When Are Children Ready For Chores?

Family Matters on 10.21.11
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Photo: Neeta_Lind/Creative Commons

Years ago, before I became a Mom, I went to a friend's house for lunch and while we chatted her toddler played quietly with his toys. When he was done, and it was time to put him down for a nap, she prompted him in a sing-song voice, "OK, it's time to do your chores before naptime."

"But... but... he's only three. Why does he have to do chores?" I asked.

I'll never forget her calm, simple reply. "Because he can."

And sure enough, I watched as he carefully picked up a pre-determined number of toys to return to their proper places, his Pull-Up occasionally peeking from the waist of his jeans making the sight even more surreal. He wasn't completely potty-trained, yet he had daily chores that, it seemed, he did without complaint.

I thought, I'll never make my toddler do chores. That's just mean. Kids should be kids. They shouldn't have to worry about chores at three. Oh, those were the good old days of having all these ideas about parenthood minus a drop of experience.

Now, I have a twelve-year-old who does as she's told, but she definitely has to be told. She never really had a set of weekly or daily chores so imagine her surprise when my husband and I decided to implement (and make her stick with) ones now.

Her weekly chores include: being responsible for the care and cleaning of her own bathroom, gathering her dirty laundry and making sure it find its way to the laundry room instead of me hunting it down (and hey, if you don't do it, guess who won't have clean clothes next week?), and vacuuming her room.

We thought about asking her to wash the dishes a few days a week or at least rinse them before loading the dishwasher, but decided to wait another year or so for that one. I have no desire to taste yesterday's food on today's dishes.

As for our three-year-old, he asks to help when I do laundry and loves to put the dirty clothes in the machine as he calls out the items' owners. ("Daddy's shirt!") He also, reluctantly, helps put away toys, but enthusiastically assists in emptying the dishwasher (no sharp utensils or glass).

Of course, now that I have twelve years of parenting experience under my belt, I see that my friend was on to something. It's not out of meanness that we ask our kids to take on the responsibility of cleaning up after themselves and pitching in around the house. We do it because we know they can. And more importantly, they should.

How old is too young for chores? What kind of chores do you assign your children?

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