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Life Skills: Setting Chores for Children

Some time back, I read a blog post by a homeschooling mother where she talked about household chores she set for her children. I wish I still had the link but I can’t find it any more. She said that she set the number of dishes a child had to wipe based on the age of the child, which meant that her 2 year old wiped 2 dishes. Yes, I did a double-take when I read that – her 2 year old was wiping dishes. I looked at Hercules, who is 2, and couldn’t imagine him wiping dishes. He’d be more likely to break them. Aristotle, who is 5, helps to take the dishes to the sink but even he isn’t set the chore of wiping 5 dishes.

It’s not that I don’t want them actively helping out and trying to do things for themselves. In fact, that’s what I want them to do. Ever since we lost our domestic helper, it’s been my eagerly anticipated dream of having the kids take over the household chores so I can put my feet up. In fact, the earlier they master these chores, all the better for me.

It’s not like I am not aware of the benefits of setting chores for children. Chores are great for teaching children about responsibility, delayed gratification, and building skills, among other things. So why don’t we set chores for them? Why indeed.

After  sitting back and observing our daily life, I realise why. Our household is the epitome of modern living. Every day we are rushing. We’re rushing to get the kids ready, rushing to get dinner done, rushing to get to school, rushing to meet friends, rushing to get the kids into bed – our whole life is one big rush. We don’t have time to slow down and let the boys learn how to dry a dish, fold a pair of pants, or wipe up a spill. It’s just quicker and easier to railroad them and get the job done ourselves.

When you want to let a child help, it often means taking twice as long to do things. It also means more mess and more work. And if you’re a perfectionist, the job your child does is never going to be good enough. When you watch a child work on a project, it’s difficult to sit back and avoid correcting them. It takes boundless patience and enormous restraint. So we decide we’ll do it until they’re “old enough”.

The problem of waiting until they’re “old enough” is that by the time they are “old enough”, they’ve lost the desire to help. And then you have to nag, and nag, and nag to get them to do their chores – which isn’t much fun either. So although it’s a painful process to start the chores early, it actually saves us a lot more pain in future.

So here’s a list of chores I figured I should get Aristotle to start working on…

  • make lunch for school
  • pack school bag
  • wash school shoes
  • fold own clothes
  • wash, wipe and put away own dishes
  • own clean up after art
  • own clean up after play doh

I haven’t quite figured out what to do with Hercules since I haven’t really been too successfull getting him to pack up his toys after playing but we’ll see what he’s willing to do after he watches big brother in action…

Are your children doing chores? How old are they and what do you get them to do?

Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of (a website on parenting, education, child development) and (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

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