Chapter 7 Jobs and Chores

            It is essential that children learn how to work.  There was a time when children worked as a family necessity.  Their labor was needed to keep the home going and the family fed.  Home businesses or family farms were a major source of support for families and often parents added children to their families specifically to increase the amount of labor available.  Those days are largely gone.  Mechanization and electronic appliances now complete much of the work previously performed by children and young people at home and on the job.  The family farm is all but gone as farming has become big business and most food and goods are now purchased, not produced at home.  The need for children to work to support life has vanished, but the need for children to learn to work has not.  In adult life work is essential.  Adults in our society are expected to work to support themselves, feed and clothe themselves, clean up after themselves and take care of their other responsibilities.  It takes work to perform all of these necessary tasks, and the ability to work is not learned overnight.  Some children are natural born workers and will desire to work hard no matter what their environment, but this is the exception.  Most children need to be taught to work, and the way to learn to work, is to work.  It is essential for children to have jobs or chores around the house or in the yard.

            People have different ideas about what chores and jobs children should do, how often they should do them and what the reward should be for completing them.  As long as children learn to work doing jobs that are appropriate for their age and ability and still have plenty of time to learn, grow and play there are no wrong answers on how to do it.  I would, however, recommend that every parent think about their family policies about work and chores and the lessons they are teaching.  At times parents teach unintended lessons about work by their actions and family policies.  The following are considerations that parents should take into account when assigning jobs and planning family policies for chores.  Just as discipline is a shared responsibility between parents, so should be the assignment of jobs and chores.  Parents should take some time to look at the list below and carefully consider what policies they will adopt for family chores.

