The Establish a House guest post today comes from Nancy who shares what has worked for getting her kids to do their chores.
It’s a widely accepted fact that if you set a bedtime routine for your kids where you do the same things in the same order at the same time each night, they have an easier time transitioning into sleep without fits or fights. And I think a chore routine is the same. Once it has been happening for long enough, consistently enough, it stops being something to fight and just becomes “the way it is.”
And that is why at 5:00 every day my five (ok, four—the one-year-old doesn’t do chores yet) kids stop what they’re doing and go to the refrigerator to see their chores for the day.
Two years ago we moved to a house that was literally twice as big as the one we had been living in. And that was when I knew that I needed the kids to help more. I started with a simple chore wheel that alternated my three big kids (at the time 9, 7, and 6 years old) through four chores. 1. Clean family room 2. Clear and set table 3. Fold laundry 4. Special Helper. I put those four things on a chore wheel that I hand drew. When we started, “Special Helper” meant “Do Sammy’s chore” because Sammy was really too young to do it. But now Sammy is four and “Special Helper” means “Help Sammy then see what else you can do for Mom.”
Step one was teaching the kids HOW to do these chores. For several weeks 5:00 was a totally chaotic time as each kid whined and declared “That’s the best I can do!” or “But I can’t reach the cups!” or “I’m sooo tired!” I don’t know about your kids, but mine aren’t great problem solvers quite yet. But after a few weeks, they began to get in a groove and accept this new routine as normal. (I am not claiming that there is never whining anymore. Only that there is less than there was in the first weeks.)
I feel that a very important part of these first few weeks was setting the right attitude. I said things like, “Great job! You’re almost there—just put away those blocks and those shoes and you’ll be almost done!” or “Fantastic start! Keep going!” or “I know you can’t reach the cups. What should we do?” Supportive, happy, cheerful, thankful, happy Mommy. Never nitpicky, grumpy, impatient Mommy.
Another important aspect was that it was non-negotiable. There is no excuse for not doing your chores. If you’re home, you do chores at 5:00. If you’re not home at 5:00, you do chores as soon as you get home. There is no negotiation of who does what—the chore wheel is always right. There is no whining that this chore is easier than that one—just wait a day and it’ll be your turn to do the “easier” chore.
This is what has worked for my family for the last two years. But now, since my kids are older, it may be time to kick it up a notch. They are done with these chores in 5-15 minutes. And it’s fantastic, but there sure are a lot of chores left to be done! So I added an outer ring to the chore wheel of “Saturday chores.” These they do on Saturday morning (after a lazy, TV watching start to the day for my own sanity). The rule at my house growing up was that your room had to be clean, vacuumed and checked by Mom and your Saturday chore had to be done before you could go out and do your own activities for the day. If you had an early start on Saturday, you’d better do your Saturday chores on Friday.
My sister, whose six kids are now mostly teens and pre-teens, wanted to teach her older kids to take more initiative in seeing what needs to be done to keep a tidy home. She divided her house into “zones” and made a chart giving each kid responsibility over one zone of the house each week. The playroom zone involved putting toys away; the laundry room zone meant folding a load; the kitchen zone included unloading the dishwasher and helping with dinner dishes. Her rule is that your zone needs to be in order before dinner is served.
There are a million ways you can arrange a cleaning routine for your kids—a chore chart, a chore wheel, a jar full of random jobs that need to be done, a dollar bill with a chore on a sticky note. Type in “Chore chart” on Pinterest and there are plenty of genius options. I believe that what will make it work is finding what makes sense to you and your kids, and your consistency. Chore time has to become just “the way it is.”
But my real purpose in having a chore routine is to teach my children. Sure, I want the house clean and to teach my kids the basic cleaning skill they’ll need later in life. But more than that I want them to learn that our family is a team that works together for the common good. I want them to know that a well-ordered home doesn’t just happen automatically. I want them to appreciate the beautiful home that we live in and that the piles of “stuff” are actually piles of blessings.
Chore time can be a blessing.
Nancy Worth is a mother to five from North Texas. She loves to read, craft, sew a little, and eat chocolate a lot. Her favorite things include squeezing chubby baby thighs, going to the movies alone, and bringing chocolate chip cookies to book club. And she hopes that you know that just because she blogs about cleaning routines, does NOT mean her house is very clean.