Dear Dr. Debbie,

My husband and I are disagreeing about getting our three children (2, 5 and 8) involved with chores. I grew up with a single mom and was expected to carry out regular chores as were my siblings. We rotated through things like nightly dish washing, weekly vacuuming and sorting the clean laundry into piles for each person, and also were responsible for getting our own dirty clothes into the hamper and putting the clean ones away. My husband was the younger of two children with a full-time working dad and a mom who kept house, sometimes with the help of a fcleaning service. Following his dad’s example, my husband wasn’t expected to even pick up his socks from the floor.

Needless to say it’s very difficult to change my husband’s habits, but I feel strongly that children benefit from learning how to do chores, not only so they can eventually run their own homes, but because contributing to the work of the household teaches them about responsibility and gives them pride.

What do you think?

Champion for Chores

Don’t miss last week’s column Handling a rocky kindergarten adjustment — Good Parenting

Dear CfC,

There is a natural opportunity to include children in chores as parents are doing them. Even babes in arms can be toted along with a laundry basket or ride along on a canister vacuum. I used to stand my toddler son on a chair, with a towel pinned around his neck, to help me “wash” the dishes. He took care of all the plastic things while I did the breakables and pointy things. Yes, it takes longer to get the chores done this way, but your child is spending time with you plus, as he actually masters each chore, he gets all the benefits you describe.

Here are some guidelines for chores by age but feel free to adjust according to your children’s abilities and the tasks that running your house requires.

By the way, allowance does not need to be tied to chores since that gives a child an out. If he doesn’t want the money this week this policy suggests he can afford not to help the family. “Take it or leave it” is probably not the message you want him to learn about responsibility.
An allowance is the part of the family budget that a child gets to decide what to do with. Extra money might be earned if he does something specific to help the budget, such as coupon clipping, or minding a younger sibling so Mom or Dad can attend to paid work from home.

Since your husband is not the one with the household skills to share, it’s going to fall on you to set daily, weekly, monthly and seasonal routines for this important parenting task. Write up jobs on slips of paper for each person to pull out of a hat. Or use a paper plate, marked with jobs and a smaller circle with each person’s named affixed with a paper fastener at the center. Play some upbeat music while everyone works. And set a reasonable time limit. A daily chore might take fifteen minutes, and a weekly housework blast can be half an hour for preschoolers and an hour for school age children.

As a motivator, invite friends to come over to enjoy the clean house when the time ends or plan a family outing to keep everyone’s enthusiasm up. Use positive words of encouragement while the children are at work: “You’re so good at finding partners for all the socks!” And point out the lasting effects (a day or so later) of what they accomplished: “The plants really perked up after you watered them!”

Maybe Dad will see how much fun you are all having and join in. But if not, let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and allow that he contributes to the family in other ways.

Yes, childhood is the best time to instill the habit of doing chores, to gain domestic skills, to learn responsibility, and to feel the pride of knowing you are important to the people who love you best.

Dr. Debbie

Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She holds a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at drdebbiewood.com.

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or submit a question to Dr. Debbie at [email protected]