Whistling While We Work: On Kids and Chores

January 13th, 2015 by Dionna | 13 Comments
Posted in Carnival and Special Series, Carnival of Natural Parenting, Consensual Living, Just for Fun/Miscellaneous, My Family

Welcome to the January 2015 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Household Chores

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have shared stories, tips, and tricks on tackling household chores. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.


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My kids have always helped pick up their toys, and they will do tasks as we assign them, but they’ve never had regular “chore” expectations.

In talking to several other parents about what kind of responsibilities their kids have (doing their own laundry, picking up dog poop in the yard, putting dishes away), I realized I was doing my children a disservice in not asking them to share more household responsibilities.

I also realized that I often feel resentful when I’m carrying more than my share of the household load. And that’s not fair to anyone.

And so several weeks ago, I brought a laundry basket full of napkins, wipes, and socks upstairs and unceremoniously dumped it on the floor in between Kieran and Ailia.

“Time to help mama fold clothes!” I said in my most cheery voice. They did not protest initially, but about halfway through the basket I lost Ailia to a solitary game of peekaboo, and Kieran started whining about how hard it was. After some cajoling, and then warning both that they would not get screen time until they finished helping, they finally (and very begrudgingly) got it all folded.

Since then, I’ve added other age-appropriate tasks to their daily grind: putting away silverware, feeding the dog, setting and clearing the table, putting away groceries, etc. These are all things they’ve helped with in the past, but the expectation has changed to have help every day.

Do they help cheerfully and willingly the first time I ask? Not always.

But I don’t do the dishes with a smile on my face after every single meal either. The very definition of a “chore” is “a dull, unpleasant, or difficult job or experience.” I don’t expect them to Snow White the socks or Cinderella the windows.

Do I threaten consequences if they do not comply? I try hard not to.

I don’t want to make a habit of holding screen time over their heads, because what happens when they decide they don’t care about getting screen time? Threatening consequences only works as long as the kids care about those consequences. What is more important to me is helping my kids create a habit of helping around the house. Not only does it help make our family more harmonious (and makes mama a more peaceful person), it builds a life skill that will always serve them well.

So instead of consequences, I pitch in – helping them shows them I care and understand their oh-so-awful plight. I’ve also tried to lighten the mood around chores. For example, as Tom read Snow White to the kids at bedtime one night, he commented on how silly the animals look helping Snow White clean: bunnies and squirrels dusting and polishing with their fluffy tails. The kids were cracking up! I’ve used that visual to my advantage during chore time, encouraging them to “be bunnies.” Laughter makes dull, unpleasant jobs much easier.

Nor do I demand immediate compliance. Letting them help in their own time shows them that I respect their interests and time, and it doesn’t create a sense of stress and panic. Stressing them out with a sense of hurry always backfires.

Do I expect perfection? Not at all.

I expect them to try, but I know that their end result is going to look different than mine. And I’ve made myself be ok with that (although my inner perfectionist dies a little with every haphazardly-folded towel we put away).

They’re doing chores that are challenging to them, and there’s a learning curve. If I gave them the easiest, dullest jobs, they’d cry from boredom. I’d rather give them responsibilities that they have to think about.

We’re about two weeks into this change, and I already feel better about the division of household labor.

What about you – what do your kids do to help at home, and how old are they?

How have you helped them remember to contribute to household responsibilities?

If you’re looking for resources on how to help kids learn to help around the house, I love 6 Reasons Kids Don’t Help Around the House, and What You Can Do About It from Dr. Markham at AhaParenting.


