What Are Your Chore Expectations

Three of my boys are at an age now where they are finally, fully capable of lending a helping hand around the house – both physically and mentally aged enough to take on some of the bigger household duties by way of regular weekly chores. Starting with simple things like taking out the trash, wiping down baseboards, putting away groceries, emptying out the dish washer, feeding the dog, making their beds, ect. All fairly minor chores that aid in major ways to lighten the load I’ve got weighing a family this size. Otherwise, it plays a pretty pathetic scene with me engulfed in an endless cycle of fruitless attempts to “keep up” in the wake of four boys, and the consistent destruction their play hours leave behind on the daily. The routine and regularity of these chores is still a work in progress. Meaning, I haven’t been so great about enforcing them, and they haven’t been so great about initiating.  But, we’re trying.

When I think back to my brother, who at ten years old was running (and succeeding in) his own local lawn mowing service, and helping my mom around the house, and building an old Volkswagen my father left behind for him restore in our drive way in fifth grade, I see how much of a difference there is as to what young responsibility looked like then, in comparison to now, in which my own almost ten year old son still still complains whenever he has to pull a few measly weeds out back. And his friends in the same grade are required to do even less. Now. He’s not lazy by any means. But surely not equipped to handle so many of the “old school” chores that were expected of kids decades ago.

The rules of it all though seems to have generally changed though, wouldn’t you say? For instance, when asking a neighbor boy to help unload some of my groceries (he’s here as a regular playtime participant around our house) I realize later that the bewildered look lingering on the face of his parent who is watching is there because I requested his help, but more specially because it’s an assistance they themselves don’t even require in their own home.

When I talk to other mothers in my circle about the subject I get a wide variety of differing expectations when it comes to what they deem kid friendly “chores.” Some require their kids to do their own laundry, and detail the kitchen. While others just want them to hang their backpacks up after school, and don’t enforce much of anything on a regular basis at all. I’ve hung around in households that stand on both ends so I’d say we tend to land somewhere right in between.

What I’m asking here is for some helpful insights as to what chores look like in your households. How much do you expect? And at what age? How you work to enforce them? What about money, if that is in fact a reward you include – how much do you count as fair?



To get the conversation started, here is a list of  6 Ways to Get Your Kids to Do Their Chores (Without Going Crazy) via this article.


1) Stop the Show: I believe that parents really have to learn how to stop the show. What does this mean? If your child is not doing his chores, you simply stop everything, tell him to have a seat and talk to him about it. Ask him what he thinks is going on and what’s getting in his way of doing his assigned tasks. Find out what his plans are after he’s finished and try to motivate him toward getting the work done so he move onto what he really wants to do. Appealing to a child’s self-interests—rather than explaining the abstract concept of responsibility or duty—is generally much more effective for kids.

2) Time Your Child’s Performance: Timing is a good way to get your child to comply with doing chores. You can say, “All right, the dishes have to be done in 20 minutes.” If they’re not done in 20 minutes, then your child’s bedtime is earlier. Now there’s a cost associated with his foot-dragging. The beauty of this system is that you’re not constantly nagging anymore, you’re just keeping time. The next night, you can say, “Let’s not repeat what happened last night—because remember, you didn’t enjoy going to bed earlier.”

Another timing strategy parents can use is a technique where you motivate kids to compete with themselves. You can say, “Let’s see if you can get it done in 15 minutes tonight. But remember, you have to do it right. I’m going to check.” You can even give them an incentive: “If you get it done within 15 minutes, you can stay up 15 minutes later. Or you can stay online 15 minutes more.” So then it becomes more exciting and stimulating for the child. And while your child won’t lose anything if he or she doesn’t get it done, they’ll gain something if they do. That kind of reward system is always preferable to one in which the kid loses something, because it’s more motivational and less punitive—you’re giving your child an incentive to do better.

3)Consider Giving Kids an Allowance: I think if parents are financially able to give kids an allowance, they should do it. Your child’s allowance should also be hooked into their chores—and to the times when your child fails to complete his tasks or has to be reminded to do them. So for example, if your child has to be told more than once to do his chore, he would lose a certain part of his allowance—let’s say a dollar. And each time you remind him, he loses another dollar. It is also appropriate to give that part of his allowance to a sibling who does the chore instead. This way, you’re not working on the chore, you’re working on the communications process, as well as your child’s motivation.

4)Use Structure: Structure is very important when it comes to completing household tasks. I believe there should be a time to do chores in the evening or in the morning. Personally, I think that evenings are best during the school year, because doing chores in the morning just adds to the stress and intensity of the schedule. Summertime is easier in some ways because you’re not contending with homework. So in the summer, chores should be done first, before anything else gets done. For example, before the video games or any electronics go on, make it a rule that your child’s bed has to be made, his clothes should be in the hamper and his room is tidy. This way, he’s starting to learn that before he can have free time, his responsibilities have to be met. Again, you never want to be pulling your child back from something exciting in order to do something mundane and boring. Rather, you want to get them to work through the mundane and boring things to get to something exciting.

Sometimes as a parent you have to ask yourself, if my child isn’t doing his chores, what is he doing? You really have to be aware of how your child is using his time. If he’s not doing his chores because he’s playing on the computer or reading a comic book, you’ve got to stop that pattern. The choice shouldn’t be “excitement or chore.” The choice should be “boredom or chore.” What I mean is that kids have to understand that they can’t go listen to music in their rooms or just hang out until their chores are finished.

I also think it’s a good idea to set aside time during the day when all the kids in your family are doing their chores at once. So your 15 year old might be unloading the dishwasher while your 11 year old is taking out the garbage. That way, no one feels as if they’re missing out or being punished by having to complete their tasks. It’s just chore time.

