What age should a child be when they start doing chores?
How old should a child be before they start doing chores and why? A good question as there are some excellent reasons for actively encouraging your children to help out around the house by performing household chores. Naturally you have to select the chores based on the age of the child in question, which means for obvious reasons you are not going to let your very young child loose with sharp knives or dangerous chemicals. I suppose I must have started helping out with basic household chores at the age of about three or four. I remember that at this point in time 'helping out with chores' largely consisted of standing on a chair in front of the kitchen sink, armed with a potato peeler and a sink full of potatoes to peel. Our Mum would stand by me as I did my best to peel the potatoes, and although my efforts were probably not perfect I seem to recall I did a passable job of this, plus I actually enjoyed the feeling of 'helping Mum'.
As I grew a little older (and taller), I would be left with more adult responsibilities such as stirring the homemade gravy or the white sauce so it didn't stick to the bottom of the pan. I would take in cups of tea (made by Mum) to our Father where he was 'parked' in front of the television, or up to our Nana (Grandmother) who had her own room upstairs (when she wasn't in the same part of the house as we were.)
By the age of about eight or nine I was helping to rake up grass cuttings in the garden, feeding our chickens and collecting eggs, filling up the coal scuttle for our fire, cleaning out the grate and lighting the fire. I was even making a pot of tea after main meals and taking it into the living room complete with cups and saucers, milk, sugar etc so everyone could have a cup whilst they relaxed. This is not intended to read like I lived in some kind of child labor camp, because I didn't, in fact looking back I was getting off lightly compared to how my parents grew up.
I believe that children benefit from feeling they have a vital part to play within the family unit. It is character building for them to take an active role in the essential chores that are part of the families daily routine. You only have to see documentaries about African tribes still living a largely natural existence to see that their children are out collecting firewood and learning to hunt from a very early age. Those children are not only contributing to the tribe's essential chores, but are at the same time being educated in preparation for their adulthood.
Unfortunately a great many parents in the western world are guilty of running around after their children and doing literally everything for them. When those same children reach maturity a large amount of them are ill equipped to cope with living alone, so they don't! Instead they choose to live at home as long as possible and let Mum and Dad do their laundry, tidy their bedrooms and pay the household bills. To add insult to injury the parents still only charge their adult children a pittance of weekly rent / keep. The kids know they are onto a winner and of course they have more free cash to socialize with and hardly any responsibilities, (why would they leave!)
When I finally reached the age of 17 I immediately went out to work. By this time I had saved up and bought my own horse (which trust me was very hard work). My first proper job paid me a take home wage of £86 per week, and out of that it cost me about £45 to feed and care for my horse. On top of this I was paying for and running my own moped / scooter as my means of transport. I still lived at home, but I was not getting a free ride by any means. My weekly rent / keep at the time was £15 (we are talking 1986 here). Add up the figures and roughly speaking I was left with about £26 a week to put fuel in my scooter/moped, buy myself clothes, go out with friends and cover Christmases, Birthdays etc.
When I moved out of home for about 6 months and lived in a bedsit, I was paying about £30 a week rental just for the room, and had to buy food on top of this. I then upgraded to a larger bedsit which was £50 a week. Ultimately I moved back home again briefly, but now I paid £50 per week to my Mum. You probably have some idea of how it now makes me feel when I hear that in 2012 many parents I know are often only charging their adult children £20 per week and still tidying their rooms for them etc! This is wrong on so many levels, and what they are actually doing is keeping their children in a perpetual state of childhood. You can hardly blame the child for not growing up and learning to 'stand on their own two feet' if their parents do everything for them.
To illustrate this point further a friend of mine told me the other night how she had fallen out with her 20+ year old son because he was doing nothing around the house and was even leaving her to tidy his room. His answer to her complaint were words to the effect of "you are lucky, my mates do even less". She only charges him about £10 or so per week (including his food), and he chooses to only work when he can get bookings for his new photography business, (which at the moment is very part time work.) I told her he should get off his backside and at least get a part time job until his own business takes off, and in the meantime if he won't tidy up his own room he should move into a caravan on the driveway and be responsible for cleaning and tidying it himself. She is a lovely lady, so is her Husband and so is their son, but allowing him to take them for granted like this is far from a good example to set, and nor is it good parenting to allow it to have happened in the first place.
