Monday, August 15, 2011

A Question About Age Appropriate Chores for Children

Jude asked:  "How do you know what amount of chores are reasonable for each age/stage/child?"

I think we all tend to think our children are capable of a lot more than they really are. Children are in a hurry to grow up and most of the time their parents (and other adults) are in just as much a hurry... One of the best things about home education for our family was that it helped us slow down so that we made time for the really important things in life, such as being, working and playing together.

Like most parents I asked my children to do things I thought they should be able to do and was stumped when they either didn't do them, didn't want to do them, got grumpy, acted bored, started crying, became irrationally angry, fought with their siblings, etc. What actually was happening was that they didn't know how to do the task I'd given them or they actually couldn't do it on their own and needed help.

Helping our children is teaching our children. Helping them do chores teaches them a lot more than simply doing chores.

My children taught me (the hard way!) that I need to look at them as individuals when considering what they could and couldn't do. Age came into it a bit, but learning styles and personality much more.

Tidying their rooms was probably my hardest lesson. In the end I gave up and simply did it myself, asking them to help out in small ways. What I later discovered was that this was actually only giving them manageable tasks, things they could reasonably accomplish. I also manipulated the environment so that it was much easier for my children to find things and put them away afterwards (shelves instead of cupboards and drawers, many of them labeled, some with pictures as well as words). We didn't have too many things either: the children didn't have oodles of toys and clothes so it was fairly simple to keep these under control. They had high bunk beds which meant they had doonas which made it easier for them to make their beds. My aim was to create an environment in which it was easier for them to look after their own things. We also had a few rules, such as there always had to be a clear path through whatever game was being played on the floor at the end of the day, just in case I needed to get to them in the night. Another one was that they couldn’t have more than one game or set of toys in one area at the same time (unless they were being used for the same game).

Most days the children helped with preparing dinner. They got their own breakfast and lunch. I didn't ask them to do the dishes as a chore (I'd been forced as a child to do this) but if I did ask I expected help. What I found was that because we didn't have a list of chores for each child when we asked them for help they were usually willing. But again, I think this worked because we helped them with the tasks we asked them to do, especially when they were younger, rather than making them do them on their own.

Involving the children in the day-to-day work of living in a house together from an early age is something children naturally expect:  if we do everything for them they learn to be entertained and waited on! But if we do things with them they watch and learn and naturally get better at doing them. In time they build confidence in their ability to take on the responsibility of doing tasks on their own.

I don't think it is unreasonable to ask a toddler to help you. Just keep in mind that he is helping you, not working for you!

The older and more capable children get the more they look forward to being given responsibility. You'll know if you're asking too much or giving them too much - they will show signs of stress. Just back off a little, talk to them about the task, tell your reasons for wanting them to help you, if there are any problems you've not thought of, etc.

If you liked this article you'll enjoy Jan Hunt's Ten Ways We Misunderstand Children, an excellent and well written succinct article that goes to the heart of the matter.

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