Do kids do better with individual chores or group chores?
May 17, 2012 1:42 PM   Subscribe

Parenting filter: I have two kids, 11 and 9. I'm a divorced dad trying to figure out a plan for their accountability for their chores when they're with me. The biggest stumbling block seems to be division of labor. On the one hand, assigning individual chores (Daughter, you wash the dishes. Son, you dry and put away) and rewarding for completion seems simple enough. But I want to teach them teamwork, negotiation, time management (who does what part first) and shared responsibility. So sometimes I say "Clean the kitchen, you figure out who does what". The latter seems better for a shared reward like a trip to the movies. Does anyone favor one approach over the other, and why? BTW they're coming from a household where their mom and I differed on how to handle chores, so they're a little used to coasting.
posted by punocchio to Human Relations (22 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I like your latter approach a lot. My parents micro-managed my brother and me, to the extent where we pretty much didn't have any chores because we did it "wrong". So my advice to you would be to set them loose with some basic guidelines (and instructions on how to use, say, the laundry machine), and then THANK them afterwards. Even if they load the dishwasher like a jackass, thank them for contributing to the family, maybe show them a few ways it might go better next time, and really try to let them take the lead.

Also, do you know the cake trick? It's not exactly related to your question, but you might be able to apply the theory. There's one piece of cake left and your kids want to split it. How do you guard against the "but his piece is bigger" complaint? Let one kid cut it in half--the other kid gets first choice.
posted by phunniemee at 1:50 PM on May 17, 2012 [6 favorites]

I think this is such a great idea. 11 and 9 seems a little young to be completely hands-off, so some guidance initially might be in order. For example, you could start off by saying, "Ok, kids, we're going to clean the kitchen now. What's our plan of attack?" Help them figure out how to make a plan together, and how to assess if they've done a good job.

Initially, you may want to be a third team member. This way, you can help set the tone and the standard for how well things should be done. And your positive attitude toward chores will show that this isn't a punishment, and isn't Dad-against-kids, and that in fact, you can get satisfaction out of making the house look better.

Over time (say, 4-6 sessions? depends on how they're handling it), you can start to pull back. Now, you just prompt them that it's time to make a plan to clean the kitchen. You're nearby to keep an eye on things, or to answer questions, but you gradually become less involved, until eventually, they can do it without you.
posted by pompelmo at 1:50 PM on May 17, 2012 [9 favorites]

I think a wall chart with chores and points per chore where they can sign up might be a good idea, plus you can have a date column for when they carried it out and one where you confirm they did indeed do the chore. Might also need some rules like that if you signed up for a particular chore this week, the other person gets first choice on it next week, and they need to do a minimum of X points of chores per week.

I would never just tell them to clean the kitchen together, because kids vary a lot and I am pretty sure one of them will do most of the work and feel bad about it.

Also, you could do chores with them, for example devote 2-4 hours on a Sunday doing chores together, you give them a chore and they run off and do it and when they return you give another until all the chores are done. Fathers not being seen to do chores is a big problem in society.
posted by meepmeow at 1:51 PM on May 17, 2012

It depends on how capable they are. If they are good at washing dishes and understand how much work is required, give them more freedom to assign themselves the work. If they haven't really mastered dishwashing yet, the choice will paralyze them somewhat so you'll want to more define and assign the work. You know them best.
posted by michaelh at 1:55 PM on May 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

When my sons were pretty young, I spent a week or so heavily mediating their negotiations. Then I initiated shared "natural consequences", both good and bad. Then I let them work it out for themselves.

Real life example (though it is not a chore):
They used to fight over whose turn it was to sit in the front seat. I spent a week helping them for up to 30 minutes (at each and every stop) hash this out. After giving them guidance and examples all week, I then told them they had five minutes at each stop to work it out themselves. If no agreement is reached, you both go in the back seat because I have errands to run and can't spend all my time on this.

They later would ask info about our itinerary so they could more fairly decide whose turn it was in front, since not all legs of the trip were equally long and they weren't always an even number. I fully coperated in giving them enough info to work it out and then respected their decisions.
posted by Michele in California at 2:26 PM on May 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

We have a standing list of rooms/locations (kitchen, hallways, bathroom, play room, yard, etc). Everyone is assigned a place for the week. On Sundays, we rotate. This way everyone gets a chance to clean the playroom (which can be heinous) or the yard (which is usually not too bad). The chart is posted on the side of the fridge, in case anyone forgets. Ages range from 13 to 6; everyone pitches in.

When things are really bad (say, in the kitchen when crapola has piled up waaaay too high), I engage the nuclear option: a special 'clean-up' playlist on iTunes. Disco, Daft Punk, LMFAO, and other things they like. Fast paced stuff. We turn it into a party.

