Contribution and Chores by Age

African girl with folded laundry

Contribution is giving children small ways to be helpful throughout the day. If you are folding laundry, they can match socks, carry stacks of washcloths or put underwear in drawers. If you are getting dinner ready, they can color placemats, butter rolls, serve greenbeans, fold napkins or take drink orders. You might also ask children to water plants, pour dog food in the dog’s bowl or help get things ready for bathtime. These jobs are typically smaller than chores but are still helpful. It’s good to start contribution as early as two or three years old and continue through childhood.

Chores children do because they are part of the family can easily start by four or five years old. Chores at this age are daily and should be things the child can do independently. Family chores are not paid but are expected. It’s helpful to have a chore chart so children can track their efforts. This is also laying foundation for tracking chores for allowance later on. Chores as part of the family for younger children might include; simple pet care, putting clothes in the hamper, putting towels on hooks or carrying plates to the sink. For older children, family chores might include making their bed, walking the dog or picking up their play space.

Keeping contribution and family chores, you might add chores for allowance by six or seven years old. In the beginning, these chores should also be daily. As children get to be nine or ten years old, the schedule of chores can be more flexible. There might be a chore on the chart that happens once or twice a week. Paid chores for younger children might include setting the table, dusting a room or washing windows and mirrors. For older children paid chores might include loading and unloading the dishwasher, vacuuming a room or level of the house or cleaning a bathroom. As they are older, you might also offer a list of bigger, one time chores like cleaning out the garage or raking the yard to earn extra money.

For motivation’s sake, it may be helpful to keep school work and any musical instrument practice off chore charts. It’s also good to keep pet care on the contribution or family chore list and not be paid.

Encouraging a Sense of Responsibility

One beautiful middle eastern little girl with pink dress and long dark brown hair and eyes on white kitchen,helping parents to wash dishes and drinking water and smiling looking at camera studio.

Responsibility is best taught in small doses across childhood. Think of gradually increasing expectations, ownership and chores overtime.

Responsible for belongings – A way to build a sense of responsibility is to have them gradually be responsible for their belongings. This means teaching them to keep their toys clean and all the pieces together, keep their floor reasonably clean and keep matching gloves throughout the winter.

This also means they are gradually responsible for their sports and activity supplies. At four and five years old, they should be helping you to pack their ballet or soccer supplies. By six and seven, you should be helping them pack their supplies. By eight and nine years old, they should be packing their own supplies. You might make them a checklist or a picture chart, but it’s important to encourage independence here.

In kindergarten and 1st grade, you can help pack up their school supplies and be sure they have what they need. By 2nd grade, they should be packing and you can check after. By 3rd grade, check every other day. By 4th grade, it’s theirs to do but check in occasionally, and offer more checking if they struggle.

Avoid rescuing them – If they lie to someone, have them talk to that person and fess up. If they take something from a store, even a small something have them return it and apologize. If they get a bad grade, focus the follow up on how they can improve and do better, and check in more as they go. Avoid working to get them out of it – speaking to the person about the lie for them, letting them keep the small thing or taking it back yourself, calling to ask to excuse the grade.

Avoid creating work for other people – This has been a mild mantra in our house. When the girls were little, we’d all spend a few minutes cleaning our mess before we left a restaurant. If you decide you don’t want something when you’re shopping, it has to go back to where it belongs.

Model and encourage work before play – Clean bedrooms before friends come over, and do chores before going out to a matinee.

Model and encourage helping others, even small acts of kindness – This may be shoveling a neighbor’s driveway, helping someone carry groceries or just checking in with a friend who’s been sick or is elderly.

Teach responsibility with volunteering and community efforts – This can be participating as a family with your school’s charity efforts, your church’s outreach programs or finding places and ways to volunteer together. The website our-kids.com has a resource list of places to volunteer as a family in the Northern Virginia and D.C.

