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Chores and Children

By Patricia Sullivan
Brought to you by the National PTA®.

Many parents cajole, beg, or even bribe their children to help out around the house and still end up with a lawn that needs mowing, a sink full of dirty dishes, unmade beds, and a pet dog barking to go out for a walk. How can parents get the real result they're looking for: children who do their chores without being reminded or reprimanded?

Although chores are important because they teach basic life skills and help children build personal responsibility, the children and their relationships with their parents have to be of paramount importance, according to John Covey, director of home and family for Franklin Covey Company and co-author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Families: A Proactive Family Guide Book. This doesn't mean that children get a pass on chores; rather, parents should establish a solid one-on-one relationship with each child. This way, the parents' values and principles will be embraced by the children, and getting chores done will be a lot easier for everyone involved, he said.

"There are always two reasons parents want their children to do chores --- to get the job done and to help the children grow," Covey said. "If children don't do chores, how do they learn? How do they build personal responsibility?"

Linda K. Waite, professor of sociology and co-director of the Center on Parents, Children, and Work, an Alfred P. Sloan Working Families Center at the University of Chicago, said that sometimes parents simply need an extra pair of hands. She also said some parents want their children to learn the skills of household work, such as doing laundry, cleaning, and cooking. Others want them to learn to pull their own weight and participate in family life through teamwork and sharing.

Assigning Age-appropriate Chores

"The level of expected chores should be appropriate to the child's skill, ability, and what you need," said Frances Goldscheider, professor of sociology at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. But even for very young children, helping around the house allows a child to feel like a vital part of the family.

Many chores take place in the kitchen because it is the heart of the home. Covey recommends that children do the dishes, some of the cooking, and set and clear the table.

Laundry is also an important chore that children can help with at an early age. They can begin by putting dirty clothes in the hamper, or helping switch loads of laundry from the washer to the dryer. As they get older, they can learn to sort laundry and help fold and put away clothes. The last step is running the washer and dryer. By the time they're teenagers, they should be able to do the entire job themselves.



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