The Chore Challenge

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by Amanda Vogel

As we embark on another school year, families everywhere are shifting schedules and routines to accommodate new obligations. Parents are looking for ways to keep things running smoothly at home, and chores can be an especially helpful subject to consider!

So... should children be assigned chores at home? Most parents would respond with an enthusiastic "yes!" When pressed for details about how chores work for families on a practical level, however, parent responses aren't usually as positive.

Typically, the system most commonly used for assigning and enforcing chores tends to devolve quickly into a unpleasant situation of parent-nagging and child-complaining. Chore charts, chore apps, and detailed chore plans* can end up becoming more of a headache for parents to maintain than a helpful element of a family's day-to-day workflow.

So what’s the alternative?

In our household, we first had to establish some principles.  We use the team analogy, talking at length about the idea that we, as a family, are a team in which everyone plays a part. There are, of course, times when my husband and I will choose to take care of everyone, but there are plenty of other times when we expect help from each player.

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When it’s one of those times in which everyone has to pitch in, we announce that directly. When it’s time to clean up dinner or straighten the house on a Saturday, we’ll say, “Okay... time for team Vogel!”  If there’s a lot to do, we might get out a piece of paper and make a list of everything that needs to happen. If a job is smaller, we might just talk through the expectations.  Everyone knows, however, that the question at hand is, “How are you going to help?”

We ask our kids to tell us what way they want to contribute each time. Sometimes their answers are predictable: my son loves to wash the counters and my daughter enjoys starting the laundry. Sometimes, though, they will change it up, like choosing to clean out the cat box because they’ve noticed their dad has done that chore a lot lately. Other times, they’ll specifically request to learn something new, which gives us the opportunity to teach our son how to make a bed or our daughter to fold laundry.

What really matters is that each team member has a voice. Once they’ve chosen their tasks, we often create a little checklist for each child, both to break down the tasks into manageable steps and to help them remember everything they're responsible for. After this, we turn on some music and set to work, pitching in together. Before we know it, the jobs are done and we’re on our way out for an afternoon adventure.

*An added bonus of this mentality is that we have almost no chore charts to contend with, which relieves the pressure of making sure our kids are staying on top of their daily jobs. Tasks that absolutely must be done daily are taken care of through morning and afternoon routines, but most other tasks are negotiated and shared among each of us!