Lexi and Nick Schneider, 8-year-old twins, are used to doing chores around their Grand Forks, N.D., home — they’ve been doing them for half of their lives.
Nick takes out the trash and recycling, and Lexi helps with laundry, said their mom, Kristine Schneider. They both vacuum-clean.
“They don’t always readily do their chores,” she said, “but they know it has to be done. They just know it’s expected of them.”
When the twins were about 4, Schneider posted a list of daily tasks the twins were supposed to do, such as picking up their toys and clearing their plates from the table.
For each completed “job,” they earned a star on the “chore chart.” To motivate them, she kept a basket of “prizes,” including toys and books.
How parents approach the idea of having kids do chores varies with each family and may be changing in American households, said Dawnita Nilles, a doctoral student in the University of North Dakota’s Department of Teaching and Learning.
It raises questions about which tasks, if any, children should do and whether payment or other rewards should be given.
When raising kids, some parents follow the example they grew up with, Nilles said. Others do, too, but with modification. Some don’t require their kids to do chores at all.
Schneider said she “absolutely” did chores growing up. “But I was never compensated for it.”
Her husband, Joe, was compensated for mowing the lawn and taking out the trash.
Unlike parents of the past, parents today may have different expectations about chores, Schneider said. “It’s not so much that kids today [are required] to do less chores but that kids are busier. My kids are involved in more activities than I was at their age.”
Generally, child development experts confirm that “chores are definitely a benefit to young kids,” Nilles said. “I haven’t come across any drawbacks.”
Parents can introduce this concept of chores even at 16 months old, for example, “by helping them put all their blocks away,” she said. “You can start as soon as they begin asking questions and wanting to help. I’m a big believer in following cues from the child.”
Doing chores gives children “a sense of responsibility, of being a member of a family,” she said, “and it’s an authentic way of learning how a household runs.”
Jennifer Dame’s three daughters — ages 3 to 10 — have been doing chores since they were old enough to start putting toys away. Her daughters are responsible for tasks such as doing dishes, putting away their laundered clothes, vacuuming, cleaning bathrooms and taking out garbage.
She and her husband, Patrick, do not pay their children for doing chores, she said. “We tell them, ‘These are things we have to do to live in the house.’ ”
Among the lessons to be learned is seeing things through to completion, Nilles said. “It’s not as fun to put toys away, but [doing so] goes a long way to developing lifelong habits. Putting toys away completes the act of playing — that’s what you’re teaching.”
With these lessons, children learn “there’s value to work, to a job well done. They have a sense of fulfillment. They’re proud of that,” she said. “It’s a huge piece when you think about labor in life.”
In the field of child development, there’s a range of opinion about whether parents should pay children for doing chores, Nilles said. “You want children to learn about money management, saving and budgeting, but where do they get the money to do that?”
She said that “especially for an older child [payment] can certainly be a benefit, but you also want to instill in kids that sense of family. There’s kind of a double edge.”
With children who receive an allowance that’s tied to chores, parents should emphasize, “ ‘These are the things you’re expected to complete,’ but they’re not paying, per se, for working around the house.”
But they may have extra tasks that they offer to hire the child to do, she said. “This is particularly good to teach them that their time is valuable and is worth something, and that their skills have value, as well.”
As far as today’s parents having kids doing fewer chores, Dame said she sees society moving to “somewhere in the middle.”
Choosing chores that are appropriate to the child’s age is important, said Nilles.
“We don’t expect a 4-year-old to fully fill a dishwasher, but they can put their own dish in there,” she said. “It’s about knowing what they’re capable of doing and matching those tasks to the child’s age.”
Nilles recommends that parents initially show their child how to do the task, she said. “Don’t expect the child to figure things out on their own.”
And be specific, she said. “Rather than telling them ‘Clean your room,’ explain what that means and guide them through the task. It means something different in each family.
If a child becomes extremely frustrated with a task, he or she is not ready to do it or needs more guidance from the parent, she said.
It’s unwise to complete the task yourself, she said. “If you finish the task for them, you undermine your ultimate goal.”
Nilles suggests that families do chores together, because “it furthers that sense of community and membership in a family. And it’s a good way to get kids to work together.”
It demonstrates to kids that “we all do chores to get them done, and then we can go out and do what we want as a family.”
“The ultimate goal of a parent is raising a young person who’s going to be a productive member of society,” she said. “At the same time, you don’t want to rush it.”