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When You Give Them Chores, Kids Thrive

by Sarah on May 14, 2011

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Chores. Kids grumble about them. Parents get frustrated trying to manage them. It’s not pretty.

It’s easy to throw your hands up in the air and say, “I can get this done faster and more easily myself!”

How often have I mumbled these words as I clean the kitchen . . . feed the chickens . . . sort the laundry . . .

But despite the ugliness on the outside, chores can bring out something beautiful in your children and family. And I’m not just talking about the fact that the house is cleaner!

When you require them to do chores, kids

·    Gain a sense of responsibility that will carry them through all life’s demands.
·    Develop self-respect and self-confidence that can’t be found anywhere else.
·    Hone new skills that helps them become capable adults.

And because we’re always talking about family fitness here . . .

·    Chores help kids get active!

Doing chores around the house is a wonderful way to burn calories and work your muscles. The Mayo Clinic has done some terrific research on the benefits increasing low-paced activity for regular exercise.

Whether it’s raking grass, mopping, sweeping, bending and stretching to fold laundry . . . chores get your body moving.

We have a farm, and there’s ample work here for everyone. We’ve got gardens to weed, pigs to feed, chickens to lock in at night . . . along with the usual fare of keeping the house clean, taking out the recycling, etc.

We just finished our big seasonal chore of making maple syrup which involves going out into the woods and putting spigots in the trees, hanging buckets under them. And then weeks of carting those 5-gallon buckets filled with sap to storage.

And weeks of collecting wood and sawing wood.

And then several full days of tending the fire as we boil it all down.

It’s a lot of work. You can see my daughter hauling wood up to the fire here:
hauling wood When You Give Them Chores, Kids Thrive
But the funny thing is, the days when we work them the hardest are the days when we feel closest as evening draws nigh.

We’re all tired, smelling of smoke, smudged with charcoal, hungry as lions.  But as we stand there surveying the gleaming bottles of maple syrup there is an indescribable feeling of togetherness.

We stand there together and the kids know they helped make this happen.

My absent-minded son – even though he had to deal with some gruff reprimands earlier on in the day – is full of hugs.

My daughter – all of 14,  who is supposed to be avoiding our company like the plague – can’t stop teasing her dad and lingers in the living room with us rather than retreating to the back to watch TV or read a book.

Why did this happen? How?  It’s a simple thing. And it doesn’t take a farm to make this happen in your family.

It’s because we demanded something of our children. And even though sometimes they resisted taking us up on it, at the end of the day they felt a sweet feeling that’s hard to find in anything other than hard work.

They felt important and valuable.

The felt like they were part of something. They knew they had a role in taking care of this family.

At some level, when we give them chores, kids feel good.

Now I know – I know. You’re thinking, How can you tell me this when getting my kids to do chores is a chore into itself?!

No, my kids aren’t some weird space alien angels from Leave It To Beaver land. They don’t jump up when I call and say, “Yes ma’am!”

They tell me “Wait a minute”

They ask me “Why me!” and suggest I ask their sibling to do it.

They say, “Do we have to?!”

They put it off and forget about it until I hound them to do it . . .

They do it poorly.

Just the other day, my son went to take care of the chicks in the barn and forgot to get them water. He even left the door open like an dinner invitation for the local fox.

No, they are not kids with some genetic mutation that automatically makes them savor chore time.

Indeed, it’s still a chore in itself to get them going most times.

But there are some things we do that makes it easier:

Chores & Kids Tip #1: We make it a command, not a request

This piece of advice works best when you start when your children are younger. But I wouldn’t write it off for older children (although I don’t have experience in this.)

From the first years, we’ve understood that family doesn’t work well as a democracy.  As parents – while we offer our children choices in many things – in many cases, we simply need to lay down the law.

Our job as parents is to structure things and make choices for our children. In fact it makes it easier for them and they relax more when there isn’t room for debate or discussion. Or trying to figure out a way out. Nike said it best, they learn to just do it.

And underneath it all, they prefer it that way. Because they’re doing the hard work of growing up. They’d like us to tell them how to do it and take over most of the hard work of making decisions.

Chores & Kids Tip #2: We are consistent

We try to establish regular routines and chore expectations in some areas. Cleaning the house and doing big farm chores on the weekend is a regular feature here.

In the summer, we have a schedule of farm chores that we rotate between the children each week.

And there are small ways to make chores routine.  Lately, I’ve been adamant about everyone loading their dishes in the dishwasher. Making beds, hanging up jackets and picking up after yourself all fall under this category.

Chores & Kids Tip #3: We’re persistent

Sometimes I feel like a sheepdog, constantly yipping at my children’s heels. Hounding them with reminders – Did you feed the chickens yet? Did you sweep the floor? Did you put away the dishes?

