With the right incentives, children of all ages will take on a share of jobs around the house. Chores teach children skills and responsibility, but as a parent you don’t want to play sergeant major, so it’s all about getting the incentives right.
Under 5s are attention-seeking missiles. The only incentive they need is your praise. So don’t worry about sticker charts and pocket money, simply tell them how good they’re being. Lay it on with a trowel and you’ll have a little helper for life.
Your limits are sense and safety. So they can lay cutlery on the table, but not carry heavy or breakable stuff. Older pre-schoolers can stand on a stool to do the washing up, as long as you avoid glass and sharp knives. And from the minute they’re walking, expect them to tidy up for an instant reward, such as a story.
Youngsters are eager to help, copy, and learn. At this age don’t expect them to save you time – it often takes you more time supporting them than doing it yourself – you’re teaching them to be helpful when they’re older.
Primary school pocket money
Ignore any protests; they’re perfectly capable of some cleaning. Use incentives such as free-to-download sticker charts (points mean prizes) or pocket money. The arrival of the tooth fairy means children love coins. So pick a weekly sum and tell your child what jobs they must complete to earn it.
Daily chores could include a tidy bedroom with the bed made, laying the table, or washing dishes after tea. School can be tiring for youngsters, so save bigger jobs for weekends when they have more energy. Vacuuming the house and washing the car (supervised if near traffic) are ideal fun tasks.
Big school, bigger responsibilities
Older children can be a real help if you get the chores and incentives right. Incentives such as mobile phone credit and internet access are more tangible than pocket money. You can even threaten to change the home Wi-Fi password if they don’t do their chores. They’ll grow up really helpful… and become a computer whizz!
The list of chores is best negotiated with them. Some teenagers are happy to walk the dog but take offense at being expected to scrub the loo. Others will take the quicker job every time.
Tween and teenagers usually care a lot about their appearance, so it’s time for them to learn to do the laundry. They can even do ironing, just teach them the safety basics. Alternatively, there are irons designed specifically not to burn clothes that are perfect for children who are learning, because even if they get distracted and leave it on a delicate fabric for minutes, nothing will be ruined. They won’t even have to read care labels, as they stay at one constant lower temperature.
Talk with your child about which jobs they’re happy/unhappy with and why. If they suddenly get angry about walking the dog, don’t lay down the law – listen. Maybe someone bullied them at the park yesterday.
Be flexible but firm about the fact that every family member must do their share. For example, your older children could be expected to each cook dinner one night a week. They won’t thank you for it now, but the skills, independence, and sense of fairness you give them will serve them well in life.
Written by Alexandra James, a blogger who lives with her husband and two children in the UK.