  • Compensation- As adults we have jobs which we must complete for which we receive compensation and we have those for which we don’t.  I go to my job everyday to receive a paycheck, however I do the dishes at home with no hope of being monetarily compensated.  Some families adopt a policy of compensating their children for all chores that they complete around the house, either intentionally or unintentionally.  If you dock your child’s allowance for not completing chores or always provide a reward or payment of some sort for all chores completed you are providing compensation.  Compensation is not a bad thing, and it can be very motivating, but children do need to learn that there are some things that just need to be done regardless of compensation.  No matter what methods you use to motivate your child to complete his chores do be sure that some chores are required with no guaranteed compensation.  These are jobs that need to be done because you are a member of the family, not because you get something.  One way to separate a reward from the chore is to develop a hierarchy that provides a reward for completing a job quickly, and then moves toward requiring a punishment if a chore is not completed within a specified amount of time.  This sends a message to the child that the chore will be done, however there are rewards for completing it in a timely manner.  It also instills and understanding of deadlines and gives children a sense of urgency.
  • Responsibility- It is important that you make your child’s jobs your child’s responsibility.  Most parents intend to make their child responsible for her chores; however many parents inadvertently take on the responsibility for completing the chore.  You will take on the responsibility for chore completion if you constantly remind your child to do his chores or if you nag or beg him.  Your child has the responsibility for chore completion if you give clear instructions with age appropriate reminders.  Very young children will need frequent, verbal reminders.  Older children and teens should be given a longer time frame, and can be given written reminders.  You should also see that an appropriate consequence is attached to completing or not completing the chore.  Most parents fall into the trap of taking over their child’s responsibility at some point in time.  We want our children to learn to listen to us and to complete assignments we give them right away.  And when they fail to do so we start to assert gentle pressure, which turns into not so gentle pressure.  On the next page is a list of phrases that parents use to encourage their children to complete their chores or assignments.  Some of the differences in the phrases in the two columns may seem very subtle, however they are important differences.  Look through the lists and see which type of phrases you normally use with your child.
Phrases that communicate that the adult is responsible for completion:Phrase that remind, but maintain the child as responsible:
“Did you hear what I said?  Put that away right now!“Remember, you had 3 minutes to put the toys away, and you have two left.
“I am going to come over there and make sure you do that if you don’t get busy right now!”“Let me know when you’re done and I will come check your work.”
“Why aren’t you doing your work?”“Do you need a reminder that you should be doing your work now?”
“How many times do I have to tell you to get busy?”“Is there a reason that your jobs aren’t done yet?”
“Do I have to do everything myself?”“Is there something I can do to help you get your work done on time?”
  • Motivation – We hope our children will be motivated to work just out of a sense of responsibility.  However, children need to be taught to be responsible so other motivators need to be instituted until children thoroughly gain a sense of responsibility.  Sometimes children are motivated by the natural consequences afforded by job completion (my room looks really nice when it is clean!); however more often than not parents need to provide a consequence.  Positive consequences are the best (see chapter 4 and 5 for more on positive consequences), however sometimes it is necessary to provide a negative consequence or a punishment. Remember that natural or logical consequences provide the best results, so try to find a consequence that logically connects to the tasks not completed.  One logical consequence that my husband and I instituted with our children was to invent a “monster”.  The monster was sewn from an old sheet into a giant cloth bag.  Permanent markers were used to draw a face on the monster with the mouth at the bottom near the opening.  When the children did not clean up their toys they were told that the monster would come to visit the room at a certain time.  He just loved toys, and if all the toys weren’t picked up he would have a yummy snack.  At the appointed time the monster came out and “ate” all the toys that were not put away.  The monster then went away to his hideout until the children earned their toys back.  They could earn the toys back by doing extra jobs or keeping the rest of their toys neat for a specified amount of time.  If you use this method be careful that you find a hideout for the monster that the kids can’t find, but where you will not forget about him.  Once our monster had such a good hiding place that we didn’t see him for many months.  When we found him again we realized that perhaps we had a few too many toys as most of them had not really been missed! 
  • How good is “good enough?”- One big conflict that parents often have with their children when they are completing tasks is the level of perfection required.  Of course the goal is for your child to complete a task well, however no one expects that a toddler will be able to perform at an adult level.  So what should a bed that is freshly made look like if it is made by a two-year old?  What about a five-year old?  Should the bed be made at a level that is similar to an adult at age ten, fourteen or older?  One thing parents need to realize is that each child is different.  Some children will be able to perform a task as well as their parents at eight-years of age, while others will still struggle as they leave for college.  Parents should develop a policy of knowing what their child’s “personal best” is.  They should make a goal of helping their child improve on his personal best as he grows and develops.  Parents should clearly communicate when the personal best is expected, and when a job can be done “just good enough.”  We’ve all heard the adage, “a job worth doing is a job worth doing well,” however none of us does a job perfectly every time.  Sometimes I wash my sink really well, scouring it with cleanser and cleaning the faucet and all the nooks and crannies.  But sometimes I settle for “just good enough” and just rinse it out with hot water to kill most of the germs.

One way that our family chose to deal with teaching our children to complete a job well while still being reasonable was to adopt Mondays as “perfect clean room days.”  Our children were expected to clean their rooms every day, but on Mondays the rooms were expected to be really clean.  Usually this translated into the children just straightening their rooms most days of the week to whatever level their age, ability and time constraints allowed them, and then doing a really good job of cleaning out corners, vacuuming and dusting on Mondays.  This would usually required help or direction from a parent to attain this level of cleanliness.  Therefore, parental time constraints were factored in when considering just how “perfect” a “perfect clean room” would be each week.  I had a friend who adopted a similar attitude, however she communicated her expectations by saying, “Clean your room to look like I had cleaned it.”  Her children knew what this meant, and they also knew that this level of perfection was not always expected.

  • Example- It is great for children to work; it is better for children to work with their parents.  When parents work alongside their children they teach them what an adult level of work looks like.  They teach them that camaraderie can come with work and they teach that work is a life-long activity.  Children need to see what an adult level of task completion looks like.  Do help your child bridge the gap between a child’s level and an adult level of work performance, however be careful not to insinuate that your child is not capable of good work by redoing their jobs.

Work does not have to be drudgery, and working with your child can teach him that work can be fun.  Wouldn’t you rather work alongside someone than all alone?  Your child is no different.  Work together and use the time to talk to your child and build a better relationship.

