So this post is a wee bit overdue! But I didn’t want to forget about it, because this is such an important topic to me lately. In my previous post, I didn’t really get into specifics about the kinds of jobs and responsibilities my kids have and how we handle that.
I’ve been asked about this before. Do my kids have chores and if so, what kind of chores?
Not Chores: Responsibilities
They do have chores, but we call them responsibilities. This is a personal preference on my part, because as a kid, I hated the word chore. It’s such a drudgey, drab, mean, workhouse sort of a word. It may be merely semantics, but even now, I find myself in a much better frame of mind if I think about ‘handling responsibilities’ instead of ‘doing my chores.’ Also, the word chore is limiting—yes there’s work to be done around the house, but they have responsibilities beyond that, such as finding their own shoes or brushing their teeth. I think using the more general term helps them understand that both kinds of tasks, either done for oneself or done because it’s part of living in a family, are important.
Who Does What and When?
My mom was a great one for lists and schedules, so as a child we always had elaborate chore lists. On Mondays I did the dishes and my sister swept the floor. On Tuesdays I dusted and my sister did the dishes. I know my brother was on the list, too, but gaining his actual assistance in these matters was, uh, a struggle (Hi, Brother, if you’re reading!).
Now I’m also a list and schedule type of person, but I don’t have lists of chores for my kids. For one thing, I’m not that organized about housework in general (as you will understand if you ever visit my house). For another, I fully recall using that list against my mom and don’t want it used against me. How was the list turned against my mother? Because, like any good union worker, I did my job and only my job as assigned. I lifted not another pinky. It didn’t matter if we were having company, or we had all been sick and were behind on things. It didn’t matter if we were simply more messy than usual. I. Would. Not. Do It. I used to try to convince them to eat out on my dishes night, and would try to persuade them to eat in when it wasn’t my night. You can see where Ryan gets this, huh?
Instead, I try to focus on doing what needs to be done when it needs to be done (similar to just-in-time manufacturing. I suppose I could call it just-in-time responsibilities-handling). As I described in the previous post, the kids do their laundry, with a bit of assistance from me. I had originally had a Designated Laundry Day in mind when I transferred this responsibility to Morgan and Ryan. Then I realized that it’s just easier to note when their laundry baskets are full and use that as the cue for Today is Laundry Day. Hmmm…reality-driven. Imagine.
Other reality-just-in-time-driven tasks might include: dishes, picking up the toys at the end of the day or when the floor is creaking under the vast weight of the detritus, cleaning up spills when they happen, etc.
Here are some of the responsibilities that the kids routinely handle (with my assistance and/or insistence):
- Cleaning up spills
- Putting things away
- Picking up toys and clothes in their rooms
- Unloading/loading the dishwasher
- Helping put groceries away
- Buckling their own seatbelts
- Cleaning out the car
- Throwing trash in the trashcan
- Helping put the trash at the curb
- Brushing teeth and other grooming duties
- Sweeping the sidewalk after Brendan mows
- Pruning trees and bushes
- Weeding the flower beds
- Picking up the mail
All of this is very age-specific, of course. Morgan, petite little thing that she is, is still in a five-point-harness type of carseat. So she needs help getting unbuckled from her seat because one of the release buttons is really hard for her to push. And we’re still working on hair-brushing skills. (I can’t really remember from my childhood, but is that something that takes a while to figure out?) But that’s okay. She handles the portions she can, and I certainly don’t mind helping with the hard stuff.
Get ‘Em Young
I can generally guarantee that Ryan will be helpful if he gets to use a real tool somehow. So he’s always eager to sweep up the grass clippings, as you can see. Even Sean is imitating this and will grab the broom as soon as Ryan leaves it on the ground.
This is how it starts, by the way. Toddlers, as you may know, LOVE to be helpful. Yet they often are not at all helpful, having somewhat different ideas about where the phone belongs (the garbage) or how to clean up a spill (by rolling in it). But they are also eager to be involved and to learn. So when I notice my toddler wanting to “help” I will quickly think of a way for him to use those helpful powers for Good instead of Evil.
“Oh, you want to Put Things In! Very helpful! Why don’t you put this LEGO in this box?” And then hand him a LEGO and guide his hand to the right box. Sean is just learning the Put Things In game, and so needs lots of help to know where the Thing needs to be Put, but I know that in short order, he’ll actually be pretty helpful at this. For now, I just rearrange things as necessary and try not to encourage the Take Things Out game too much.
Toddlers love to put wet things in the dryer, by the way. They also love to take a baby wipe and rub it on the windows or the floor or a table. Sure, you need to make sure they don’t get it all dirty with marker and then wipe the carpet, but usually that’s not too much of a problem. And Sean is learning to wipe up spills. He isn’t too good at this job yet, but he knows to take the dish towel and swipe it in the general direction of the spill. It’s these little steps that will build into full-fledged reliable responsibility.
Taking Time for Training
Sometimes, the kids don’t want to handle their responsibilities. I know, shocker! This is where Taking Time for Training is necessary, because sometimes they are simply overwhelmed or confused by the task. Each success with a smaller step will help the child learn that this is something he can indeed handle, and that practice builds confidence. Now, you may still need to guide them toward doing it, but I have learned the hard way that it’s a good idea to make sure they understand what you’re asking before engaging in a battle over it.
