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kids doing dishes

Managing a household takes hard work, no matter who you are. One of the great advances of the last couple decades is the rise of the helpful husband and the splitting of household chores.

Unfortunately, I also see another trend — the “let kids be kids” trend that favors parents taking on more of the work so their children can do what kids do. “You’re only young once!”

We probably have the first non-wealthy generation in history to get out of doing the chores. But chores don’t rob children of childhood — they prepare them for productive, successful lives.

Work builds bonds

Some of the closest families I see both work and play together. The kids get in on tasks like raking leaves, doing dishes, making baked goods, or even helping Dad sand his latest woodworking projects.

These are the kids who will grow up feeling confident in their abilities to handle tasks to completion. They’ll understand how working hard affects you in every part of your life. They’ll find it easier to get employment because they’ll be willing to work for it and will more easily adapt to what they’re being asked to do.

Chores are not just “doing dishes,” it’s learning how to be a competent human being.

kids and dad raking leaves

The experts agree

Children who have to do chores, experts say, will overcome impulsiveness sooner. They’ll appreciate things more because they will understand that a house isn’t magically just cleaned, but that everything gets done with effort and attentiveness. These lessons also serve to make kids less demanding of others and more respectful.

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It might be a hassle to get the chores completed, but implementing a reward-or-consequence approach can make it much more effective.

One mom went viral in 2012 when she posted a photo of a sign in her kitchen reading “Want today’s WiFi password? 1. Make your beds. 2. Vacuum downstairs. 3. Walk the dog.”

While done as a gag, it’s actually a brilliant way of doing the old “No TV until all your homework is done” rule most of us grew up with.

Chores for every age

A great list of age-focused tasks has made rounds on Facebook, and I think it’s just brilliant how they managed to break things down in age groups. It’s perfect for every parent.

From the age of 2, children are old enough to do chores, provided you’re picking out age-appropriate tasks. What can a toddler do? They can put their dirty clothes in a hamper, their toys in the toybox, books on shelves. They’re even able to do little weird tasks that could hurt your back but provide them with a fun distraction, like dusting the baseboards.

The Flanders Family’s document is easy to print and download, and should be a blueprint for how to share responsibilities throughout all modern families.

Kids like to do good work

Don’t be put off by protests and whining. Stand your ground and work alongside your kids for the first while. If you start early enough, there won’t be protests. Instead, there’ll be an understanding that chores are simply a part of life — not punishment, not meanness.

boy with gloves chores

Last summer, I was flabbergasted when my then-16-year-old nephew didn’t know how to do a lot of housework. I had to teach him how to clean windows. When he stayed with me the week I moved, he learned a lot of things — from how to hand-clean floors to painting shelves. The funny thing was, he never complained once. I simply said “When we get all this done, I’ll take us out to lunch.” And off to work he went.

It struck me as completely bizarre that here’s this kid who understands chores are necessary, but for some reason was simply never given any of them. He never complained and actually seemed to enjoy doing his work well and knowing it was done right. Maybe he complained as a five-year-old and his parents decided it wasn’t worth it. Well, they blew that one.

Start early, stay consistent

Imagine how much work his parents could’ve avoided if they simply tapped into my nephew’s willingness to work some 14 years previous. Oops.

Why are you killing yourself to clean the house and stay on top of meals when there’s so much free help living right under your roof? Let them earn their keep the old-school way.

Like the venerable Dear Abby once wrote, “If you want children to keep their feet on the ground, put some responsibility on their shoulders.”

You won’t just be doing yourself a favor by getting your kids in on the family chores, you’ll be ensuring you’re raising a kid who’s more likely to be a responsible, hardworking, unspoiled citizen — and we, the world, will thank you for it in the many years ahead.

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Steffani Cameron

Steffani Cameron is a Victoria BC-based writer on a variety of topics. Here on the BuildDirect blog, she specializes in writing about smaller, urban spaces. How do you make the most of your smaller space? How do you decorate it to suit you? And how do you wage the war against clutter and win? This is Steff’s specialty.