5) Don’t Turn Chores into Punishment: I tell parents not to use chores as punishment. If somebody misbehaves and does something wrong, don’t give them a consequence of doing the dishes, for example. The only time that’s appropriate is if your child does something wrong to another sibling. And so in order to make amends—in order to right the wrong—they do that person’s chore for them. That’s a physical way of saying, “I was wrong to do that and I’m doing your chore to show you that I’m sincere.” That’s the only time when I advocate that parents use chores as something more than an assigned task.

6) Use a Reward System: It’s pretty simple: If you want kids to take responsibility for their chores, integrate their tasks with some reward system that has to do with allowance, as we mentioned, or in some other observable way. I recommend that parents have a chart on the refrigerator with each child’s name on it, with their chores listed next to their names. If they make their bed promptly and do it right, they get a check. When they get five checks, they get some reward. Maybe it’s staying up an hour later. Maybe it’s having more computer time one night. In my opinion, the computer, video games and television don’t have to be on every waking hour. Just because the computer is there doesn’t mean the child has to be using it—especially if your kids argue about it. Each child should get an hour of computer time, and then computer time is over. If they want more than that hour, they should have to earn it. This allows you to use computer time, TV time, and video game time as a reward. Of course, this doesn’t apply to schoolwork or projects that they have to do on the computer.


5 Responses

  • Thank you for posting on this topic and for the resource article about chores.

    We’ve been teaching our 2 girls (ages 7 and 4) how to do age-appropriate chores since each was 2. This summer, I instituted the full summer chore schedule and allowance.

    We had the same time set aside each day for chores and did different tasks each day ( Monday we cleaned floors and baseboards, Wednesday we cleaned bathrooms). At first there was a lot of teaching and supervision but by end of summer they had mastered their tasks and could be counted on to get them done. I really had to stick to my guns and ensure the weekly plan happened. It took a lot of Mama discipline some weeks.

    As for allowance, we did not tie allowance to chores per se, rather talked about that they received allowance as part of being in this family. And that we did chores and had positive attitudes and good behavior as doing our part to make our family run. (They can, however, earn extra money by helping with above-and-beyond chores like helping me clean my car.)

    This approach helped me navigate the I-don’t-need-allowance-this-week-so-I-don’t-need-to-do-chores debate that my clever 7 year old tried. Fine if you don’t need an allowance but we still need to do tasks to make this family run.

    I used a Montessori-based chore chart to help me delineate which tasks were appropriate for which age daughter.

    Now that school is back on, they still have daily chores (setting the table, unloading the dishwasher, feeding the dog, making the bed) but not as full on as mopping the floors. When we are not adventuring over the weekend, we pick chores that need to be done around the house.

    Also, with allowance, I handed out their weekly allotment in $1s and they had to put an amount of their choosing in either a savings, charity or spending envelope. They could choose the amount they put in each envelope but every envelope had get something each week. I went to the bank and asked for a lump sum in $1s, so I always have ones on hand.

    Best of luck! I’ve experienced the detritus that 2 girls can leave (doll clothes and dress up all over the floor) but can only imagine that 4 boys (!) could really bring it.

  • I’ve had both of my boys do simple things like making their bed, helping fold laundry-towels are easy when they’re little), help out with lawn work, and put their dishes in the sink. They’ve always been responsible for picking up their own toy messes and we are sticklers about making sure they clean up one activity before they move on to the next. Neither of them have an allowance. They are 8 and almost 5. The 8 year old has done laundry to include running the machine, switching to the dryer, folding and putting away clothes for a whopping total of $2. He’s also been taught how to wash dishes and put them in the dishwasher, though I never seem to enforce that. They’ve both helped out with vacuuming. The little one is semi vacuum obsessed.

    Definitely could use some tips for keeping those things more regular chores. Sometimes I’ll ask for help and they’re usually okay with a giving a little help if asked. Otherwise, they don’t have any set routines. Every once in a while the 8 yr old will ask to do something to earn $.

  • My little boy just turned 3, and he’s expected to pick up toys, toss his trash, put dirty dishes on the counter. I let him help me do laundry and wash windows (which invariably get dirty again within an hour). He also helps carry things to and from the car.

    Growing up, my sister and I didn’t have allowances, but we were expected to do our share of housecleaning once we were old enough to manage on our own*. One of us would dust and vacuum and the other would clean bathrooms. We’d switch every other week. I’m planning on not doing allowances for our kids for everyday chores and tasks, but give them opportunities to make money if they want to do special projects like wash the car or pull weeds. They can also earn money from reading grownup non-fiction books when they’re older.

    *My mom was born in Kansas to two Depression babies so a good work ethic and shared responsibility was what she knew. She passed it to us, and I want to pass it to my kids.

  • I don’t know how you could get through the days without help from every family memeber. My 4 year old clears the table, feeds our pets and has to help her little brother (2 years old). Both kids either work the “resturant” by cleaning the dishes with one of us adults, or works “the hotel” and folds laundry.

    Two things I struggle with:
    -accepting that doing it well is not likely to happen any time soon
    -seeing that their friends/cousins are so eager to help around our house and yet their parents give them no responsibility at their own home.

    I wouldn’t do allowence because I like rather positioning it as: “we are a family that help each other”

  • This is so helpful! I love the suggestions. We’re getting to the same stage as you — and I’m considering the weekly allowance only for chores that have been done with two (or fewer) reminders. If the chores don’t get done, there’s no allowance. We’ll see how it goes!


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