Chores, we are told, are good. Key, in fact, to raising decent, capable human beings. Studies and commentary point to regular chore routines as essential to kids’ positive development, happiness, even success as adults. Bracing stuff—especially if you’ve ever tried to convince a balky 10-year-old to rid a window of smudges.
Obviously, we all want to instill responsibility, self-reliance, agency, and compassion in our kids. Very obviously, at least from my personal perspective, we need help with the damn dishes. Whatever else needs doing around the modern home, the kitchen remains Chore Central. What can we do to mobilize the team where many hands are needed most?
Much as I wish I could serve up a foolproof means to get everyone singing joyful work-songs as they voluntarily chip in, I can only cite the rhyming wisdom: insist and persist. Beyond that, there is no formula that will work in every family. As the parent of two kids who are not exactly the Little House brood as far as work-ethic goes, a few thoughts:
Allowance works. Should you, or should you not, pay for chores? Well, let a thousand schools of thought contend and all that, but at our house, we pay for chores. It’s motivating—don’t overthink it. Beth Kobliner’s great book Make Your Kid a Money Genius (Even If You’re Not) counsels that allowance, properly managed, is the first step towards knowing the value of money. It’s also the first step toward making them pay for their own video games.
A sense of community works. Kids absorb the ethic of communal responsibility naturally, and apply it without too much struggle at school, on their sports teams, and among their friends. A simple appeal to their citizenship in the family can be powerful. I mean, don’t yell it.
Cooking works. Do kids feel a sense of accomplishment and self-mastery after folding clothes or trimming the hedge? Sure. Probably. But cooking is literally its own reward, and can help impart the identity and belonging that comes from participating in an activity they see you doing every day. There are also more cooking and cooking-adjacent tasks than any other variety of housework—there’s a lot to do. I keep reminding my family of that, so it must be true. With the docket perpetually full, you can find age-appropriate tasks for everyone. (We offer a nifty subscription box that addresses this issue more broadly.)
You know what needs to be done. But should you find yourself short of inspiration, here are 10 tasks many kids can take on, either as one-offs or (ideally) a regular thing.
Unloading the dishwasher. Obviously, make allowances for height and cupboard access. Don’t ask your four-year-old to deal with the steak knives. If something breaks, don’t worry about it.
Making the PB&Js. While for sure you’re handcrafting Instagram-ready bento boxes for school lunch four days a week, pick a day when the squad makes its own sandwiches and packs ‘em up. Many five-year-olds can do this. Twelve-year-olds should have this on lockdown.
Wiping down the counters and tables. It’s sort of like painting?
Picking one recipe for the weekly dinner plan. Maybe you can prompt them to take inspiration from their favorite kid-foodie YouTube star. Or maybe you take Little Sous up on the suggestion to create a photo-driven roster of stand-by meals. Or maybe you page through cookbooks—underrated literacy gateways!—together. However you do it, let them call the shots, with the understanding that you’ll make the recipe together.
Composing the shopping list. This is especially good for proud, newly minted writers. You may need some help interpreting it later, depending on age and legibility levels.
Getting the milk. Once that list is made and you’re at the store, divide and conquer, dispatching kids old enough to navigate a few aisles on their own to gather a share of the goods. Bonus teachable moment: finding and interpreting expiration dates.
Stocking the fridge and pantry. I have one kid who often exhibits a certain reluctance to engage. But he possesses an odd genius for spatial organization. So we’ve given him the task of Tetrising our regular huge LaCroix haul (and—ssh—some beers) into the auxiliary dorm fridge we inherited with our house. He may not even realize he’s helping.
Measuring. This may be more situational than routine, but measuring out ingredients offers an innate satisfaction and a hook for sneaky lessons on fractions. (This may not necessarily mean less work for you.)
Clipping the herbs. You need a sprig of rosemary. They love using (but not running with!) scissors.
Making one dinner a week. Okay, I will just admit that I am not here yet. In most households, this is probably end-game stuff—the kind of parenting tidbit you smugly drop into conversation, then sit back to enjoy. But at some point, they will be armed for this mission. Give them quesadillas, or a dead-simple pasta, some super-basic salad-making chops, and let them run with it. Just know that you will eat the results enthusiastically!
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