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama

Visit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

  • Seven Tips for Decluttering with Your Clutterbug — Do you have a child with hoarder tendencies? Help them declutter before the Legos and stuffed animals take over your home. Charlie of Three Blind Wives, guest posting at Natural Parents Network, offers some expert advice.
  • Chores, Chores, ChoresLife Breath Present talks about how her family divides chores, and how Baby Boy joins in to keep their home clean and running smoothly.
  • Of Toddlers & Housework — Holly at Leaves of Lavender talks about some of the ways she lets her not-quite-3-year-old son help out around the house.
  • Whistling While We Work: On Kids and Chores — Dionna at Code Name: Mama realized recently that she often feel resentful when she carries more than her share of the household load. And so several weeks ago, she brought a laundry basket upstairs and had the kids start folding. Thus began a regular series of household responsibilities for her kids.
  • The 4-Day Laundry Plan — Becca at The Earthling’s Handbook doesn’t machine-dry all of her cloth diapers, but she stays sane while also working full-time outside the home. She’s sharing her tips!
  • Chores Don’t Have To Be Drudgery — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama discusses how she gets the whole family motivated in the daily care and maintenance of maintaining a home. After all, chores do not have to be drudgery.
  • Morning Chores and Weekly Chores — Kellie at Our Mindful Life can get anything done, so long as she gets her morning chores – and her weekly chores – done!
  • A place for everything and everything in its place — Make it easy to tidy up by having just enough stuff for the space you have. Lauren at Hobo Mama talks about this goal in her own home and gives tips on how to achieve it in yours.
  • Cleaning With Essential Oils — What essential oils could add a boost to your cleaning routine? That Mama Gretchen has a round up of what you might like to consider!
  • Montessori-Inspired Sweeping Activities — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now tells how her children helped keep their house clean and shares ideas for Montessori-inspired sweeping activities.
  • 9 Natural Cleaning Recipes for New Mamas — Dionna of Code Name: Mama, guest posting at Mama & Baby Love, shares recipes for safer, natural homemade cleaners that parents can make with ingredients they trust. Leave a comment on the post for a chance to win a copy of Homemade Cleaners – a book packed with tons of natural cleaner recipes!

13 Responses to:
"Whistling While We Work: On Kids and Chores"

  1. Life Breath Present   LB_Present

    I actually wonder how much I’ll “give up” as Baby Boy grows older, though I do recognize how unhappy I feel when it seems I’m doing so much and neither Hun or Baby Boy are doing much of anything. I think the two easiest things for me to remember is to voice when I feel like I’m working so much and to ask for help. Also, it’s quite possible that letting Baby Boy help out (though I’m not good on the not hurrying part you mentioned) early helps me to know that I can ‘let go’ of tasks (or portions of tasks) at some point in the future.

    The folding though, that might take me an awfully long time lol :)

    • I really liked something Jennifer/Hybrid Rasta Mama said in her post today. That getting upset about not getting help *right this moment* is her choice. Remembering that, consciously acknowledging that this task is *my* priority, helps me breathe.

  2. Instead of consequences for my crew, I try hard to remind them of what is going to happen if they don’t help – and sometimes that means rightthisminute. At breakfast, for example, they often have to help butter and jelly the 2 babies’ pancakes, while I finish cooking for the rest of us. I will remind them, if they are fussing about helping, that if I have to come help, it will take longer before they get to finish their breakfast because it won’t be cooked yet. Also, if I don’t eat in a timely manner, I turn into a “grumpy bear”, and no one wants that. So I’m not threatening to not make their breakfast, but I am helping them to remember that I cannot do 2 things at once, and if they want their breakfast quickly, and me to not dissolve in tears over not getting my breakfast, they need to help.

    I can often find a similar example for whatever I am asking them to help with. “I hear that you don’t want to help fold the diapers and wipes, but I know that you CAN, help to fold them. And if you help, then I will have more time to read you a book when we are all finished.”

    I’m glad you’ve been able to find some more balance with the kids and the chores! I do think that it helps the kids out to learn how to do things, too. And as far as the haphazard folding goes, mine have learned from putting the towels away themselves that if they are neatly folded, they are easier to stack. ;)

    • Yeah, I need to have something that comes *after* the cleaning. We read books, or we play a board game – something that they know there is a limited time for. Good suggestions!