We don't use rewards. This is work that has to get done by virtue of the fact that we all live, eat, and play here. And yes, if the pile seems to overwhelming, wade in: break it into manageable pieces and assist or direct as necessary. This goes on every night, after dinner and before bed. Bedrooms, too. We used to let the bedrooms slide until the weekend, but with kids sharing rooms, they got completely out of hand by the time the weekend came.

Also, in our household? "I'm bored" is immediately translated as "I would like to fold all available laundry."
posted by jquinby at 2:27 PM on May 17, 2012 [22 favorites]

So sometimes I say "Clean the kitchen, you figure out who does what". The latter seems better for a shared reward like a trip to the movies.

This seems to me a recipe to let the lazier kid with a more dominant personality bully the other kid into doing more work. If I were you, I would have a rotating schedule of who does what so that work is evenly distributed (ie, in February one of them cleans the bathroom and the other cleans the living room, in March it is reversed). However, they can freely trade chores with each other if there's one thing one of them doesn't like that the other one does. This ensures that the baseline standard is fairness and gives each of them equal negotiating power when it comes to finding a compromise. It also gives them some experience in the free market system.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 2:30 PM on May 17, 2012 [6 favorites]

In our experience (kids are 9, 6, 4, and 1.5), just saying "go deal with it, you guys figure it out the division" has not worked (we only generally do this with the top two, and even they're a bit young). I totally agree on these goals, but typically they have not worked because often one of them shuts down/slacks off and whines and the other one either complains, yells, attempts to cajole, or just does it himself so that there is still a reward.

One thing that is showing promise (but still not quite yet), is getting them to take clothes to the washer when the hamper is full. There is a very clear cause and effect then between not doing this and not having clean clothes.

pompelmo's suggestion about being a team member is a good one; things definitely go better when I'm there.

Here's what we do towards the ends you mention ("teamwork, negotiation, time management (who does what part first) and shared responsibility")

Teamwork: this is a weak point for us. Looking for improvements, hoping that they'd reduce the bickering. They at times do help each other. It would seem that one would need to assign chores that are way easier to do with two.

Negotiation: We see lots of opportunities to practice negotiation that aren't related to chores. Sure, maybe chores too ("Wanna trade chores?"), but there's so many other opportunities (like sharing, deciding group destinations, etc.)

Time Management: They have a list of chores that get varying amounts of rewards. They figure out how to get them done in the time they have. This also is practiced with longer school assignments.

We didn't initially like the idea of rewarding all chores (with money or other points systems, the idea being there are some things you do just because they need to be done), but over time we've put most chores into a system that rewards with points that can be spent. *Shrug*, it gets them more excited about it, and it's not like I don't want it to be fun.

Shared Responsibility: Another tough one. When they work together we try to make a point of rewarding everyone together. Occasionally as I've said we've tried the "you guys figure it out" approach to try to teach this, but it often fails (which doesn't mean nothing's learned, of course). I suspect they need more examples here.

It's slow, and it doesn't always seem to work, and I look forward to seeing suggestions, myself. But we have seen some success at what we're doing. We do call out good examples of this stuff both by others (say, in a book), or by themselves. I think, actually, that this intentionality helps a lot. It feels hokey, and a lot of people just "get it", but it seems to us like reinforcing and discussing the good examples of these traits--when we can find them--helps a good deal.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 2:38 PM on May 17, 2012

What totally worked for my dad (I'm the oldest of four children close in age, so there was already a lot of teamwork and negotiation):

Every Saturday when he got up to leave and go to work (he's a doctor and has to do rounds in the morning 7 days a week) he would leave a list of chores on the kitchen table. It was usually about 8 kid-hours of work (2 hours each). Sweep the garage, rake the leaves, wash all the sheets, fold the laundry, put air in all the bike tires, wash mom's car, clean your room, etc. The catch? None of us could leave the house until ALL the chores were done. So if we wanted to go out and play (or, when we were older, go to the movies and the mall), we have to motivate our 3 other sibling to wake up, get dressed, and do their share of the work. And the chores weren't assigned to anyone in particular, and obviously some were less desirable than others. Taught us to manage our peers, work together, be cheerful, persuade, negotiate, etc.

On weeknights after dinner, my parents would go for a walk and just say that the kids had to clean up the kitchen. No one was allowed to leave the kitchen until everything was done and put away.

My parents didn't explicitly tie rewards to chores, which I think is better - they weren't paying or bribing us, we just did them because we were supposed to. Because households require work, things need to get done, and everybody pitches in. When you're 24 and in your first apartment, there is no reward for doing the dishes - they just need to get done, and you do them. We all got allowances and my parents were very generous and we did a lot of fun things and had nice toys. And we were expected to participate in the work of the household, because we were members of it. If we explicitly disobeyed them - leaving the house before all the chores were done, stubbornly refusing to help clean up the kitchen - there were punishments (usually being grounded or having your cell phone and/or laptop confiscated for a period of time).