Teach responsibility through chores – I like the idea of starting contribution, children being helpful throughout the day, by 18 months to two years old. They can carry small things to be helpful. By two-and-a-half they can match socks, they can set out spoons and napkins. By three-and-a-half, they can pour dog food and water plants.

By four or five years old, I like the idea of adding chores because they are part of the family. This is daily things like putting clothes in the hamper, putting plates in the sink or even helping make the bed, that are just expected and maybe charted, but not paid for. I particularly like pet care as a chore they do as part of the family. It encourages care for a living creature and responsibility to a relationship.

If you start there, by six or seven years old, I like the idea of adding paid chores. Keep contribution and a few chores they do to be part of the family, then, when you are ready, consider chores for allowance. Again, these are daily, otherwise they are things you keep track of and kids get paid weekly. If you lose the contribution and chores for family, it’s hard to get them to be helpful unless you pay them – and that’s not the goal.

As they get older, by nine or ten years old, you might be more flexible about chores. Maybe there’s a chore to do twice a week or a list of chores to pick from. It’s fine to get creative as long as everyone is aware of the new rules.

Prioritize school work, attendance and deadlines – It’s good to put homework or study time on the calendar daily, so kids see it’s importance. Encourage regular attendance. Help children to plan for and meet deadlines for projects and tests.

Encourage self care – Once your child can tie their own shoes, you are done tying their shoes. Have goals for self care. This may be getting dressed by five years old and taking showers independently by eight years old.

Be sure to set a good example – This includes keeping promises, showing up on time, taking care of your own belongings and keeping the house reasonably clean.

Introducing Chores

If you are thinking about introducing chores to your children, it is best to start with the idea of contribution. Contribution is giving kids jobs throughout the day and expecting them to help just because they are part of the family. For two year olds, this may be helping find socks when you do laundry. For five year olds, this may be folding napkins and buttering rolls when you are making dinner. For a full description of contribution, please visit https://parentingbydrrene.com/2012/10/12/contribution-getting-kids-to-help/.

Once contribution is well established, you can introduce chores children do because they are part of the family. These are daily chores, and things they are capable of doing. For a three year old, this might be getting their clothes in the hamper. For a five year old, this might be carrying plates to the sink after dinner. When you start daily chores, it is helpful to introduce a chart for them to track their progress. Be sure you also occasionally give descriptive praise, saying things like, “you cleared the table, that was helpful!”

Once the family chores are being consistently taken care of, you can introduce chores for allowance. If and when you do this, be sure to continue with contribution and chores they do because they are part of the family. If you only have them doing chores for allowance, you won’t be able to get their help in other ways unless you pay them. In the beginning, these should also be things they can do independently, and things that are done daily. It’s good to continue the chart that has a chore or two because they are family, and add the chore or two they do to earn allowance. In the beginning, help them to get through and be sure they earn their allowance.

From the beginning, it is good to help them divide their money into spending, saving and charity money. The spending is money they can carry with them to the store and spend on little things, or they can put it towards the bigger things they are saving for. In the beginning, saving money is for something big they’d like to buy. As they are older this money can be towards a car or towards college expenses. The charity money is to set aside for the penny drive at school or for the Sunday school offering plate.

As they get older, you can introduce optional chores or a list of ways they can earn additional money. They can also start to do small jobs for trusted neighbors such as walking their dogs or carrying in their mail.

You might also read: https://parentingbydrrene.com/2011/12/05/chores-by-age/ or https://parentingbydrrene.com/2011/12/04/chores-for-earning-allowance/

Other ideas? Please suggest them below!

Contribution – Getting Kids to Help

Contribution is getting children involved in the process of daily living. It is giving them jobs, so they can be productively engaged. When children are participating in family function, there is less need for discipline. This is very much in line with the Montessori philosophy. In a Montessori classroom, children are preparing snack, serving snack and cleaning up the snack area, even at two years old. There is little misbehavior around snacktime because it is their job, they take pride in it. The are fully engaged in positive behavior, so there is less time for the negative.

