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Why Kids Should Do Chores and How to Get Kids to Do their Chores

"Clean up, clean up, everybody every where. Clean up, clean up, everybody do your share." We sing this in English in our house, because to the best of my knowledge there isn't a Spanish equivalent. Probably because from the time they learn to walk, it is expected that Latino children learn to help around the house and they don't need a little jingle to coerce them to pick up after themselves. That's probably why children in Central and South American tend to be more willing to help with chores around the house than their American and European counterparts.  

We are in the interesting position because my husband is from Guatemala, so we are trying to raise our children more aligned to the Central-American tradition. We have two biological little ones, ages two and four, and we foster our niece, age 10. It might come as no surprise that the two little ones, who embrace their Guatemalan-American identity completely, enjoy helping out with the chores. Whereas with the older, more Americanized one, it's a constant battle. She sees chores as well, chores. The little ones see chores as an opportunity for connection and to spend time with us. We try to instill within them this collectivist culture ideal--that chores are a natural part of being a member of a household, and that everyone chips in. 

But for our 10-year-old niece, we sometimes have to include a few added incentives. 

We don't believe in allowance or a reward system for doing chores, because they are the responsibilities of everyone. Instead, we motive her with what she yearns to do--spend time on technology! The rule in our house is no free time until chores are done. Before school and after school, our 10-year-old is expected to make her bed/tidy her room, do dirty dishes and put clean dishes away, make sure the animals have food and water, and clean up and sweep under the kitchen table after each meal. She is also expected to do her own laundry, and her homework/school work, of course. Once all of those things are done, she has unlimited screen time. Because she wants to get to free time quickly, she gets her chores done. And if something is not done, she might lose screen time for the day.

For the little ones, we invite them to do dishes, laundry, sweeping and general cleaning tasks with us. They even have a kid-sized set of dust broom and pan, broom, duster, and mop. Having tools at their own size and inviting them to complete chores with us helps to develop their intrinsic motivation. They are expected to clean up their toys after playing with them, and before we transition to the next part of our day (meal time/nap time/outside time/bedtime, etc...) and to clean up any spills or messes that happen. 

We also rely heavily on checklists, so everyone knows exactly what needs to be done each day. The children have great satisfaction checking the boxes by each item on the to-do list, and they hang on dry-erase sleeves in the kitchen, where everyone can see them, reach them, and access them. 

Children are innate helpers. We as Americans mess that up, because we want everything done perfectly. So instead of welcoming the help of our two-year-olds and four-year-olds, we send them to play as we get the chores done, quicker and more efficiently, but alone. This is where the Central Americans get it right: they have the utmost patience with their young family members, and instill in them the joy of life-long helping because they don't stifle it or dismiss it when they are younger. If children are always sent to play instead of expected to help, they won't want to help!  

Since we as the parents set the tone for our home, I make sure the kids never hear my complaining or frustration over having to complete household chores. I want them to know that although it might not be the most fun part of the day, it's an expected part of growing up, and if everyone pitches in and does their part, it's doable.


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