We all value hard work, are good at keeping up with household tasks, and are great at working in groups.
posted by amaire at 3:12 PM on May 17, 2012 [9 favorites]

A key part of my parent's strategy: they didn't supervise us. They weren't standing over us watching to make sure we washed the dishes, and on Saturday usually my parents weren't even home, or they were doing chores of their own. But the expectations were clear (and the consequences if we didn't do the chores).
posted by amaire at 3:14 PM on May 17, 2012

How often are they with you? If you only have them every other weekend, then their only chores should be picking up after themselves.

The children are old enough to know what they are capable of doing. Sit them down and ask them what chores they would prefer to do. Then, give them full responsibility for those chores. If they don't do them, then make the punishment a learning experience. Do not nag or threaten. Do not criticize. Make it clear that everyone has responsibilities and these are theirs. They can do it in their own time (within reason). Brag about your children when they can hear you. Thank them for helping out.

My 15 year old son now handles the garbage without me asking. Today, he came home from his last final, cut the grass, used the weed eater, swept the walk (okay, I had to ask him to do that one) and then he swept and mopped the den and kitchen for me. He also folded and put away towels. Most days I have him empty the dishwasher but, he was tired from the grass. There is no fussing or yelling, he knows he has to do it because it is his responsibility as a member of this household.
posted by myselfasme at 3:42 PM on May 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Whatever you do, I strongly, strongly suggest that if they need improvement, you thank and encourage them as they make those improvements, and not continue to notice only the things that need improvement. That is a recipe for misery on everyone's part.
posted by jeather at 4:28 PM on May 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

My search-fu is failing me, but some years ago I came across a blog post in which (fuzzy memory warning!) a man discussed what he and his wife had come up with. As I remember, they began by working together to evaluate and break down the usual chores into similarly-sized chunks (because it sucks if a nasty, dirty, multi-hour task like "clean out the rain gutters" is considered one chore but a short, relatively low-effort task like "move the trash cans to the curb" is also considered one chore). Doing a chore — any chore — earned points. The amount of points one started with in a week/the number of chores that needed to be done were pro-rated according to the number of hours each person worked outside the house (NOT by their take-home pay), so if one person worked 40 hours a week they'd earn more points for each chore done than a person who worked 20 hours a week.

As I recall, they skewed the points weighting WAYYYY in their kids' favor, for reasons he explained, and it still worked pretty well for them.

(I really wish I could find this post again.)
posted by Lexica at 6:33 PM on May 17, 2012

One starts, the other finishes, and we swap it out regularly. That way, if you're lazy/unfair to your sibling one night when you start, they will do exactly the same to you the next time.

I'm also a big believer in ignoring grumbling or timing a chore, and just repeating "You're done when it's a good job" so they learn to work quickly and without complaining.
posted by viggorlijah at 7:24 PM on May 17, 2012

Also, my kids are way happier doing chores if a parent is also doing chores. When everyone in the house is cleaning and helping, it feels fair and encourages them. We don't pay or reward for individual chores very often - the result is that if they finish their work early, they can then goof off, but they don't get paid or a direct reward for doing chores because chores are expected.

I have paid in cash or treats for irregular big jobs such as assembling furniture or washing revoltingly muddy dogs, but even then, I try to keep the focus on "you're part of the family, and we all do chores to contribute, not because we get something for it". More communist than capitalist.
posted by viggorlijah at 7:32 PM on May 17, 2012

On the one hand, assigning individual chores (Daughter, you wash the dishes. Son, you dry and put away) and rewarding for completion seems simple enough. But I want to teach them teamwork, negotiation, time management (who does what part first) and shared responsibility.

Assigning roles doesn't mean that they don't have to figure out teamwork and negotiation and time management.

The thing is, it's not their stuff and they don't care how perfectly it's cleaned, you do, so leaving them to their own plan isn't really enough guidance.
posted by desuetude at 10:18 PM on May 17, 2012

I'm a little late to this discussion and I'm going to take a different approach. It sounds like you don't just want your kids to do chores, but you want them to plan and critically think about the best way to get their chores done together. That's a great goal!

Executive Functioning (controls the ability to plan and direct actions towards the accomplishment of a goal, among other things) is the cognitive skill set (skill set is not really the right term, but it's early and I've only had one cup of coffee) you're trying to train.

At 9 and 11, they probably don't yet have the problem solving skills they need to do what you're asking independently. But with a little guidance from you, they can get there. And practicing Executive Functioning skills now will help them a lot later on.

One way to teach to Executive Skills is the "Goal--> Plan ---> Predict ---> Do ----> Review" method. It does just what it says on the tin.

Example: Doing the Dishes

Goal: Do and Put away the dinner dishes

Plan: Who will wash and who will dry? Where do they go when we're done? What supplies do we need?

