Are Chores Instructions too? | Teaching Self-Government

Are Chores Instructions too?

I know you've written posts about chores before, but I can't seem to find them on your website.  So I'll ask my questions, and maybe you can direct me to the proper posts if you've already answered them! 

Are the everyday chores that kids have a "standing instruction?"  In other words, if they don't do their chores or have to be reminded to do them, are they not following instructions, and would they start earning consequences?

Yes.  Any responsibility your child has, such as a chore or school work, is an instruction.  The term "standing instruction" is perfect for describing these kinds of instructions.  If my child chooses not to do their chores at the appointed time, he earns a consequence; which is usually another chore.  If my child doesn't complete his chores in the morning, before school, he has chosen to do his chores and an extra chore at play time, after school hours.  Corrective teach EVERY time your child chooses not to do his chores, and very soon, he will see it is better to do it on time and only do the chores on the list so that he won't have to do even more chores later. 

And what if the chores are something that affects the rest of the family's ability to continue on with their day, or creates more work for someone else when it isn't done?  For example, if the child's chore is getting the table set for breakfast, and they don't do it, or dawdle around doing it, others in the family have to wait to eat. ( I know waiting isn't a big deal if you don't have anywhere to be, but it can cause problems if there are other appointments for the day, or work commitments, and for younger children it can be very hard to wait for any extended period of time.)  Another example would be taking the dog out (if it isn't done, the dog pees in the house, which not only teaches the dog bad habits, and ruins the house, it also means extra time cleaning up the mess).

One of the steps to following instructions is: Do the task immediately.  If your child doesn't do the task immediately, then she earns an extra chore.  Also, a principle I live by is: good = good, and bad =bad.  This means that the people doing good should, whenever possible, get good, and the people choosing bad should get bad.  This is cause and effect.  So, if one child chooses not to do his breakfast chore and could make it so that all of the other family memebers, who are on task, could be punished, that is wrong. 

For a situation like this I have a system.  First I give the instruction, and if it isn't followed, then the child is corrected and earns an extra child.  Usually one of two things is going to happen.  Either the child is going to choose to say OK and get the chore done, or the child is going to go out of instructional control and have a fit and possibly loose all of their privleges.  If the first senario happens, you have no problem.  Just make sure you are consistent with making them follow ALL the steps to following instructions.  If they don't, they need to earn an extra chore.  If the second senario happens, then you will need to do the chore for the rest of the family.  Determine how much time the chore took you to do.  What were you going to do during that time?  Your youth will have to make up that time by doing a chore for you as well as whatever they have chosen to earn by not doing the chore.  Don't let the family be inconvenienced by one person.  This teaches the one child selfishness, and confuses the other children.  They might decide that it is OK to not finish a chore, because everyone will wait for you.  So, take the dog out, and then replace the chore with another, and have them earn another chore as well. 

Also, how responsible are the kids for their chores?  Do you tell them when it's time to start their chores or cleaning for the weekend, or do you expect them just to get started when they get up or when the regular time for the chore comes along (for example, clearing the dinner table after they have finished eating)? 

Older children should be expected to stay on a schedule.  My children know if they eat breakfast before their morning chores are done, they will earn an extra chore.  The instruction is that morning chores are to be done before eating breakfast.  Now, don't get me wrong.  I don't believe in taking away meals from my children.  They will have all three meals a day.  But, if they aren't done by the time we eat breakfast, they better get on it.  They will probably have chosen to have cold breakfast, or to just have to grab a snack type breakfast real quick before we start school. 

Small children need to be told when it is time to do chores.  Try to set a specific time limit for chores.  This helps chores seem less burdensome, and it makes the day move better.  Make sure the chores can be reasonably done during that time though.  If the chore is not done on time, the child will earn an extra chore, for not following instructions, and not doing the chore immediately, and have to finish the first chore at play time. 

Do you have them report to you when each chore is done?  Do you check to see if they've done a satisfactory job?  How does this vary with the ages and ability of your children?

Yes, I have them report back when their chores are done, until they have proven that they are responsible enough and mature enough to do a chore properly without being checked.  I let my children know it is a big moment when they can be completely trusted to do chores without checking back. 

The last step of following instructions is checking back.  They check back, so that you can look at their work and praise them for it.  This should be something you make a habit of doing. 

I teach my children to do a chore like I would do a chore.  If I didn't teach them this way, they would learn to be lazy and take the path of least resistance.  This is a system of failure.  For instance, if my child does the dishes, and doesn't rinse out the sink when she is done, then she is corrected and instructed to do it the right way.  If she still chooses not to do it the correct way, then she will earn an extra chore every time she chooses laziness, which is actually dishonesty. 

It is true that children are all at different levels.  I choose to assign chores by level, so that I don't have to let them slide by on a chore for a while, and then all of the sudden, expect them to perform at a higher level.  So, my small children get chores they can do well, like washing window sills, and emptying garbages.  My older children are going to wash the kitchen floors, and  and clean house windows.  All chores, no matter the age of the person, are expected to be done as I would do them.  This standard is best.  Then they really learn how to do a chore, and they are very pleased at their job well done. 

Another note about young workers.  At first I spend a lot of time doing the chores with them, so that they can learn exactly how the chore needs to be done, and so they know what the chore looks like when it is done well.  Don't feel like you have to turn young workers loose too soon.  Make sure they can do the chore properly first. 

What about shared chores?  What happens when the children fight over who has done more, try to pick the easiest part of the job, dawdle and play during chore time and drag it out for long periods of time, or find reasons to be unavailable during chore time (going to the bathroom, etc.)?

Shared chores are so good for teaching cooperation, and nurturing younger siblings.  But, you are right they also have their share of problems.  My children still have problems not being selfish when they have a shared chore to do.  This is what I do.  I pre-teach what each person is expected to do, according to their level, or if I want an older child to practice teaching a younger child.  As part of this pre-teach, I tell them what will happen if they are able to work together and get the chore done on time, and what will happen if they choose to goof off or not do their share of the chore.  Then no matter what happens, I just have to either praise good behavior, or correct and follow through with what I said would be earned.  Just make sure to follow through.  The more consistent you are, the better everyone will be about controling the impulse to dawdle, cause problems, or shirk in their duties. 

What about quality of the work done?  What do you do when they just hurry through their chores and do a sloppy job, or get distracted and forget to do things?

I already touched on what kind of work is expected earlier.  But, let me add here, that if they just hurry through their chores to try to get done fast and don't really do an honest chore,  then they are being dishonest.  In my home dishonesty earns 30 minutes of work time to be done at play time as well as the chore being corrected.  This is our family rule. 

If your child forgets to do the chore, or doesn't do it then they are not "doing the task immediately."  This is one of the steps of following instructions.  They earn an extra chore and need to go over what the steps to following instructions are.  I will say that there are some ages where getting distracted is more common.  Age 8 is one of those magical/distracted ages for many youth.  If your child is having a focus problem, have a counseling session with them about the problem and come up with an incentive program for staying on task for a whole day or a week etc.  Whatever time period you feel your child can reasonably follow through with. 

I have touched on chores many times, but chores are such an important part of raising good children, it's good to  talk about them again.  If you are interested in what my everyday chore charts look like, you can look at the post "Chore Chart" written on June 16, 2008.  If you go to the blue bar in the top right corner of this page, you can type in Chore Chart and it will come up for you to click on. 

Work builds character.  It is essential to the development of youth.  Have it as a priority in your home.  Your children will thank you for it when they grow up to be clean, motivated adults.  Trust me, I had parents that work me hard, and I love them for it.  :)