Starting at two years old, I think children should be contributing at home throughout the day. If you are folding laundry, they can be matching socks. If you are preparing a meal, they can be matching cups to lids or taking drink orders. Older children, who are buttering rolls or serving green beans, bypass the time for arguing, video games and to complain about what’s for dinner. You avoid the need for discipline by making them part of the process.

In the classroom, if my teachers are getting art supplies ready for the next day, there should be children helping them. They might be helping pour paint or matching papers. Yes, this takes longer and can be more of a mess, but the next day those helper children are a little more excited to be there.

Go wide with how they help. Setting the table every night for dinner sounds like more of a chore (I like chores and chores for allowance, but this is something different). Contribution includes drawing placemats, writing menus, folding napkins and serving food. Shake it up by suggesting different ways to contribute each day.

When they do contribute, take the help however it comes. Resist the urge to correct their helpfulness. Let’s say you have been working for a week with your six-year-old on how to make their bed. One morning they come to you excitedly and say, “mommy, I made my bed without you!” When you go to see it, find something nice to say about that bed. Even if it’s not what you’d hoped for, say something like, “this corner is so straight!” and leave the bed. If you take this moment to correct, or you wait til they go to school to remake the bed, you are squashing their contribution. It’s better to wait until the next morning and catch them before they make it to reteach.

Contribution teaches life skills, builds intrinsic motivation, and creates a sense of belonging and community.

For more on chores and allowance please read: https://parentingbydrrene.wordpress.com/2011/12/05/chores-by-age/ and https://parentingbydrrene.wordpress.com/2011/12/04/chores-for-earning-allowance/.

Mantras in Our Family

  •  Avoid Creating Work for Other People – Maybe this comes from waiting tables through college, or from how hectic our careers feel now, but I’m reminding the girls often to not create work for other people. In little ways, this means checking under the table at restaurants to be sure we’ve not left a mess. In big ways, it means being prompt with letting people know where you are and what’s your plan, so they are not left to work or worry around you. It’s being responsible for your own stuff.
  •  Different Families Do Different Things – I have answered so many questions and started so many conversations with my children by saying, “different families do different things…” This has ranged from other families living in bigger houses and other children not having a set bedtime, to other sets of siblings slinging horrible names at each other going unchecked and a mom friend who slapped her then 4 year old during a playdate at our house. This works in both directions. Sometimes it’s nice to be in our family, sometimes they are wishing they could stay up nightly til they just conk out. In either direction, it brings them back to the focus on home and who we are.
  • Grow Up Slowly – While I understand they can’t really know this til they know it, I want my children to recognize that it goes by fast. That there’s no need to be in a hurry to be on top of the ticking clock. I want them to hold on to being a kid for as long as they can. We’ve made a great effort to enjoy things with them and talk about how even daddy’s not too old to enjoy an afternoon spent on mastering the Slip’n’slide. He notes The Wiggles as one of the best concerts he’s seen, and he’s seen many big acts in the last 30 years. We’ve put effort into putting off getting ears pierced, wearing make-up or having cells phones until they are following their friends rather than leading the charge.
  •  Enjoy Where You Are – I am still learning this one myself, so the mantra brings me back as much as them. For my 14-year-old, this is actually turning off her phone when we are at lunch with Grandma and Grandpa, so she can be fully engaged in the conversation. For me, it’s watching an entire gymnastics practice rather than taking the time to get caught up with work.
  • Move Forward in Peace – Okay, this is just mine.

Want a Better Morning Routine with Kids?

Family Using Digital Devices At Breakfast Table

Believe me, I know, mornings in a busy house with kids can be tough. There are several guidelines that can help in this hectic transition time.