Predict: How with this go? Am I tall enough to reach the sink? How long will it take?

Do: Follow through on plan

Review: How did I do? Important: At 11 and 9 years, your kids don't have internal motivation to complete tasks, so don't forget the reward! Also, don't over correct mistakes made in the process. Reward persistence, planning, and effort.
posted by dchrssyr at 8:07 AM on May 18, 2012

My kids have to get the playroom clean before they can do screen time. My son cares more, so he ends up doing 99% of the cleaning. I'm not entirely pleased with this, but I also don't want my son to have to wait while my daughter very very very slowly tidies up. They don't seem to mind the system, so I'm sticking with it for now.
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:42 PM on May 18, 2012

Three kids of chore-capable age, and they rotate weekly among some major ones, plus they each have a "permanent" assignment. All chores are done individually, though many depend on another person (e.g., the Floor Person can't vacuum under the dinner table until after the Table Person has cleared & wiped the table).
posted by wenestvedt at 1:00 PM on May 18, 2012

My mom returned to work full-time when I was 11 and my sister was 9. That was when we started getting assigned serious chores.

I had more chores, since I was older (which at the time seemed really unfair). We had different responsibilities. For example, my sister had to sort laundry and run the wash. We were supposed to share the chore of hanging clothes on the line, but often simply took turns. My job was to take clothes off the line and fold, and also to iron my parents' work shirts. My sister set the table for dinner, and I was usually asked to do some kind of food prep, like making salads, or cleaning and dicing vegetables. When we got a little older, we also had occasional outdoor chores. Washing was only a couple days a week, so not a daily chore. We rotated with our parents on loading the dishwasher.

Our chores had to be mostly done by the time my parents got home from work and put dinner on, so we were unsupervised (we were latchkey kids, in a way that I think is probably considered completely unacceptable today for children that age, but we were mature kids, and I think my mom figured the chores would help keep us out of trouble.)

Looking back, we had far more substantial chores than any of our friends, who only had to clean their rooms. But I think it was good for character building and all that. Both of us were responsible teenagers and became very independent and capable young adults.

As for the sharing and team-building, I think this depends a lot on what kind of relationship your kids have. My sister and I frequently fought over chores-- who was perceived as doing more, or doing the job adequately. Asking us to "clean the kitchen" and leaving us to decide who does what would have invited massive disagreements. Also, we got no direct rewards, other than heartfelt "thank you for doing that" from my parents. We did get a modest allowance, but this was not linked in any way to chores. We came to understand that we were just part of running the household and that we had an obligation to do our share.
posted by amusebuche at 5:27 AM on May 19, 2012

I want to teach them teamwork, negotiation, time management (who does what part first) and shared responsibility.
Show them. "It's time to clean the kitchen. Chris, I think it's your turn to choose some kitchen-cleaning music. Pat, you get to be the supervisor today. What are my orders?" Whether you see it or not, your kids are listening to you and watching you, and paying attention. Model the behavior you want, then reward it when you see it.

As a divorced Mom, an especially good way to model it is in your dealings with the other parent. You can show them how to deal with someone who's unreasonable, uncooperative, dishonest, unkind, doesn't share information, plays parent-vs.-parent, etc. It's very frustrating to have to put up with crap, but very rewarding when your grown-up child starts to understand what you did.
posted by theora55 at 7:11 AM on May 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Oops, meant to follow up on this earlier. Thanks for so many well thought out answers!!!

In giving them joint accountability, I am definitely not giving them stuff they wouldn't be able to do on their own. I'm just saying for some things they need to both be responsible to get the reward together. If one of them does all his/her chores, I can't take that one to the movies alone (well not without a lot of arrangements being made).

Anyway, seems from the responses I'm on the right track. I am definitely seeing the older one try to influence her little brother to carry more of the weight. But that happens in life anyway. I can coach him to be more assertive and her to be more egalitarian.

I also like the suggestions about getting right in the thick of it with them as a participant, basically making it fun. Tough to do when I'm working from home and needing them to get more done.

Also so many great suggestions about which chores are expected and which aren't. I already think I need to call them different things to help with that. Like pulling weeds in the yard is a project and not a chore like emptying the dishwasher that has all of our dishes in it but the one emptying wasn't the one loading it.

Right now I'm in a situation where if I tried something like amaire's dad did, I'd have a full scale revolt. Simply because they haven't had those expecations set all their lives and it's totally foreign. Ugh. So then my house feels like the place where they're punished by having to fold laundry when they don't at their mom's place. Right now their mom is not working (don't ask) but she will need to be soon, so maybe it will work out. (Did I just hijack this thread?)

Sometimes I feel like Clark Griswold driving around that circle in Paris. Only I'm shouting "Look kids, learning opportunity, character building" and I keep missing them. *sigh*
posted by punocchio at 9:47 PM on May 24, 2012

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