Children: should they do chores?

Workin’ hard for the money..

Responsibility and chores. At what age should it start?

I grew up in a family that always had lots of chores. Partly it was considered a necessary attribute of character building, but primarily it was just part of the lifestyle. That’s the nature of living in the country; on the land, with the animals. There’s always a whole lot of work to do, and even if you get it done today, it’s going to need doing again tomorrow. Life keeps on moving, animals need feeding, pens need cleaning, grass needs to be cut, house tidied, pool cleaned, fences fixed etc. etc – the list could quite possibly be endless. A horse or four, a dog, some guinea-pigs (ok lots of guinea pigs, those things are worse than rabbits!), a rescued bird from time to time, a cow, maybe some chooks (“chickens” to all the city folk) and even a Nanny-goat. Original, I know. But hey, at least we didn’t call it “Billy”. These were all great animals to play with and made for great pets over the years, but they also took work. Lots of hard, never-ending, unavoidable work. Such is the life.

The lesson we had to learn was that these jobs were essential to the lifestyle. Horses couldn’t just be left in the paddock all day with their rugs on in the summer heat just so that we could have a leisurely sleep-in and lounge around watching morning cartoons. We were taught that these things were all part and parcel of having the fun and games that came with the great outdoors. My gosh did we have some fun and games, days and weeks spent exploring the mountains, building forts and playing epic battles of hide and seek that would span kilometres of countryside. Summers spent in the pool and kayaking down the river searching for platypus and turtles and hidden enclaves. Even with all of the chores, we still had so much fun – it was all about getting the balance right.

I guess it’s because of my own upbringing that I consider the role of “chores” to be fairly important for kids. Others don’t always share this same perspective. I don’t necessarily think that this is a bad thing either. It’s good to bring two very different opinions to the table. Discuss them, argue your pros and cons and settle on a happy medium. Such is the way conversations generally go, and in my own humble opinion, the mark of fairly decent parenting.

As a nanny, I’ve had the good fortune to be responsible for a number of children, both boys and girls of varying ages. From the very, very little to the old-enough-to-know-better. Having the majority of contact hours with these kids each day, I naturally take an active role in their development. And yep, you guessed it, chores and jobs rate quite favourably in my book.

I may not leave lists of never-ending jobs for the kids like my mum did for me (consequently I think this is where my fondness for list making arose – the satisfaction of being able to cross the items off the list after a productive day is a deep rooted joy rivalled by little else). But I certainly do impose and hold certain expectations of the kiddies.

Of course these expectations are age appropriate and set within the realms of reasonable ability. It would be crazy for me to expect Miss Charlie to put a load of laundry on at the end of the day, but I do consider her more than able to keep her bedroom neat and tidy; putting her rubbish in the bin and her dirty clothes in the basket.  Similarly, the older girls should be more than capable to tidy up after themselves, pack away their games and toys, keep themselves and their bedrooms tidy, to remember to feed their pets, to put their dirty dishes in the dishwasher (it’s not like I expect them to clean them, gosh no!) and even take out the rubbish on occasion if they see that it’s full instead of just walking around it (I mean really? Come on guys..). I also like to make them fun, turn things into a game, motivate them by creating fun charts and offer rewards for timely completion.

I don’t think these things are too much to ask for. Nor that I’m expecting too much of them. Nor do I think that they’ll miss out on too much precious “kid” time by fulfilling these expectations. I do think however, that these (daily) duties will instil a sense of responsibility. A sense of purpose. An understanding of action, reaction; of effect and consequence. Ideally they should feel empowered, as though they can take matters into their own hands and feel achievement. No more of this sense of entitlement purely because we think we have an inane right. Hard work is just that, hard work. But it also gives rewards, rewards that are legitimately earned and therefore deserved.

What do you think? Do the benefits outweigh the negatives? With whom should the burden of chores lie? At what age should kids have this responsibility thrust upon them, or should they not have it at all?

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5 responses to “Children: should they do chores?

  1. Great article. And I agree that from a young age it is important that children learn to share in the responsibility of doing chores, particularly but not limited to, those involving themselves; for example packing up their toys, putting their clothes in the basket, putting dishes in the dishwasher. Of course the tasks must be age appropriate. i have found that children, as young even as 2, like to be involved in activities and help out. It is sometimes tempting to save time and energy by doing it yourself but it is more productive in the long run to harness the children’s longing to help and get them to join in. Later when they are not so keen, the process can often be made into a game (depending on the task), and even older – that’s when a sense of responsibility and fairness must be developed.

    • It’s so true. I used to have a lovely little 2 year old that loved to help me un-pack the dishwasher and to do the laundry. Of course all the cutlery ended up needing to be rewashed and I had to spend and extra 5 minutes picking up all of the pegs from the floor but it was worth it. Now he will grow to see chores as being fun tasks instead of ‘jobs’.

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