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Winning Cooperation from Children for Household Chores

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Black mother and son folding laundry together
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Chores. Growing up, you probably hated them. But as an adult, chores are important for raising self-sufficient, capable young people. You may think that it's too hard to enforce chores for children at every age, but in fact, there are simple ones for toddlers and challenging ones that will keep even the most jaded teenagers engaged. There are age-appropriate chores for children of every age.

It may be easier to do everything yourself at first, and you may chafe at having to slow down and explain the chores, but in the long run you will appreciate having children who contribute to running an organized household and who take their share of responsibility. We working parents need every extra hand to keep our work-life balance reasonably sane!

How and Why to Introduce Chores

The most important thing is how you introduce chores to your kids. Ideally, you have toddlers who are eager to spray a bottle of water, be in charge of the broom or sort laundry. But even if you're beginning with tweens or older, you can pick the right chores for children of all ages. Rather than announcing new chores, get their ideas about what they'd like to learn and make sure you teach them the chores until they master them, before you expect them to be completely independent with their new jobs.

Research suggests that chores give children a wonderful sense of accomplishment. They're even shown to reduce stress and increase well-being in adults, because you can finish the task and feel that you've succeeded. (As opposed to the many other unending to-do lists in our lives.) It's important to stay positive, resist criticizing and let your children do chores imperfectly, even if you can do it better. Otherwise, how will they learn?

The Importance of Training

When getting your children in the routine of doing chores, think about how their daycare center or elementary school reinforces new routines and skills. Every single morning, the children enter the classroom, hang up coats, put away backpacks and contribute to the orderly functioning of the group. It probably takes the teacher a half-dozen repetitions to teach the fastest children in the class -- and maybe a couple dozen times to train the children who are a bit slower.

So the first time you teach your 3-year old to make her bed, be patient if it's a bit lumpy. Don't be critical the first few times she does it on her own. Instead of jumping in to correct her, use phrases like, "I wonder what would happen if you pulled the cover a little tighter" or "Would you like to hear a trick I know about making the bed?"

Picking Developmentally Appropriate Chores

Another important factor in your success at getting kids to cooperate with chores is picking the right level of difficulty for your child's age. If you choose a job that is too hard for your child, it will be discouraging and demoralizing for him. If you aim too low, he may simply get bored. Check out this list of age-appropriate chores for children for some ideas.

Please note that this chore list primarily deals with jobs that a child can do that contribute to the entire family. That's because children should increasingly take responsibility for their own self-care, and not consider those activities as part of their chores. Putting away their own belongings, dressing themselves, brushing teeth and the like are not truly chores.

Feel free to add your own suggestions and ideas to the list of chores that kids can do! And remember that every child is different, so your child may be ready to learn a certain task earlier -- or later -- than these guidelines.

Let Chores Grow With the Kids

That leads us to the final step in winning children's cooperation with chores: changing it up now and again to keep chores fun. If you have a chore chart that everyone loved when your kids were 4 and 6, it may get a little worn by the time they're 5 and 7. Depending on your children's temperament, they may want to change routines every few months. Use their input when designing a new system, whether a chore wheel, a chore chart or a jar of jobs. Even better: make creating the chore system one of the chores!

Children also deserve a little variety in the chores they do each day. Some experts recommend rotating chores every week so that nobody is stuck with something they hate, like setting the table, for too long. You'll see what works best for your family.

When your kids start to complain that the chores are boring, that's often a sign that they need a bigger challenge. Instead of letting them pour water into plastic cups, give them a pitcher of juice and real glasses. Or when they've mastered peanut butter on toast for breakfast, let them graduate to scrambled eggs and bacon. A bit of danger makes it fun for the kids. (Just make sure to supervise!)

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