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Score with Chores

I don’t want to clean the cat’s litter box! It stinks and I have to hold my nose the whole time!” “Fold the laundry? You guys always say I should take care of my stuff. I’ll fold my own laundry, but not the whole basket.”

Kids’ complaints about chores and their reasoning for not doing them can frazzle parents’ nerves. Don’t give up, exhausted parents! While it might be easier in the short run to do it yourself, chores for kids are a habit worth reinforcing.

Part of a parent’s job is to prepare children for life on their own. Assigning and holding them accountable for household tasks helps them get ready for adult life. Children from toddlers through teenagers can have assigned household jobs.

In addition, chores allow kids to contribute to the family. Feeling like a member of a group enhances feelings of belonging and self-esteem. Chores can also lead to children keeping areas picked up and tidy. What parent wouldn’t love to hear a child say, “Hey, please take off your shoes so you don’t track those grass clippings in. I have to sweep that floor.”

Children can start contributing to the household as toddlers. Young children can help by picking up toys and putting dirty clothes in the laundry hamper. School-age kids can feed family pets, help with the laundry and dishes, as well as clean their own rooms. Older children and teens can be responsible for helping with meal preparation, lawn care, snow removal, etc. Generally, kids should have chores related to their own areas and belongings as well as something that contributes to the family as a whole. Here are some strategies for success:

Introduce chores a little at a time. Sweeping changes rarely last more than a few weeks. For enduring change, assign one responsibility, like helping make dinner once a week. After a few weeks, add taking out the garbage, then in a few more weeks, cleaning the bathroom. You are more likely to meet with success by gradually increasing responsibilities.

Have a schedule and stick to it. Each chore should have a specific day it’s done. A good example is garbage day, where one day a week trash is taken to the street for pickup. Use that same strategy for tasks like room cleaning. The schedule should also include a time limit. Kids tend to procrastinate, so if they are to clean their room on Saturday, “I’ll do it later” can turn into not doing it at all. The schedule should say “room cleaned Saturday morning before noon.” If the chore isn’t completed according to the schedule, there is a set consequence, such as, for example, no TV for the rest of the day. The child should know the schedule as well as the consequence beforehand.

Don’t nag or micromanage. If chores have a schedule and a consequence for not being completed, parents don’t need to remind children to follow through. Let the consequences occur. Once a child has been shown how to complete a household job and you feel confident he knows how to do it, don’t stand over his shoulder commenting on how he performs the task. Once he says he’s done with the chore, check his work and either praise a job well done or instruct about areas that need more attention.

Assigning children household duties is an important part of parenting. Use these outlined basic strategies and stay committed. When the eye rolling, sighs and excuses start, parents can remember the kids aren’t helping you out, you’re helping them out.

Cary and Tonja Rector are married and live with their children in Manlius. Cary is a licensed mental health counselor and Tonja is a licensed marriage and family therapist. Consult your own health care provider before making decisions affecting your family’s well-being. To comment on this article, write to editorial@familytimes.biz.

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