Kids & Chores, a.k.a. Sometimes They’re Smarter Than Us

Should Kids Have Chores?

This is the face of a kid who is way smarter than his parents.

My kids have chores to do around the house and on the farm. So as we talk about whether or not kids should have chores, it will be fairly obvious that for my family, the answer is yes. To be honest, I thought most kids had chores unless they were a Kardashian or something.

Then I spoke to a woman who, when talking about hiring a new housekeeper, seemed somewhat upset when a friend suggested that the children in the house just take on a few extra cleaning tasks instead of having a housekeeper do it. The woman said, “I don’t want my children to have to clean the house.”  This woman was a lovely person. Her kids seemed charming, well-behaved, and generally helpful. While I don’t understand her position, I’m not offering it up for judgment. I would like to understand why some parents don’t think their kids should do household chores, because I’m sure some of them have as many reasons for their position as I do for mine.

Do your kids have chores? Why or why not? If not, do you plan to teach your kids how to manage a household at some point, or do you believe they’ll pick it up from watching?

One of the reasons I have my kids do a wide variety of chores is because I did not just pick up the housekeeping skills by watching my mother, who is a very good household manager. I was required to keep my room clean, and when I had my own bathroom, I had to clean it, too. I did my own laundry, and I starched and ironed my dad’s shirts as an extra chore for which I was paid.

When I found myself in charge of my own household, I realized very quickly that my mom made it all look easy. But it was not easy! Just cleaning two rooms and doing laundry does not result in a company-ready home. Part of the discrepancy is that my mom is more naturally organized and I am decidedly not. So, in the grand tradition of trying to do things differently than one’s parents, I decided that my kids would all have a sort of sampler of chores in various areas of the house. That way, if they’re not good at figuring this stuff out on their own (like their mother!), they will have seen and done all of the housework necessary to run their own home someday.

I do not differentiate between girl chore lists and boy chore lists. I make some adjustments based on age and ability, which might make my lists look like the girls have more chores. My girls are the two oldest, though, and at this point are far more capable of handling various tasks on their own than their brothers, who are just as likely to create a new mess while cleaning.

Each kid has a week night where they are the dinner helper. The girls are almost to the point where they can prepare a meal on their own. The dinner helper often chooses the meal, as well.

The other chores rotate around bi-weekly or monthly. They include cleaning the bathroom, sweeping and mopping the tile floors, tidying and vacuuming the living room, dusting everything that can collect dust, and cleaning woodwork and windows. Their rooms are also supposed to be straightened up before bed, and I ask them to dust and vacuum their room weekly. They end up with one major chore per week, plus a dinner night, and their own bedroom.

Extra chores may be assigned for kids who are being wasteful or who have been careless with belongings. Chores as consequences have a dollar value assigned to them. If you drink a whole giant container of Coffee Mate because you think it tastes good, that’s fine, but I feel that you should know how much work needs to be done for replacement cost, because adults can’t keep doing that without using pay from their job to continually buy vats of coffee creamer. The Coffee Mate cost $5. That’s about a half-hour of additional work.

Other chores are available if the kids want to make more money. Maya currently handles school clothes laundry and is paid for her efforts because she’s saving money to buy her own computer. Hannah is very good at organizing, and will earn some money this summer as my personal closet and pantry organizer.

Most of the chores are not done for pay, though. I want them to do chores because it’s part of keeping our family’s household running smoothly. I want them to learn responsibility and work ethic before they begin a job outside of the home. However, I think going above and beyond with their efforts should be rewarded, hence some of the jobs being offered for cash.

G told the boys last summer that he would pay them a penny for each dandelion they picked from our yard. We have about 6 acres of yard, plus the surrounding farm fields, so the boys have plenty of space in which to hunt down dandelions. They bring in buckets full to be counted and paid. It’s very serious business for them, and also easy money for the ball field concession stand.

Grant has had an unusual amount of success with dandelion-picking so far this year. As he brought in his haul for G to count this week, he let his dad in on his brilliant plan. See, when Grant notices a particularly good patch of dandelions, he goes out with his bucket and picks all of them. Then he gets another bucket of water and waters the ground so that more dandelions will grow in that spot. G thought he should probably be mad, but he was actually quite proud of Grant’s ingenuity.

New chore rule: you can’t actually create more of whatever mess you’re being paid to clean up!


  1. Mark says:

    Made the mistake of offering a penny per bagworm picked off any tree in my yard as a money-making chore. I counted half a 30-gallon trashcan of bagworms before we settled on a $30 fee.

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