With Ryan, it was a struggle to get him to buckle his own seatbelt and I am so not kidding. He was in a booster and could use the regular shoulder belt, but the little
booger dear didn’t WANT to. Well, I was tired of doing this job that I knew he could handle, so I told him that this was now his responsibility and that I would help him learn to do it.
I broke this task down into very small steps, and allotted extra travel time for the inevitable battle/learning curve. The first thing I did was pull the shoulder strap all the way across him and held the buckle just next to the slot and had him push it in. After a few days of this, I would pull the strap for him, but left the buckle in his lap so that he would have to (gasp!) pick it up himself and buckle it in. After a while of that, I had him begin to pull the shoulder strap (which can be unwieldy, no doubt) as far as he could by himself, and then I’d pull it the rest of the way so that he could buckle. Buckling is No Big Deal these days.
Morgan also needs help in breaking down steps, but doesn’t require so much physical overseeing, usually. She needs help in understanding what the next step should be, but will usually then do it independently once she knows what it is. For instance, when she spills something, she knows that she needs to wipe it up, but often hesitates as if she can’t remember just where we keep the dish towels or paper towels. I’ll say “Drawer.” to prompt her, and then she’ll head off in the right direction, get the towel, and then wipe up the spill. Then she’ll stand there and look at me. So I might say “Stairs.” to tell her to put the wet towel on the stairs so I can take it up and throw it in the laundry. She is not a natural multi-tasker, so I have learned (am learning) not to confuse her with too many directions at once.
Realistic Expectations (aka “Low Standards”)
I have had to work hard to cultivate patience in how something gets done. But if I remember that she’s four, so perhaps it’s okay if she didn’t quite get all of the mess because she really didn’t see it, then I find it infinitely easier to be encouraging of her efforts to handle the job and be responsible.
Sometimes, all they need is more practice. When Ryan first began to fold his own laundry, his shirts were more bunched up than flat. But now that he’s experienced, his shirts are fairly neat and tidy. Now I am being patient with the fact that he is still learning to transport his stack of neatly folded shirts into his drawer neatly. Because he spends all kinds of time folding them, then grabs up the whole stack and stuffs it into his drawer so that half of them are hanging out and all of them are bunched. :o) It’s a work in progress, and he’s getting it.
And this is where my generally low standards when it comes to housekeeping really come in handy! I myself am profoundly uninterested in the cleaning process even though the mess sometimes really stresses me out. I have learned that sometimes it is the effort that counts and am grateful that they are willing to help out at all. I try to take what I can get, know we can fine-tune things later, and realize that I will probably miss these messy chaotic days when they’re gone. Oh yeah—and I remember that they WILL be gone—there WILL be a time in which I can enter a room and not worry about stepping on a LEGO with my bare foot, or need to wonder where that smell is coming from. :D
Sometimes, people just don’t want to handle a job for which they have been fully trained, like cleaning up a spill or brushing their teeth. Often we try to make it into a game or sing Opera. They are also more likely to jump on the task if I help them out even just a little bit, say, by grabbing the dish towel and throwing it playfully in the kid’s face. Or if I’m doing some work of my own, they often will do their own work in parallel. So I might be loading the dishwasher and the kid is sweeping the floor. It’s easier to do some work you don’t especially like if you’re not the only one working.
Real Tools are always a big incentive around here. They can’t wait to get their hands on tools and love to do real jobs around the house. So they change light bulbs and air filters and dust things way up high with the feather duster. I try to let them use grownup tools as often as possible since they enjoy it so much, and it’s good practice, too!
We do not pay them for handling their responsibilities, though. So the allowance Ryan receives is not tied to this work around the house. I want them to learn that you need to take rational responsibility for the things you need to do. I do not want to pay someone to clean up a mess of their own making—the mess needs cleaning because it was made. I do not want to pay someone to brush their teeth—those teeth need brushing because it’s part of taking care of your body.
However, we will pay for Odd Jobs that need doing around the house—if and only if a person actually works. (Sometimes they want to show up for the Job but then hang around and claim that their mere presence entitles them to a bit of paying.) Such jobs include yard work or any kind of deep cleaning of the car or house. Ryan is helping Brendan in the basement lately, and we’ll pay him a little bit for that extra kind of work.
Remembering to Transfer Responsibilities
The difficult part for me as the parent is sometimes to remember to have them handle their responsibilities. Right now, if Sean spills, then it’s up to me to clean it up. I have to be conscious of the fact that he can begin to learn this skill and invite him to help me. But if I’m in a hurry or doing several other things simultaneously, then I might not remember to do this, or feel like I don’t have the time to show him what to do.
So periodically, I sit down and think about the things that need doing around the house and consider whether and to what extent any children can begin to learn to do these things. That’s how I decided to teach them laundry. Laundry isn’t hard if you know where to put the dials. It’s also fun, because you get to use real-live grownup machines and laundry detergent. So now the big kids are doing that, and helping with the dishes more often, grocery shopping (making lists, going with me to shop, putting food away), vacuuming up dry spills with the Dustbuster, organizing their books and toys. I just need to remember to pause and re-evaluate sometimes, because I find that the more I do that, the less work I have to do myself!
What are some of the jobs your kids do? Are there some I need to transfer to my kids? (Always looking for ideas!) How do you evaluate when it’s time for that transfer to happen? Are there any special or creative ways you enlist cooperation?