One mistake that parents of teens often make when it comes to work is that they believe that their teens can and should complete large amounts of manual labor without adult help.  It can be a real help to a family to have a nearly grown child to do some of the heavy tasks that parents no longer can or want to perform around the house or yard.  Be careful about assigning these jobs on a regular basis for your child to perform without adult assistance.  When older children and teens are left to work alone for long periods of time the message that they receive is that the hard work is for kids and adults do not need to work.  When you work with your child you send the message that you will continue to work as long as you are physically able, and you expect her to do the same.

            Once parents decide the values they want to teach through chores it is time to put the nuts and bolts in place.  Assigning and supervising chores can be a real nightmare for parents without good planning and tools.  There are many techniques that parents can use to assist them in assigning chores, helping their children keep track of chores and rewarding their children for completing chores on time.  Below are many different tools for each of these tasks that we have used with varying degrees of success.  Remember when choosing and using these tools that they are designed to make your life easier.  If your life is not easier with a specific technique modify it or don’t use it.  Also, remember the principle that change is good.  If you or your children get tired of a technique it is likely to lose its effectiveness.  Change or modify often to keep you all on your toes!

Job Assignment-

            If you have just one child in your family chances are this will not be a difficult task, but as soon as you have more than one child, job assignments are always an issue.  “The job that Johnny has is always easier than the one that I have, and Mom doesn’t make him do it as often as she does me!”  Parents should be fair about assigning chores, but they need to keep in mind that equal is not necessarily fair.  Some chores may be set, with one child always completing them, while others may be rotated by one method or another.  Do be careful about assigning chores by gender, but keep individual differences in mind.  Boys need to learn to cook and clean and girls can work in the yard, but as they get older the sheer physical size of a teenage boy may make his tasks different than his sister’s.  Also, don’t be afraid to let your children discuss and negotiate chores and job choices.  Discussions and negotiations should not be done, however, when the child is supposed to be doing the job.  If you child wants to discuss job assignment, see to it that assignments are completed first, then the discussion takes place for the next time. 

When our older children reached their teen years we found their opposition to the chores we chose for them and the rotation method we designed to be a problem.  We had a family council and I asked the kids for their recommendations.  We talked about the jobs and why it was important for them to be completed and we made some minor adjustments that fit their views better.  My oldest son then recommended that instead of rotating jobs in an orderly manner, that everyone got to draw their jobs from a stack.  I argued that this would mean that someone may get all hard jobs while someone got all easy ones, but the kids applauded the idea of the chance of getting easier jobs.  I figured that this was an idea that we would try for a week or two, and then when someone cried that they had the hard jobs over and over the kids would agree to abandon it.  I was wrong.  We eventually did some tweaking so that no one had the same job for more than two weeks in a row, but this job picking method persisted for some time.  Even when we had two adult aged kids and two high school kids in the house they still wanted to pick their jobs at random every time, and no one complained about the system.  They even made it fun by having their friends pick for them.

Whichever method you use try to keep it simple, and don’t be afraid to change as needed.  Your children will be much more likely to complete their jobs if they are real clear on exactly what the jobs are, when they should do them and if the picking or tracking system is one they like.  All of the systems below have been tried with varying degrees of success.  Some work for some ages and temperaments of children, and some are more successful with others.  Feel free to try one, or more than one.

  • Job Wheels- There are two basic ways of using a job wheel.  The first way is to use it to assign jobs to individual family members.  With this wheel family member’s names are placed on a circle at regular intervals, and jobs are written on an inner or outer circle that lines up with the name circle.  If more than one job is desired they can be written on a third circle that is smaller or larger than the other two.  The three circles are attached with a brad in the middle to form a wheel and each circle is turned to line up jobs with names.  Each circle can be laminated separately for durability.

The second way a wheel can be used for jobs is for each child to have their own wheel.  This method is not really a job picking wheel, but a way for children to keep track of their own tasks and what they have complete so far.  All jobs that a child should do each day are listed around the wheel.  These can include personal care tasks (like getting dressed, eating breakfast or brushing teeth) as well as household tasks.  You can either use a large circle with a cutout window that only shows one task at a time or a spinner that points to each job for your child to use the wheel.  Either device can be attached with a brad in the middle of the circle.

