The start of chores!

I am totally thrilled to finally have put a chore system in place. I’ve heard about it from other parents, seen their complex rewards systems or listened to how their kids pack their own lunches and so on, and just thought about how great it would be… But until recently, I kept feeling like, with my kids ages and my limited time, it was too difficult. Not that our kids don’t already help out around the house – just, as of yet, not in a systematic way.

My concerns of putting a full fledged system in place were…


  • How can my 3 year old participate?
  • How can I stay on top of the requirements and enforce that the chores are done without an unreasonable amount of  enforcement work?
  • Would we need rewards or discipline attached to the chores?

Lately, I’ve been taking care of household duties and thought about how much free time the kids have to play, and that they have it way too easy… I am sure I was putting away dishes, cleaning toilets, vacuuming floors and folding laundry by the time I was 8. So a new questions has become, how could I not put something in place?

I am an all-in or not-at-all gal in a lot of ways. I don’t like to set up new routines at home until I’ve thought them thoroughly through and explained to the kids how its going to work, what my expectations are, etc. Yes, this can make me slower sometimes to implement changes, but I’ve been a lot more inspired lately for change after our summer abroad.

Our new chore system, for our kids age 3,5 & 8

Shared chore time vs. individual time

I always did my chores, as a child, based on requirements for a deadline or because it was “my night for the dishes.” So the idea of shared chore time was something new I hadn’t thought much about until I read about it recently and thought this might be just what we needed. Shared chore time means that there’s a certain time when everyone (or whoever is participating) does their chores at once. This would help out a lot in our household, since the kids spend so much time playing together it’s hard to pick one off to have them take care of something.

I gave the kids the choice – we’d either use a weekend morning or Wednesday afterschool as the kids “chore time.” They chose Wednesday – which was perfect because then I wouldn’t have to deal with shuffling it around weekend activities and that is a day that the kids are all home and there are no after school activities to compete with.

Should we pay or otherwise reward them for the chores?

I agree with many who contend that a certain amount of chores should have intrinsic value, and therefore it is best not to attach a monetary reward to the chore so that kids are able to accept them as their contribution to the household. My concern, of course, was how would I get them to do the chore, or what would we do if they didn’t do it? I decided, however, that given there would be shared chore time, I wouldn’t need to “entice them” to do the chores because they’d all be doing it at once. This worked out great.

How do we enforce that the chores are done?

The consequence of not doing their chore, I told them, was that they wouldn’t get to play video games, which they are allowed to do for 30 minutes each day, until their chore was done – be it that day or the next day they would lose all video game privileges until their work was done. Video games may be viewed as a negative activity in some households, and I get that, but in our house its the privilege we use or revoke based on almost everything we want to enforce or discourage. It’s our form of candy and I don’t know what we’d do without it.

What do we ask them to do?

IMG_1195I created a short list of chores I felt like they could help with, and told them that each week they could pick one. I knew that the potential could be that 2 children would pick the same chore, so I made it clear that they each had to do their own, they couldn’t share one. In the event of a dispute over who gets what chore, we have a rotating order of which child gets first and second pick each week. Yes, it sounds overboard, but you learn fast as a mom of 3 kids how to avoid disputes before they every start.

What about the 3 year old?

IMG_7541I made sure to put many things on the list that she wanted to do, but I also knew that I was going to be need to be available for her and all 3 kids, for some time, while they did their chores to help out. I also told the kids that if there was something they’d like to help with that wasn’t on the list, they could suggest it and I’d let them know if it was acceptable. This came in really handy when the 3 year old wanted to wash the front door. Clearly, I don’t expect much production value out of her, so I was just happy that she found something I could say yes to.

Had we asked them to do chores before?

We had given them a bit to do, here and there, by asking the kids to help out around the house, but it was more of a casual request system where we’d ask them to set the table, clear the table, clean up their rooms, etc.  just based on need. I also had experimented by listing some optional chores they could do to earn money (albeit it was only a quarter per chore) and see what they would take on. But, they rarely took initiative with these extra chores and I was sensing the need for more.

What did the kids think?

Well, I gave them time to be ready for it. I told them a week ago we’d be starting a chore system this week. And, since school just started, they are in a mode where new things are pretty normal, so it was a good time to start. When they’ve helped out with household duties in the past, I’ve noticed they actually seem to like it a quite a bit. Often, when they would help with one thing, they would finish it and then ask for another. Plus, they love to use cleaning spray bottles. Hence, the choices they made for this week’s chores all involved spray bottles. We may have more trouble when we run out of surfaces to dust and windows that need to be washed in the coming weeks!

They certainly accepted the responsibility without any hesitation. All in all, I’d say they did enjoy their chores and it went quite smoothly.

So, what I’d been putting off for a long time has finally become something I can happily enjoy. This week already we have dusted furniture and sparkling windows that normally go far too long between cleanings. With our new system in place, I am looking forward to more cleaning as my helpers grow older and more capable.