Dear Sarah: Chores
What do you think is a good age at which to start giving children chores? Should chores be a requirement for getting an allowance?
Uncertain in Belchertown
Ah, chores! This is a hot topic among many of the parents in my practice and one that I have struggled with myself, over the years. I am a big fan of chores for several reasons:
- Chores teach children to be contributing members of their families, which is the beginning of learning to contribute to their teams, workplaces, and communities.
- Chores provide an opportunity to teach children to do a task on time, thoroughly, and without complaining. These are important skills for holding down a job someday.
- Requiring our children to help in meaningful ways protects them from the overwhelm, exhaustion and resentment that their parents feel when parents try to do it all alone.
- Learning new tasks and mastering challenging jobs help children to build confidence and competence.
If you ask three different parenting consultants you will probably get three different answers, but I will share with you what works for me at my house. My 14 year old daughter, who is not a big fan of chores, might not agree that my approach “works” for her! As I say to her, “That’s ok, I don’t like all of my chores either. You don’t have to like them, you just have to do them.” I started my daughter on small, simple chores when she was five. A five-year-old can learn to set the table, wipe up her own spills, and unpack her own lunchbox. I suggest making chores as fun as possible (two points for each knife and fork on the table, fun music for chores, etc) but make it a non-negotiable expectation (for example: “It’s time to set the table.”)
I gradually increase the amount of chores as she gets older. At age fourteen, she still does all of the above, and dusts and vacuums twice a month, empties the dishwasher, gets the sink to “dish zero” each day, gets her own snack/beverages between meals, and more. Additionally, I will often say, “Sofia I need your help with ___________,” if I have just gotten home with the groceries or want help getting dinner started. I suggest saying a simple “Thank you” afterwards, or “That was a big help. Thanks!”
Although I give a modest, weekly allowance, I don’t pay her for any of the above chores. My philosophy is that everyone in the family is expected to pitch in and do their share. I also believe that it is our job to teach our children how the world works. The world is not going to pay her to clean and organize her own home. I give her allowance no matter what. She is expected to do her chores no matter what. The two are completely unrelated in our house.
I have paid work for her on the weekends such as mowing the lawn, weeding the garden, and data entry for my business. Sometimes the work is required – “I need you to mow the lawn tomorrow and I will pay you for it.” Sometimes it’s optional – “If you would like extra money, I have some office work you can help me with.” I am keeping her allowance small enough that she is motivated to earn money on her own.
As I read over this, I wonder if it sounds harsh, and I know that my daughter thinks that it is. But I sustain myself with the fact that she is generally a very cooperative kid who does her chores (with some complaining!), understands the value of money, and has sought out various ways to earn it. So, although it has taken a lot of energy to hold these expectations in place, it really does seem to be working.
Thanks so much for writing!
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sarah read her first parenting book when she was 13 years old. She loved babysitting in high school. In her twenties, she taught at an after-school program so that she could practice on other peoples’ kids before having her own. She was often heard saying, “I am so lucky! I get paid to play kickball and teach kids how to resolve their conflicts!” By age 25, she was the Director of that same program, developing workshops for her staff on how to work more effectively and respectfully with children.
Sarah is currently a parenting consultant/psychotherapist in private practice in Northampton, MA. She offers parenting consultations, support groups, couples counseling and individual therapy, and she has brought her workshops to parents and educators all over New England and beyond. As Sarah rounds the corner toward 50, she still feels lucky every day to be doing the work that she loves.
Ask questions for the column or sample parenting workshops at sarahgetoff.com