  • Job Sticks or Cards- Job sticks or cards can be used in many different ways and provide much flexibility.  You can make job cards out of old playing cards, index cards or pieces of construction paper.  Job sticks can be made from tongue depressors, popsicle sticks or stiff pieces of paper or cardboard cut into strips.  Jobs can be written on your cards or sticks and various methods can be used to assign jobs.

Job cards can be made that list jobs that all family members must do daily.  These cards can be put into a pocket chart or stuck to the refrigerator with magnetic clips and children can move them from the “assigned” space to the “completed” space as they finish them.  Job sticks can be kept in cups or cans that are labeled with family member’s names and different cups can be used to sort assigned and completed jobs.

Jobs can be assigned using cards or sticks and rotated in an orderly manner to each family member, or they can be randomly drawn.  Assignments can be done on a weekly basis, or a daily basis.  You can also assign different cards for weekly or daily jobs and have children choose these differently.  Below are ways that job sticks or cards have been used.  Take any of these ideas, or take bits and pieces of ideas to make a plan that will work for your family.

  • Big Kid, Little Kid Jobs– When we had children that were old enough to really start to do jobs well around the house, but still had preschool aged children, we found we needed different levels of jobs.  Cards were made on the computer (see sample and template in Appendix L) and then laminated for durability.  Each child had his or her own card with specific task that would need to be done every day.  In addition, cards were made with jobs that were rotated.  Listed on the cards were instructions as to how and when to complete the jobs.  Jobs cards were color-coded by how often and when jobs were done and labeled as a big kid job or little kid job.  The jobs were rotated between the children on a weekly basis.  The cards were kept in a pocket chart, with one pocket of each child representing jobs that needed to be completed and one pocket for jobs that were complete.  A quick glance would tell us who had done their jobs and who had not.
  • Daily & Weekly Free Pick– We found that it was always best assigning jobs for daily and weekly jobs.  Some jobs needed to be done every day and others only needed to be completed once or twice a week.  When I made jobs sticks or cards I made daily and weekly jobs different sizes or colors to easily differentiate between them.  One way to assign jobs is a free pick each day or week that jobs are done.  This can be an interesting and motivating way to get children to do their individual work and to be excited about their jobs.  The way this works is that job sticks or cards are created for each job that needs to be done around the house.  When house work needs to be done cards or sticks are placed in a central location for each job that must be completed that day.  Children are told that they will need to complete a certain amount of jobs that day, but that their individual chores will need to be completed first.  As children complete their individual chores they can choose the job they want to do, or you can have them draw blindly.
  • Work Day/ Fun Day– This is a good tactic to use if your children have a day off of school and there is time for both work and play.  The chores can be the usual family chores, or extra big chores that need to be completed.  If the family is working on an extra big job, such as spring cleaning or a large amount of yard work, it may be best to break the work into little jobs and put each job on a card.  Job cards or sticks are laid out and children are told that all these jobs need to be done today, but when they are complete the family will have a fun outing.  Children then work cooperatively to complete the jobs before the day is out.  Children work best with this method if a specific time period is given to complete the chores and a parent guides the work and gives appropriate reminders of how the work is progressing.

Job Tracking-

            Not only is it a good idea to have an organized system to assign chores, it is also helpful to have a system to keep track of job completion.  A job wheel (described above) works well for young children and many children love to move job cards or sticks in a pocket chart or in cups.  As children get older they will need a more sophisticated method of job tracking.  Job charts have many different forms and can be used many different ways.  You can use an individual chart for each child that lasts for up to a week or a family chart.  Charts can be printed out on a piece of paper, drawn in a notebook or created on a whiteboard.  All types of charts have advantages and disadvantages.  Below is a list of types of charts that you can try with your family.  If one doesn’t work well change it so it works better, or you may want to try another.  Your children will be more likely to continue to be interested in whatever system you use if you use variety and don’t try to stick with the same thing forever.