I don’t enjoy this job.

Certainly there are days when I just get caught up in my own tasks and forget. Or give up in consternation and let a request to put their clothes away get pushed to the corner of their room until tomorrow.

But in general, we try to be persistent and make sure that they understand we’re following through just as we expect them to follow through.

The more we do this, the less they try to get out of it.

Chores & Kids Tip #4: We show appreciation

Sometimes it’s an extra hug and thank you. Sometimes it’s a simple, “Good job”. Sometimes it’s a big trip out to the movies.

But we try to find ways to make sure they get the message that their contribution is valued.

This also means we don’t accept work that’s done poorly. This is about genuine appreciation for work done to their ability. While we account for age, when they’re old enough, we hold them accountable.

Which leads us to the next one . . .

Chores & Kids Tip #5: We give them consequences

Irresponsibility has its consequences in this household. It may mean they don’t get to play on the computer or watch TV. It may mean that they get extra chore duty for a period of time.

Often we have them stand at the end of the hallway and think over what they did for a while.

We’d rather they learn about the ramifications of not doing a good job while they’re at home and the stakes aren’t as high. It’s much tougher to learn this in the more ruthless world of work  and when they are building their lives as independent adults.

Chores & Kids Tip #5: We take time to show them how

This has been my Achilles’ heel. My husband is much better at taking the time to show them how to do something well and sticking with them until they learn it.

I’ve too often not had the patience to show them how to do something. I’ve told myself I’ll get things done faster by doing it myself – I’m too busy.

And I’ve paid for this shortsightedness by having to do more things myself that I could have handed over to them years ago.  Now, I have to make up for this by coaching them on some tasks they should have down pat by now.

Like doing laundry and cooking.

Simply put, if you take the time now to show them how to do things it will save you time in the long run.

Chores & Kids Tip #6: We do chores together

This is a big one. Much of our work around the house and farm is done together. Sometimes we split up – one parent and one child. Sometimes it’s all of us. Sometimes one parent takes both kids to get something done.

But we make sure a lot of our work is done together. And when this happens, we find chore time becomes an ideal time to share stories, jokes, reflections and lessons. Chore time is packed with parenting moments.

Not to mention, that final team feeling when a job is completed well.

And just so you don’t think we’re a bunch of puritans who don’t enjoy a good time . . .

Chores & Kids Tip #7: We have fun

Some of this just happens on its own with no planning or thought. Once everyone’s working together, as described above, the good feeling of camaraderie with all its fixings just sneak in.

In general, we don’t make this the focus of how we try to get them to do chores because we don’t want them to think that everything has to be fun. And we certainly don’t want to set a precedent of catering to them to get them to help around the house.

We want them to understand the value of hard work in itself

But there are plenty of times when we put on music and tell jokes. We even make up games at times.

And I have vivid memories of the song my kids loved to sing when they were young and we were cleaning up:

Clean up Clean up. Everybody everywhere.
Clean up Clean up. Everybody do your share.

As they sang and bounced around, the work aspect was quickly forgotten in the delight of the music and simply all working together.

My children have also loved racing each other – or the kitchen timer – to get things done.

A Final Thought On Chores & Kids & Health

Our kids need chores to feel good.

But we need chores as well.

We live in a world where hands-on work has been pushed to the side in lieu of our intellectual lives and our lives online.

But our bodies and souls hunger for putting our sweat into something real. We yearn to see, touch, smell the real solid results.

This is the satisfaction you get when you clean the living room. The calm you feel doing the dishes.

We have big brains. But as big as they are, we can’t convince them that all that tapping on the keyboard means as much as when we take care of our ancient needs for fire, safety, comfort and home.

When we move our bodies to take care of these basic needs, we gain a visceral satisfaction that goes deep.

Get your family moving by doing chores together.

You’ll certainly enjoy the results like a cleaner house and more time. You’ll even save money because you won’t need to hire someone or purchase things you make yourselves.

But the real rewards go far deeper.

Share this gift with your children and you’ll enjoy a richness that can’t be bought.

What are your strategies or thoughts on this? Please share them.

  • Melissa Taylor

    Very true, plus it teaches your kids how to do the chores. I just wrote about it b/c I’m trying a new responsibility system. It’s here:

  • Sarah

    Melissa, thanks for commenting. I like some of the concepts in your responsibility system – thank you for sharing.

  • Chris

    Love this, especially love the IT’S A COMMAND!

  • Sarah Clachar

    Yes, hard to take that role sometimes of commander. But the more you do it the easier it becomes on both you and your kids.Thanks for the comment, Chris. —– Original Message —–
    From: Disqus
    Sent: Wednesday, August 08, 2012 9:34 AM
    Subject: [fitfamilytogetherblog] Re: When You Give Them Chores, Kids Thrive

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