  • Build a real routine – Many families have a solid bedtime routine, but fewer have a great morning routine. If you are one of those winging it in the morning families, it is time to get a routine. Start by deciding what time you want to walk out the door. Next, list all the things that need to happen before that from wake-up to out, and decide about how much time you’ll need for each step. Working backwards gives you a wake-up time.
  • End with fun so you have something to work towards and a buffer – Now take that well planned schedule and bump everything earlier by 10 minutes. Set aside this bit of time at the end for the kids to do something enjoyable. This may be reading or lego time, it may be time with the puppy. This gives your kids something to work towards, and gives you a 10 minute buffer for sanity’s sake.
  • Get visual – Work with your child to make a chart or a poster including the steps of your new routine. Let them make the decisions to write a chart, draw pictures or take pictures for the illustrations. Give them time to decorate it and make it their own. Put it somewhere easily visible to all.
  • Stick to the schedule – Help your child make it through the routine, and have the 10 minutes for something enjoyable at least a few mornings. Make it your goal to stick to the schedule for a month, a routine only helps if you do it.
  • Think logistics for sticking points – If getting dressed is a battle, put it first rather than last in the routine. Make a rule that breakfast is for dressed people. If you’re really desperate, have them sleep in their next day clothes (at least the shirt, underwear and socks).
  • Give jobs – To keep kids in the routine, it may be helpful to give them individual responsibilities as they go. Make one the toothpaste squeezer, another the cereal pourer. Titles are appealing to younger children. Think to rotate jobs every few days.
  • Give choices – Choices allow the child some power. Here and there, share a bit. Ask, “do you want cereal or oatmeal this morning?” or, “do you want to wear shorts or a skirt?” or, “do you want to get dressed by yourself or with help?”
  • Give challenges – Can they get dressed before you? Can they get to the table faster this morning than yesterday?
  • Do what you can the night before – In our house, homework isn’t complete until it is in the backpack and by the front door with all papers signed. Some gung-ho families make lunches the night before and lay out clothes. Every little bit helps.
  • As they are able, give them more responsibility in the process – If you trust, let them take over the tooth brushing. If they do, let them wake-up by an alarm.
  • Plan with simple and healthy in mind for breakfast – It’s great if you can cook a full hot breakfast every morning. I am not knocking that at all, in fact I’d like to wake-up at your house! I often cook on the weekends, but go the easy route on weekdays keeping health in mind. We do a lot of scrambled eggs, hard-boiled before eggs, whole grain cereal, yogurt, cheese sticks, toast and fruit salad. Things that take just a minute or two, and we can keep well stocked.

Nurturing Independence

Dear Dr. Rene,

My, just turned three years old, son knows his alphabet, colors, shapes and dinosaurs. He is beginning to spell and can manage 48 piece puzzles by himself. He is very interested in learning and listens intently and soaks information up like a sponge when interested. My concerns are when he has to do things for himself such as turning a doorknob, getting dressed or playing independently. In these situations, he always fights it. He resists and exaggerates his attempts. Sometimes he doesn’t even try, he will just lay down and say he is “resting” until I am able to help him. I try to give him more play time alone, but he has a hard time occupying himself. How do I encourage his independence in situations he isn’t interested in?

Sincerely,

Cynthia

Dear Cynthia,

There really are two issues here. The first is learning to play independently. The second is learning to do for yourself and being able to move forward taking on greater responsibilities rather than continuing to rely on others to do so for him.

To build independent play skills there needs to be adequate downtime. Downtime is truely unstructured, go play time. This may be indoors or out, alone or with you and any siblings available. The idea, though, of downtime is you are not organizing for the child, you are not providing entertainment. The child is left time to entertain themselves. They can also be unproductive if they choose. Real downtime means they can watch the clouds or play with dripping water at a sink if that’s what occupies them. To get good at this, most children just need more practice. This means, stop entertaining them. A little boredom here is a good thing as it prompts play.

To encourage independent play, you might also give them things to do that are like or nearby what you are doing. Meaning if you are cooking, give them pots, pans and spoons with a bit of water. If you are on the computer, give them a leap-pad on the corner of the desk, so they can do their work beside you. You might also give them things you start together such as a big puzzle. Sit together for the first few pieces, and then make trips away.