My Husband was much the same until he met me. Before we got together he had never lived alone, and had always either lived with parents or friends. During these times he paid them a small amount of rent and left them to sort out things like making sure the bills were paid on time. He concentrated on his social life, international traveling, and buying as many designer label clothes as his finances would stretch to, (or not as it later turned out.) Bear in mind when I met him he should have been old enough to know better as he had already reached his late thirties. Enter me, and I liked him because he was a nice and funny guy, but I was unprepared for the shock of living with him. To start with he was terrible with money, and was already quite deeply in debt when I met him, (I took out a £5000 loan to help him pay this off and ultimately we paid this back between us.) He had never bothered to get a car because he preferred being able to drink and not worry about driving, plus he lacked any confidence to drive even though at some point he had managed to pass a driving test in an automatic car! Even when we bought a second hand scooter / moped for him to get around on he never used it and relied on lifts (mainly from me) or buses instead, (we ended up selling the scooter/moped after about two uses.)
As for the household bills, I was forced to take on responsibility for making sure those got paid because he had no idea how expensive they were, and on the few occasions he suggested he take on responsibility for some of them I would later find out we were over £2000 in debt to our landlord in unpaid rents (amongst other bills.) The screaming rows these incidents caused between him and I nearly split us up on many occasions. I think he thought I was conning him out of his salary when I asked him for the amounts I had to in order to cover his share of the bills, (and this was just so I could pay them myself and know we were not getting into debt again.)
Nowadays things are slightly better as after six years of marriage I have gained some ground. My problems with him do reappear though, and mainly when money is short and I have to tell him that he can't hold as much money back for his spending money as he wants to. These are the times he starts claiming it is 'his money' and he will 'spend what he wants', (usually after he is a few beers the worse for wear.) Some of his comments infer that he feels he should not have to 'give me his money' and of course I argue he is not 'giving it to me' but he is simply using me as the 'free' accountant/bookkeeper who 'pays it to the electricity, the phone, the rents etc'. This is frustrating to me because I am still quite old fashioned and always dreamed of a man who would take control of making sure the bills were paid on time etc. Sadly I have been left with the undeniable truth, and that is, if I don't do it, the bills won't get paid and by the time I find out they haven't been the phone will have been cut off (yes this did happen) or the landlord will be on our doorstep demanding to speak to me because he knows he will get a straight answer from me, (yes, that happened too). What will be worse is the money to pay them will also have vanished.
Not to say my Hubby isn't better with money than he used to be, but the bottom line is that he was never put in a position to learn the life skills he needed to. He knows it, and so do I. The result is that I have to take charge of the bill paying, even if it does cause a few rows when he can't understand where all the money vanishes to. I still notice he is excellent at delegating chores/tasks that need doing around our home and our fishing lake to his friends and our neighbors rather than getting on with them himself, and he still manages to sponge lifts off those same people rather than try to drive himself.
So to hopefully summarize what I am trying to say here, our children, kids (or whatever your preferred term is), need to learn to function within a family unit from an early age. Children need to learn the value of money and how to survive as an adult.
Depending on everyone around you to do everything for you is not a good way to learn any of life's survival skills. Many young adults I know do not even know how to cook a basic meal or light a fire in a household grate. My much loved Husband is now 43, and I know he would not have a clue how to top up the oil level in a car, wire a plug or cook a joint of meat. He is making some progress as I teach him basics such as how make scrambled eggs or omlettes, but these same skills could have been instilled into him from a much earlier age. On the plus side his abilities to iron his own clothes, vacuum and change a duvet cover have dramatically improved, (with some insistence on my part!)
- Bring up your children so that they learn to survive without help.
- Teach them life skills through practical methods such as household or garden chores suitable to their age range (no matter how young that may be.)
- Ensure their pocket money/allowance is earned from allocated household tasks and not freely given.
- Make certain your children grow up to be capable enough to not rely totally on anyone else to look after and/or support them.
Whilst it may be difficult at the time you instill this discipline, in the long run you will be so proud of the independent and self sufficient adults your children will grow into as a result.