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Children & Chores: It’s Never Too Early

It’s a conversation I hear often between parents:

I don’t want to rob my kids of their childhood, so when do I introduce “chores”?

I’m no Ann Landers, but here’s my resounding answer:  IT’S NEVER TOO EARLY

Personally, I don’t remember a part of my childhood without chores. As far back as my memory goes, I remember having small chores, like putting my clothes in the dresser (I had a habit of changing clothes 20 times a day) or gathering eggs from the chicken coop.  (Yes, this sounds VERY Little House on the Prairie, but I actually grew up on a little farm.) As my siblings and I grew older, we had more assigned tasks, like cleaning the bathroom, taking care of the yard, or feeding the farm animals that we kept accumulating. 

And you know what the kicker is? I DIDN’T GET PAID FOR THEM. My parents brainwashed taught me that life is full of responsibilities and duties. (I was pretty much retroactively earning my birth into this world and the gift of food and shelter!) Instead of a monetary reward, we were rewarded with privileges like having friends over, social and recreational activities, etc. For example, I distinctly remember my mom warning me THE ENTIRE week of senior prom that it was my turn to clean the bathroom. I totally avoided it, thinking that surely, I could skirt this duty on such a pivotal week in my life. Well, guess who was in rollers scrubbing the toilet with her fresh French Tip nails hours before the limo arrived? I fully believe that I wouldn’t have been allowed to attend the prom until that toilet sparkled. (I will admit that my mom also lives by a “Work Hard, Play Hard” mentality, so I always knew that the completion of responsibilities was always followed up with some down time.

I knew that I wanted to instill the same values in my children. Like most parents, I thought I was a LONG way off from putting together a “to do” list for my toddler. But when I saw that he understood routine, could sort and stack toys, played with the Swiffer, and was pretending to “cook dinner” with his little pots and pans, I realized that he DID understand the natural order of things that take place around the house. He was watching me do chores, so naturally, he was mimicking me. So last summer, I decided to put together a list of SUPER simple tasks that he could help me with. 

For my 2.5 year old, this looked like: 

  • Throwing clothes into the washing machine/dryer (Let’s be real, he was already good at tossing his clothes around the room!) Then I would let him pour the detergent in…his favorite part. 
  • Taking boxes to the recycling bin
  • Watering the flowers (like all other tasks, this was well supervised and assisted)
  • Putting toys away at the end of the day
  • Wiping the breakfast table (with wet wipes)
  • Bringing in grocery bags after trips to the store (Seriously, if a child can carry 27 Tonka trucks, he can manage a bag of bread!)

These are all legitimate tasks that my little guy really executed and helped me with.

Knowing that I would be inconsistent in asking him to do his chores, I did have a little chart. (And listen. Pinterest will let you take this AS FAR as you want it to go.)  I decided to set the bar low and found this little chart pack at the Dollar Tree.  That’s right, $1, Bob.

It just so happened to have five columns on it, so I used that as the days of the week. Every time he did a chore, we’d put a sticker on that day. This also helped as a visual for him, and simply putting stickers on the chart was like a reward!

I didn’t have set items for him to do on specific days. I love organization, but let’s be real, folks. Too much box-checking every day just leaves me stressing over yet another to-do list of my own!

Now, here’s where I strayed from my parents’ chore mentality. I actually did give him “chore money” when he completed a task.  Again, this was nothing big or consistent…sometimes I’d give him a dollar, sometimes I’d give him a quarter. We kept it in a little monkey pouch, and at the end of the week, if he had stickers in all the boxes, I’d take him to buy something with his chore money. This was usually something very small, like a Hot Wheels car or trinket from the dollar store. I always brought the monkey pouch and let him physically hand his money to the cashier. I think an allowance helped him connect working to earning money to pay for things, and that is how I explain why Daddy has to go to work every day!  Over this past year, I’ve rolled some of the “allowance chores” into everyday normal duties, such as helping with the trash or picking up toys. This summer, I plan to come up with some new chores that will be a bit more challenging and age-appropriate.

After a few weeks, I was amazed to see how quickly Greyson caught on to chores and earning things for his work. By the end of the summer, he was actually spotting different toys on TV or other friend’s houses and would say: “Let’s do some chores!” And he was barely three years old!

I absolutely recommend starting a chore system with your child, no matter the age. Here are some tips that will help you get started!

  • Have reasonable expectations: The majority of the tasks you assign are going be done halfway, incorrectly, or will actually take MORE time to involve the kiddos. But remember (especially with toddlers/young children), you aren’t doing the white glove test, you are teaching a concept. The older they get, the more they will actually “contribute.”
  • Make chores age-appropriate: Just search “Age Appropriate Chores” on Pinterest and there’s some great suggestions. I love this chart at Sunshine & Hurricanes that gives suggestions for ages 2-10+.
  • On the flip side, Assign chores that are actually part of your regular routine. Don’t let Pinterest dictate what you think your two-year-old “should” or “should not” be doing! If making the bed is part of your everyday routine, have them hand you the throw pillows. If you’re like me and let the newspaper pile up on the sidewalk, make this their new job! Be creative and let them help you with tasks that are specific to your home and lifestyle.
  • Allowances can be small and non-monetary: I’m about to have Baby #2, so we won’t be tossing out dollars to the toddler as freely as we did last summer. My son actually thinks of specific things he wants to buy, so money works for us. But your child may be more motivated by food (ice cream/yogurt run) or experiences (trampoline parkrock-climbing, movies, etc.)

Aside from having help picking up those 2,754 pieces of Legos, I think chores are a great way to instill hard-working values into your children and help them gain an appreciation for accomplishment. Hopefully, this will eventually translate to them taking pride in their work and endeavors throughout their lives.

GOOD LUCK and I’d love to hear YOUR tips/tricks/recommendations on the chores system!

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