Giving kids chores can help foster responsibility and a sense of involvement and self-worth. Chores lists can also breed contempt or at least a source for argument if not handled correctly. Chores should be handled as necessary contributions to the family. After all, if the dishes were never washed, what would ultimately happen? (If your kids answer "paper plates," then you might have some work to do here.) Chores may not be traditional "fun," but they can create a sense of "family" as well helping to learn that keeping a household running involves effort and teamwork. Parents should have their children do chores, but do so in a way so that they don't become a bone of contention and foster arguments or pit parents against kids. Here are tips for making chore assignments.
- Involve your kids with the establishment of chores. Don't just assign kids to tasks; present them with choices and ask their thoughts about where they think they can make the great contribution to the family. If the end goal is to teach responsibility and family contributions, then let them be part of the process. Maybe your kid balks about taking out the trash, but actually enjoys setting the table and vacuuming. Parents can lay out tasks matter-of-factly and then dole out the jobs. They then can be rotated if everyone wants the same ones, or agreed to if an equitable division can be worked out. Just like adults, kids may react better to having job duties if they feel their preferences are at least considered and they have some level of control over the decisions made.
- Establish quality standards up front. As most parents know, kid chores are often not performed at the same quality standard if they done by an adult. But the lesson here is two-fold: 1) the task is something that needs to be done in the house; and 2) the repetition of the chore should help to improve the quality of work by the child with time. A kid may not rake leaves effectively the first time around, but each time should improve. Parents must establish quality standards so that kids don't just do "minimum effort" and develop the attitude of a slack job being good enough. Quality standards should be coupled with consequences, which is the next point.
- Set consequences as a team. A family is a team, and all individuals (as age allows) should pitch it to duties. If someone fails to do a job, it either doesn't get done and affects everyone else, or it can cause a disruption or concern in the household. Children need to first be told why a chore is important and why it must be done. Once a kid understands its importance, he or she should be involved with the establishment of a consequence if it's not done. If a kid chore is keeping his bedroom clean, then a consequence can be as simple as no playing with friends period at their house or yours until it is clean. But parents should be careful to set specific guidelines as to what constitutes a clean room so that there is no confusion or misunderstanding, which breeds unnecessary chore standoffs or issues.
- Don't give in to chore battles. It's inevitable that a child will attempt to barter or negotiate why a chore doesn't need to be done--either at all or at the designated time. Parents often err by giving in once or twice only to find their authority is then undermined. Once the expectations have been set, there is really nothing more to discuss. Most likely your kids will spend more time trying to argue about it than it would have to have simply done the chore; a fact you can always remind them of. The key is to not become mad or upset; simply ignore or tune-out grumbles and don't give in.
- Spouses must be unified in chore assignments. Mom and dad need to be unified in chore assignments; the same holds true with grandparents or other adults who may be living in the home. If a chore is assigned, then it must be done. Parents must stay united that they all support the chore's assignment. Kids tune in when one parent finds making a bed every morning a "must do" task while another thinks it is no big deal. The lesson from this is that adults who will be involved in chore supervision or consequences should privately discuss their own expectations and ground rules and agree to consistently administer the parameters about the chores.
- Stress that chores are part of the family and rewards are not to be expected. While giving an allowance can be tied to be a contributing member of a household (and with that the fulfillment of certain tasks and chores), kids should not be rewarded for doing chores that are part of family business. Kids don't need and don't deserve a quarter, for example, every time they take out the trash. After all, what lesson does that teach them?
- Allow kids an opportunity to express their thoughts about chores. Don't punish kids for talking about chores; discussions on the tasks can be good if handled in an appropriate fashion. Keep it positive and to the point.