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"I like to equate it to adults volunteering," says Judy Arnall, a parenting expert and author of The Last Word on Parenting Advice (Professional Parenting Canada, 2011). Try creating the same conditions at home as you would for volunteers in a charity situation: "Set reasonable expectations and keep it short and routine," she says.
Doing chores is great for your kids' self-esteem because it helps them feel as though they are part of a group. Plus by asking your kids to help you're telling them: "We need you."
Remember that it's important to get kids helping out around the whole house and in "more than just their corner of their world – their room," says Arnall.
Chores for kids: Dos and don'ts for getting your kids to contribute
• Do offer plenty of encouragement.
• Don't overdo it: Keep chore time short and sweet, rather than spending a whole day taking on everything that needs to be done.
• Do make chores social and fun.
• Don't pay your kids to do chores.
• Do provide recognition and appreciation.
• Don't expect perfection.
• Do choose age-appropriate chores.
• Don't criticize the way a job has been done.
• Do offer choices: one chore over another, or a particular time of day to complete chores.
Age-appropriate chores for everyone
Starting at 18 months, kids can learn to put away their own toys and belongings.
By age three, your kids should be regularly tidying up their toys and putting things away. They can also help you empty wastebaskets or, according to Arnall, "be a gopher" – hand them an item to put away, have them run off and do so, and then come back for more. This presents you with an opportunity to turn cleanup time into a game. About this time, kids can also start to learn to sort laundry or set the table.
With supervision, four- to five-year-olds can help with recycling, vacuuming floors, watering plants, emptying the dishwasher and taking out garbage.
Your six- and seven-year-olds can help you out by putting pillows in pillowcases and mopping or sweeping the floor. They can also start to learn how to answer the phone and take messages.
Eight-year-olds are mature enough to start using the microwave and toaster, and can strip and change their own bedsheets.
Then, at nine, they can start helping prepare their own breakfasts and lunches, and act as your sous-chef for dinner. They should also be putting away their own laundry.
By 12, kids should be able to prepare simple meals for the whole family, including using the stove and cleaning up afterward. They can put food away, wash pots and load and unload the dishwasher.
Beyond that, young teens can take on much more responsibility: If your kids have bills, they should be paying them themselves. Teens should do their own laundry and help with outdoor work, such as shovelling snow or mowing the lawn. They should also be helping to clean bathrooms – and if they have their own bathroom, it's not unreasonable to make that entirely their responsibility.
To make chores for kids more exciting
Arnall suggests making chore time social and fun. Take about two hours per week and get the whole family tackling chores at the same time. Put on music, chat about your days and tell jokes. It will make the time pass more quickly and the chores won't seem so daunting.
If your kids refuse to do their chores
If you're having trouble convincing your kids to help out, "make a list of everything you do," says Arnall. Show your child the list and ask what he or she would be willing to do to help lighten your load.
"Some people have favourite chores," says Arnall. So ask your kids what they like to do most, and also what it is that they don't like about other chores. Does the smell of a cleaning product bother them? Do they find the recycling bins too heavy?
You may also want to try rotating through different chores. "Nobody wants to empty the dishwasher every day for years," says Arnall. For her own family, she has written different tasks on cards, and slips the cards into a wall pocket holder. Every family member has a slot and "the first person to choose their chores gets the best jobs," she says.
Once you have a system in place, your kids will likely take their weekly chores in stride.
"It's amazing how much you can hand over," says Arnall.