Should kids have chores in gentle parenting?
My answer is yes.
The practical importance of chores, like alleviating pressure on parents and keeping a clean home, is essential to keep ourselves sane and healthy.
As a mom of 5, I cannot keep up with everything on my own. And I shouldn’t have to.
So my kids do chores. And yours should, too.
Should kids have chores in gentle parenting: The Goal of Chores
Our goal is not to altogether remove the burden of household work from the parents, only to lighten it.
And it is not the have an immaculate home because kids will take years to learn and master all the skills needed to keep a home to that standard.
The goals of giving kids chores are to teach them to love and seek out cleanliness, learn practical cleaning skills and give them necessary mental skills like planning and self-control.
How Can We Meld Gentle Parenting and Kid’s Chores?
We have to enforce cleanliness limits while also understanding their development to adjust our expectations.
As children grow, their ability to understand does, too. Executive functioning skills are essential skills like breaking a complicated task into simple ones.
We can use chores to grow these critical mental skills without creating conflict.
Conflict over Chores! Where does it come from?
Most families feel some type of conflict over chores. We can analyze where these conflicts come from and work around their origins to prevent them.
Parent’s Side of the Conflict: My Experience
My kids are always here as a homeschooler, so our house can get messy fast.
And I have noticed that when I am in a hurry, I don’t have a lot of patience when my kids.
The same goes for if I am stressed about something else.
Because of these observations, I don’t do chores with my kids when I am upset or in a hurry. It can wait. But I may hurt my relationship with my kids over something as silly as the dishes.
I have also noticed that if I am apprehensive about one task, I am not as patient or understanding as I should be.
So I have learned that if I keep a cleaning rotation or routine, I don’t stress about getting chores done because I know they will come back around.
After watching my kids do chores, I have noticed that their side of the conflict usually comes from 3 sources:
- Wanting to finish a task
- Short attention span
Laziness is never something that I see. I believe that laziness doesn’t exist. Kids love to be busy. And they will try most things if you make it easy for them.
Like I said above, the key to being a gentle parent and getting your kids to do chores is to understand how their minds work.
Wanting to Finish a Task
We all hate being interrupted. So as a gentle parent, I make sure that I give my kids transition warnings before I expect them to do chores. I usually start chores right after eating because they haven’t started a new task, and I know they won’t be distracted by hunger.
It is effortless for kids to get overwhelmed because they can’t break tasks down into simple steps.
For example, a kid looking at a full sink of dishes feels overwhelmed because they don’t know that the key to finishing is to put one dish into the appliance at a time.
This is why I will help my kids by breaking tasks down verbally and VISUALLY for them.
For example, I will tell one, “We are going to clean the living room. Pick up all the laundry and put it in a pile here.” And point to a specific spot where you want them to put the laundry.
And I factor age and ability into my instructions. So for my preschoolers, I will point out and describe the location of the pieces of laundry. “Pick up that blue shirt beside the couch.”
The last primary source of conflict I find is kids’ short attention span.
Toddlers and preschoolers are only capable of working for short periods. I expect mine to do about 20 minutes worth of work on a good day. On a bad day, I know it will be less. This is the age to focus on building a habit of cleanliness rather than teaching them cleaning skills.
School-age kids can be given more responsibility even if we can’t expect them to work for much longer than toddlers and preschoolers. This age is good for teaching them to break complex tasks down into small ones and more straightforward cleaning tasks like sweeping and loading appliances like dishwashers.
Teens can work for a bit longer, but I never expect mine to work for longer than an hour, and that’s on a good day. And by this age, I teach mine to do more complicated cleaning that requires more attention to detail.
Please take this advice as a general guideline. Each child is unique. Even beyond that understanding, a child will have different capabilities on different days because of stress and rest.
Why Not Avoid Chores and Conflict?
First, parents can’t do it all. We need help. And it’s ok to admit that. Even stay-at-home moms struggle with getting everything done with kids coming behind us and undoing all our work.
Second, doing chores as a family frees up time for activities everyone can enjoy. More family fun time? Yes, please.