    • Kate

      But those are consequences, in fact they’re “natural consequences” which are the most effective ones imho because they actually connect directly to the behavior. For example when my daughter was younger (like 18 m to 2.5) she really hated getting into her carseat but she did love to go places. I’d just remind her that if she didn’t get into her seat than we wouldn’t be able to go to *insert place here* and she’d settle right down. It did require going back into the house a few times for the lesson to stick but it was worth it.

  3. I think you’re on the right track! My son was great at helping with chores when he was a toddler and preschooler, but when he started kindergarten and had to be up early and therefore go to bed early, he seemed to have NO TIME at home (although he was actually home the same number of hours) and we slid away from expecting him to do much. When we tried to start again, it was rocky because we felt he was old enough to do chores independently, but he’s a very sociable person who hates to be alone, so he resisted.

    Just before beginning this school year, when we were adjusted to the new baby and my being back to work, we all sat down and discussed what Nicholas is ABLE to do and what he ENJOYS doing enough to do it alone each week. We settled on 4 chores, one for each day Monday-Thursday. He has to do his chore and homework before he can have screen time. Since I’m still at work when he gets home from school, I emphasized to his father that he DOES need supervision/company and it is NOT developmentally appropriate to expect him to keep up his responsibilities all on his own while his father ignores him. (Some kids can do that by 4th grade, but it’s not usual.) This has worked out pretty well. The one thing that didn’t work was a fifth chore to be done “sometime during the weekend”–he always said, “Later…” and we got tired of nagging. Lesson: The time to do a chore needs to be specific and clear.

    P.S. I love your daughter’s hairstyle!

    • Amen to the developmentally appropriate expectations! Kieran currently gripes at me because he folds more than Ailia does. I keep reminding him that he’s also 3 years older, and that he would have done the same thing at her age. The trials and tribulations of the oldest, right?!
      And thank you – she rarely lets me put her hair up, but I’ve convinced her to let me clip it back most meal times (so she doesn’t drag it in her food – yuck!), and they happened to do laundry right after breakfast. I think she pulled the clip out right after this picture ;)

  4. It’s hard to get started, but you are doing a good thing by getting your kids involved! Household chores are everybody’s responsibility, and not only does this reduce the load that you are personally carrying, but you are preparing them for their own future homes. I know I sometimes wish my own parents had given me chores; figuring out how to do everything around my own home has been a learning experience for me, and I’ve been very thankful for the Internet to help me figure out the best ways to manage things. Definitely do not plan on making the same mistake with my own son; he helps with what he can now (primarily laundry, dishes, and general tidying up), and we’ll be adding more to his list as he gets older. :)

    • I didn’t have a ton of chores growing up either. I remember that, once I got about high school age, I was expected to do the dinner dishes, but I can’t remember anything else that was really regular.
      The other day, Kieran picked up a broom and swept the kitchen without being asked, so I think we’re on the right track already :)

  5. Lauren @ Hobo Mama   Hobo_Mama

    You have that song stuck in my head! :)

    This carnival is really inspiring me to consider again how we can include the kids in some sort of daily/weekly rhythm of chores. We ask for help, but sporadically. Probably because we’re sporadic about chores ourselves, and I’d like to have things be more intentional. (Notice I didn’t write about actual chores for the carnival because I couldn’t figure out what to say beyond, “We’re terrible at this,” heh heh.)

    I love the idea of having the kids sort & fold laundry, because that’s my least favorite task ever… ;)

    • Sporadic – that’s just the right word to describe my requests! But really, for the last few weeks, I’ve been having them do more and more regularly. I think it’s working :)

  6. Stephanie   mamaandbabylove

    Man, after reading Leaves and Lavendar and your post, I really need to get Penelope to help around the house more! By the way, the kids look adorable! They are so big now! I can’t believe Kieran was a tiny babe when we e-met!

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