It’s a common household battle: Parents and kids facing off on the Chore Chart. But when should our little ones start participating in the duties? And how do you get them to? We asked our favorite straight-shooting caretaker, Jo Frost from ABC’s The Supernanny, for advice – after all, she’s seen quite a bit from 100+ dysfunctional families (her 100th episode aired earlier this year). Her response wasn’t the law-laying advice we expected. Instead, she wants us to take a more peaceful, out-of-the-box approach to what we label as “chores.” Take a deep breath, parents, it’s not as difficult as we’re making it out to be.
“The most important thing to remember about chores is to forget the stigma,” Jo said in her classic authoritative-sounding accent. “[Instead] recognize giving and respect for taking care of belongings. Respect for the family.”
She alluded to the idea that expecting children to all of a sudden grab a broom and eagerly lend a helping hand isn’t realistic, and the resulting fights aren’t productive. Instead, teaching children to do chores is a gradual process, starting at around two and a half years old.
Following a recent trend on nixing the dollar signs attached to chores, Jo doesn’t think you need to open your wallet every time your kid makes a bed. “I’ve had experience with families where children become Wall Street negotiators,” she said. Plus, as she points out, money has no incentive value with younger kids.
Instead, chores should be treated as an expected part of family life, and failure to do one’s fair share should affect more than just a kid’s piggy bank. Money does, however, have a place when it comes to teaching older kids how to budget themselves. Again, she doesn’t believe in a set rate for a certain age – just whatever the family thinks appropriate, if anything.
- Teaching them about chores starts by having them listen and take direction.
- Show them how to take care of their things and teach them to have respect for their belongings.
- Have them help with small tasks like “put this diaper in the trash” or “pick up your toys” without making a big deal out of it.
In other words, no need to hand over the mop – and no need to freak out that little Jimmy isn’t collecting gold stars yet.
Little Kids (3-5 years old): Self-centered chores
Continue to emphasize respect and the concept of taking pride in their belongings – which will ease the transition to taking pride in the family’s belongings. Also:
- Center chores around the child, rather than expecting them to participate in tasks that don’t involve them.
- Actively help and show your children how to complete chores, setting an example and expanding their attention.
- Ask children, depending on their specific capabilities and maturity, to do larger tasks like putting toys back in their bin and keeping their room tidy. Obviously you wouldn’t ask a five-year-old to clean the tub because of the chemicals, but perhaps they’re ready to rinse their own plates. According to Jo, there aren’t set tasks for specific ages, so parents should do a child-by-child assessment.
Big Kids (7-9 years old): Helping and contributing
This is the age where children should “slowly but surely” be asked to participate more. While still centering many responsibilities around the children themselves, now is the time to emphasize helping and contributing, such as asking them to:
- Make their beds and keep their rooms tidy
- Pick out their clothes for the morning
- Start doing the dishes
Preteens and Beyond: Teamwork
An important piece of advice Jo shared was for parents to be realistic and to not overload kids with duties because that’s what we’re “supposed” to do. Keep in mind that ultimately parents will do much of the chores, and that this is basically to teach responsibility and respect.
- At this age, emphasize teamwork within the family.
- Continue to use your sensibilities on what the children are capable of, but they can usually handle tasks like cleaning the bathroom, washing the dinner dishes and vacuuming the house.
- Start giving your children a small amount of money each week (if the funds allow) for money-management lessons – not tied into their household participation.
For more advice from the Supernanny, log on to abc.com or tune into her new season.