Family Work: Whose Job is It?

Contributed by Jody McVittie, MD

When I grew up everyone in our family had jobs to do. Many of them were centered around our family dinners (setting the table, clearing the table, washing the dishes, sweeping the floor). Other family jobs included feeding pets and taking care of the garbage (this was in the days before recycling.) I don’t remember “loving” these “chores” but I do remember that they were part of what each of us did to contribute to the family.

Having children routinely contribute to the family helps them understand what it takes to make things happen in a community and gives them a sense of value, responsibility and capability. Do your children have regular family jobs? Here are some hints to get you going:

Family jobs are family jobs – work that benefits all. Picking up toys and making beds don’t count.

Take time for training. Think about what the job involves and teach your child what the job “well done” looks like. Do your best to do this by asking questions instead of telling. What does it look like when the table is set well? Do you know where everything goes? What else needs to be on the table?

Regular jobs are a great place to start. Jobs that are done regularly (every day) are easier to learn and remember than jobs that are done once a week. (More opportunity to practice)

Children appreciate having some choice and variety in the work that they do. Some families rotate jobs on a weekly basis, some families pick chores from a jar each morning. You choose what works for your family.

Be willing to trade. Sometimes kids just get tired of their job and want a day off. It is fun to be able to trade. “Don’t want to clear the table? Will you do my job of (cleaning the kitty litter/folding laundry etc) instead? Great! I’ll trade for today.”

You will need to remind your children about their jobs. Remember that your children are learning responsibility. They don’t have it yet. Your job is to provide kind and firm reminders. It is helpful to have agreements in advance about what time the job will be done so that you can let the “routine be the boss.” “It is time to set the table.” “It is eight o’clock. What was our agreement?”

Do not pay children for their regular jobs. Family work is something that everyone does because they are part of the family – not because they get paid. It is important to learn that we do things because we are part of a group and because it is the right thing to do. Not everything we do is tied to a “reward.” Allowance is also something you get for being part of the family – but the two are not linked. If you want to make arrangements for opportunities to earn “extra money” by doing special jobs that is different.

Doing family work together is more fun. Whether you are cleaning up after dinner or doing a family house clean up it is more fun when everyone (including parents) are involved. Put on some music and enjoy each other. Family work doesn’t always need to be serious.

Ideas for age appropriate family work:
Age 2 ½ -3: Help put away groceries (lower shelves),run hand held vacuum over crumbs, stack newspapers or magazines, sort silverware into drawer

Age 4 – 5 (the above and…) Prepare simple breakfast, learn to set and clear table, take out garbage, help cook (add ingredients to simple recipe), cut vegetables with supervision, get mail, help do yard work, feed pets, sweep floor,bring in firewood,separate white and colored laundry,empty waste baskets, household “energy” czar (remind others to turn of lights etc.)

Age 6 – 7 (the above and…) water plants, pull weeds, set table properly, take pet for a walk, help change beds,put dishes in dishwasher

Age 8-9 (the above and…)prepare school lunches, help cook family meals,scrub bathtub, clean up after animals,rake yard, operate washer and dryer

Age 10-12 (the above and…) cook meals for the family, yard work, mow grass

Teens (the above and…) car maintenance, heavier yard work, computer help.

Another resource: Lynn Lott and Riki Intner’s book Chores without Wars is a great place to go for more information.

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