Encouraging a child to take ownership and increasing responsibility for life tasks is a harder thing. I think the first thing to do is focus on teaching them to do for themselves. If they struggle with parts of getting dressed, which may sink the entire effort, sit and practice that piece. Give them ample practice when you are there to help. Once you know they are capable, move back and give them space to work through. This may mean you are out of the room to avoid doing for them. Think of each challenge as opportunity for them to master the task and to at least learn from the experience.

When they are frustrated, give hints and suggestions to get them back on track. Avoid doing for them. Be sure to give lots of empathy for the frustration and encouragment for the task. Focus your praise on their effort and process rather than the outcome. Notice the hard work and the additional attempts, comment on the time and energy required to get it right. When available, give them opportunity for decision making. Children are much more likely to buy into doing if they are in charge of the process.

Sincerely,

Dr. Rene

Allowance by Age

The general guideline here is a dollar per year of life each week, meaning a four-year-old earns four dollars a week. I know this sounds like a lot of money, but from the beginning it’s suggested that you help your child divide their allowance into three categories including saving, spending and charity. You might start with a a dollar in saving, two dollars in spending and a dollar in charity.

The saving money is to save for a big purchase. My daughter’s first purchase from saving was a Groovy Girl car. This is just teaching the idea to set aside money and watch how it grows. The spending money is just that, they can spend it on little things, save it for a few weeks or add it to savings to grow that faster. If you are going to put limits on their spending money such as no candy, it’s best to do this up front. The charity is for the change-drive at their school or the offering at Sunday school. If children are interested, you might help them to pick a charity they are interested in and donate there.

Chores by Age

It is helpful to introduce the idea of household chores early. I tend to think children are ready to manage a chore or two just because they are part of the family by three or four years old. Many young children are still willing helpers at this age and it’s good to capture that enthusiasm when starting chores. By four or five many of them are realizing you spend money and buy them things, another reason to have them start earning early.

Three to Five year old chores

  • pouring the dog food in the dog bowl
  • putting shoes in the closet
  • hanging towels on the rack
  • putting clothes in the hamper
  • setting out silverware
  • carrying plates to the sink

Six to Eight year old chores

  • dusting furniture
  • carrying out trash
  • making a bed
  • cleaning a mirror or window
  • unloading dishwasher silverware
  • sorting laundry

By eight years old, you can include chores that happen once or just a few days a week. You might also throw in opportunities to earn extra through bigger jobs like helping to clean out the garage or wash the car.

Nine to 12 year old chores

  • vaccuming a level of the house
  • loading and unloading dishwasher
  • folding laundry and putting away
  • cleaning a bathroom

Chores for Earning Allowance

When it comes to teaching children about managing money, there are two camps that are split along the line of how they actually earn the money. Camp one gives children allowance for chores. Camp two, which doesn’t like the chores tied in as it is a reward system, just gives children money each week and then teaches them how to manage. I am firmly in camp one. If you just give children the money, they are missing half the lesson as there is no effort towards earning it. To a camp two child, spending four dollars is the same as spending eight dollars you just have to wait a while to collect it. Life doesn’t work this way, in life people have to earn it.

That said, the worry of camp two includes the notion that if you pay your children for all their work efforts, you won’t be able to get them to do much of anything else. There should be responsibilities they are not paid for, they participate just because they are part of the family. I completely agree here. In my house, we started with chores you do because you are part of the family and then gradually added chores for allowance. Even now, their chore chart reflects this split.

When you start chores, aim for daily activities as this is easier to manage. Keep a chart to organize the list and encourage children to track their own progress. In the beginning, and as you add new chores to the list, help children to be successful at meeting the goals. As needed, do the chores with them, teach them how to use the chart and congratulate weekly successes.

%d bloggers like this: