions like: “How are you feeling when it’s time to clean up? Do you know where everything goes?”
- Recognize effort by using “I notice” statements like, “I noticed how you went ahead and picked up your toys without me asking. That’s taking responsibility!”
- Infuse some fun! Make clean-up time or chore time fun. Working together as a family can be enjoyable. Turn on some music or sing a song while working.
- Reflect on outcomes. You could say, “Looks like you forgot to set the table. What could help you remember in the future?”
- Stay engaged. Working together on particularly challenging chores can help offer additional support and motivation for your child when tough issues arise.
- Apply logical consequences when needed. Logical consequences should come soon after the behavior and need to be provided in a way that maintains a healthy relationship. Rather than punishment, a consequence is about supporting the learning process. First, get your own feelings in check. Not only is this good modeling, when your feelings are in check you are able to provide logical consequences that fit the behavior. Second, invite your child into a discussion about the expectations established in Step 2. Third, if you feel that your child is not holding up their end of the bargain (unless it is a matter of them not knowing how), then apply a logical consequence as a teachable moment.
Check your own tone and attitude toward chores! If you groan when it’s time to get them done, your child will surely groan too. If you approach chores with a “Let’s dig in together!” kind of attitude, that’s how your child will learn to approach them as well.
Don’t move on or nag. Children often need more time to perform tasks that challenge them even if you believe they are simple and don’t require much time. Be sure to wait long enough for your child to show you they are competent. Your waiting could make all the difference in whether they are able to do what you need them to do.
Step 5. Recognize Effort and Quality to Foster Motivation
No matter how old your child is, your praise and encouragement are their sweetest reward.
If your child is working to grow their skills – even in small ways – it will be worth your while to recognize it. Your recognition can go a long way in promoting positive behaviors. Your recognition also promotes safe, secure, and nurturing relationships — a foundation for strong communication and a healthy relationship with you as they grow.
You can recognize your child’s efforts with praise, high fives, and hugs. Praise is most effective when you name the specific behavior of which you want to see more. For example, “You put your toys away — Love seeing that!”
Avoid bribes. A bribe is a promise for a behavior, while praise is special attention after the behavior. While bribes may work in the short term, praise grows lasting motivation for good behavior and effort. For example, instead of saying, “If you make your bed and pick up your toys, I will give you a piece of candy” (which is a bribe), try recognizing the behavior after. “You made your bed and picked up your toys without me asking – I appreciate that!”
- Recognize and call out when it is going well. When children are buzzing through putting their toys away and on time, a short, specific call out is all that’s needed: “I notice you put your game away when you were finished. Yes! Excellent.”
- Recognize small steps along the way. Don’t wait for the big accomplishments. Remember that your recognition can work as a tool to promote more positive behaviors. Find small ways your child is making an effort and let them know you see them.
- Build celebrations into your routine. For example, after getting things cleaned up, snuggle together and read before bed. Or in the morning, after rinsing the breakfast dishes and putting them in the dishwasher, have a few minutes to watch a favorite cartoon together. Include hugs in your repertoire of ways to appreciate one another.
Engaging in these five steps is an investment that builds your skills as an effective parent to use on many other issues and builds important skills that will last a lifetime for your child. Throughout this tool, there are opportunities for children to become more self-aware, to deepen their social awareness, to exercise their self-management skills, to work on their relationship skills, and to demonstrate and practice responsible decision making.