Third, keeping the house clean together fosters a sense of teamwork and community. This bond is a great way to teach our kids that more can be accomplished together than alone. I want my kids to understand that we can do more together than working alone.
Fourth, it teaches them that those short tasks create significant results if we work on something every day.
Fifth, there is scientific evidence that doing chores in kindergarten is associated with more engagement in prosocial activities like schoolwork, social activities, and friendships in 3rd grade.
Sixth, by avoiding chores, we allow our kids to grow up without cultivating strong executive functioning skills and essential practical skills like washing dishes and cleaning their clothes.
Last, life is work, and we must give our kids the opportunity to realize how hard that work is. They have to experience the need for consistency in things like keeping the dishes clean to fully realize just how much effort life is.
How to Gently Approach Chores
The gentle parent enforcing chores will look very different from an authoritative parent.
First, we must never forget that a clean home is not the ultimate goal of having our kids do chores. Yes, that is a nice effect, but it will be well into their teens before our kids can clean to our standards.
The goal is to teach our kids to love cleanliness and have all the skills they need to keep a clean home as adults.
Next, we must start encouraging cleanliness from birth.
That means talking to our youngest baby about the importance of a clean environment. I’ve told my kids things like, “I’m picking up these toys, so no one falls over them,” and, “We have to wash this blanket because it got wet and could make us sick if we sleep under it.”
Explain to them why we do each chore, and you can even narrate the cleaning as you do it.
Third, meet your child where they are on any given day. Wondering what this looks like for toddlers? Read this to see how I get my toddlers to clean.
If your child is tired and cranky, expect less of them.
And use those days to emphasize the importance of making chores a habit. Tell them something like, “I see you are having a hard day. Let’s just do this one easy task so we can keep building our habit of cleaning.”
If they seem excited and want so independence, give it to them. Leave them to work on something and come back in a few minutes to assess progress.
Fourth, use tools to hack those executive function skills.
A timer is a great tool to help kids focus when they feel overwhelmed. You can use it to create a game. For example, my kids love to race against the clock to see if they can get their chores done before it beeps.
Lists are another great tool to encourage executive function skills. Use lists to break up big, general tasks into small, quickly done jobs for littles. For kids that are not yet reading, use pictures.
And older kids can use lists to ensure they are thorough. PRINTABLE
Alarms are another great tool to encourage kids to get their chores done. We can set the alarm to remind kids to start a task or to warn kids that chores are almost done.
Fifth, match the jobs to our kids’ abilities and interests. For example, don’t assign a child to clean an area they can’t reach or give a tedious job to a child with trouble paying attention.
And if a child just loves to do a specific task, let them. For example, I often allow my littles to wash spoons and forks in the sink because they love it. And they feel like they are doing something worthwhile. It’s a win-win.
Actions to Avoid
There are some things gentle parents should never do.
The first is giving ultimatums. For example, do not make your kids feel like they have to earn something by doing chores. And do not take away things because the kids aren’t doing chores.
My only caveat to this advice is this: do not be afraid to set limits about doing chores. For example, my kids know that I will turn off the WiFi if they do not do tasks when it’s time.
It’s not about keeping them from the internet. It’s about ensuring they know that cleanliness is not something we can ignore because of fun. I remove the distraction so they can get ready to focus on chores.
The second thing to avoid is calling kids lazy, inattentive, or other incarnations of these ideas.
Kids love to be active, but they need support to be attentive to activities that do not inspire them. Our responsibility is to calmly and lovingly teach them to complete these tasks.
The last thing to avoid is punishments. Remembering that kids of all ages have very different capabilities from day to day, we have to give grace when things don’t get done or don’t get done well.
We are responsible for either completing the work they can’t or letting it go until the task comes back around in our routine.
Should Kids Have Chores in Gentle Parenting? Conclusion
Chores are an essential teaching tool for practical skills like planning, consistency, and basic cleaning skills.
And we can use daily chores to build a bond within our families and encourage our kids to love cleanliness. As long as we don’t expect too much from our children, we can create a daily cleaning habit as a family and avoid most of the conflict.
So should kids have chores in gentle parenting? Yes.