  • Family Daily Chart– This was a method that I used for a long time to varying degrees with my children.  It worked best with kids of preschool age through early high school, but I occasionally used this method with my older high school and adult aged children.  This method is best if you have several children and you want them to complete many similar jobs and tasks.  For a lot of years we had a large whiteboard in our living room that we used as a chart.  I drew a grid on the board with a wide column on the left side to write children’s names and a deep row across the top to write job titles.  You can make your grid semi-permanent by using wet erase markers to draw the grid and write the names and use dry erase markers for the children to mark with.  A permanent grid can be made with permanent markers or with colored tape.

Each day I used this chart I would draw my grid and write the children’s names on the left column and the tasks they needed to complete across the top.  Tasks included everything they needed to complete that day, including personal care tasks (brushing teeth, getting dressed, etc.), personal jobs (make bed, put breakfast bowl in the dishwasher) and things they needed to do for activities outside of the home (practice the piano, do homework).  Jobs were usually listed as a category instead of a specific job so that each column could be used for each child (example: red jobs, daily jobs or trash jobs).  If there was a column for which a child did not have a task or job I would put a mark in that box to designate that it did not need to be done.  As the children completed their jobs they would put in X in the box so I could quickly scan down the list to see who needed to do what.  The children loved to use the whiteboard markers and mark what they had completed.

When my children grew older I used this same method with a spiral notebook.  This notebook was our family message center and each day I would open the notebook and use two facing pages for family communication.  On the right hand page I would draw the job grid and list jobs that needed to be done that day.  With this method I would write the children’s initials across the top row and jobs down the side column.  On the left page I would write any announcements for the family and important scheduled events.  At the bottom of the announcement page was a space for family member to write phone messages or other communications for each other.  This method worked very well when I had older children living at home who could all read.  Children had an easy reminder of what needed to be done and I could easily scan down the list to see who had completed their work.  It also helped our family communication to have everything in one place.  Every family member was required to read the spiral each day and was responsible for the content listed there.  On the next day I would turn the page of the spiral and we would use the back of our chart for our announcement page and the facing page for a new job chart.  Using this method of communication and job tracking allowed us to have a record of communications and jobs kept in a safe and orderly manner.  This allowed us to go back and look for phone numbers, other important communications or to see who did what job on which date.

  • Personal Weekly Chart– Personal charts were usually on paper and we used a computer to print them (see Appendix J).  This aided reproduction of the chart and made it easy to personalize each chart for individual children.  We used personal charts for all ages of children.  When our youngest were preschool aged we used pictures to illustrate the chart rather than words so that they could chart their own tasks and progress. 

This method worked best when we had a specific place to keep the chart so that it would not get lost.  When our children were young we had a large artist’s clipboard that we used to keep charts for the entire family.  This large clipboard held several pieces of paper and was too large to lose, although small enough to move around the house as needed.  As our children got older and more responsible we moved to individual clipboards with individual charts.  Children were required to mark their own chart each day, and incentives of some sort were normally associated with keeping the chart marked (see chapter 5 for more on token economies). 

Most individual charts that we used had space for a week’s worth of jobs, so this method had the advantage over family charts of only needing to be produced once a week.  This type of chart is especially good if you are linking children’s privileges, such as computer use or TV viewing time, to jobs completed.  Some of the charts we used were specifically designed to give points to use towards such purposes.  One disadvantage of this method was that it was more difficult for us to see what each child had completed.  We had to look at each chart to see what had been done instead of just looking down one list.

  • Job Procedure Charts- When I go into a department store I often see a chart posted inside the restroom door listing when the restroom was last cleaned and what tasks were completed during that cleaning.  When several people take turns with the same assignment record keeping is important so that all know what needs to be done, what was done and when it was completed.  With this concept in mind I developed a Bathroom Cleaning Procedures check sheet (see page Appendix D).  This check sheet specifically lists each bathroom cleaning task that needs to be completed.  It also provides a checklist for the child to check off each item as it is completed.  This has been an excellent teaching tool and resources for my family.  It gives specific directions for each task so there is no debate on what I mean when I ask if the bathroom has been cleaned.  It also provides an ongoing record of who cleaned the bathroom last and what they did.

This type of tool could also be used for other similar tasks.  Children work best with small, specific tasks.  A checklist could be provided for room cleaning (with tasks such as pick up toys or put dirty clothes in hamper listed) or for large tasks that are done infrequently.

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