By Susan E Davis updated by Dr Robert Needlman
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By the time your child is in school, he'll be able to handle chores that are more substantial than what he did around the house as a preschooler. These chores help teach your child a number of worthwhile lessons: that helping others is as important as being helped, that life includes some unpleasant (or just mandatory) tasks, and that belonging to a group – whether it's the family, a workplace, or a community – involves making some contributions. Although your child's growing sense of responsibility and independence will allow him to tackle more of these jobs by himself, you shouldn't expect him to work independently all the time; he'll still need your help and supervision from time to time, which is a good thing – chores that are done along with a parent can foster the special type of closeness that comes from working side by side.

Ready for more responsibility

School-age children should be capable of taking care of their own belongings, putting dirty clothes in the laundry basket, and picking up toys every night. Depending on their age, physical strength, and maturity, they also can be given more demanding tasks, including:

  • taking over more pet-care duties, such as walking the dog, emptying the kitty's litter box, changing the lining of a bird's cage, brushing the dog or cat
  • sorting the laundry, and then folding it after it's washed and dried
  • helping to plan, prepare, and clean up after meals
  • weeding, planting, and watering the garden
  • setting the table, and then clearing it after meals
  • washing the car
  • dusting and vacuuming
  • sweeping the front steps
  • carrying in firewood
  • making their beds
  • reading to younger siblings.

A schedule helps

School-age children are able to develop a general sense of what is expected of them when it comes to chores – that the table is set every night, for instance, while plants are watered every few days, and the car is washed every week or two. Still, most need a little nudging to spring into action and keep their duties straight. You can cut down on your aggravation – and the need to nag – by making a chart of each family member's responsibilities, and post it in a well-used area, such as the kitchen. You can even make a monthly, calendar-type chart on the computer (or by hand) and have everyone initial each chore as they complete it. And remember that thanking your kids each time they remember their chores on their own can provide crucial encouragement do do it regularly.

Keep it fun

Your approach toward chores is key to helping your children accept them as a natural and rewarding part of life. If you and your partner complain about the drudgery of keeping house, your kids are sure to adopt that negative view, also, and become more resistant to doing their own jobs. And if you take a nagging or critical tone with them, they'll develop a bad attitude toward the whole subject.

Instead, whenever possible, try to give your children chores that they'll enjoy, and rotate both the good jobs and the ones that no-one especially likes. Besides occasionally working alongside your children, encourage siblings to do some chores together so they can enjoy each other's company and practise teamwork. Put on lively music, have contests to see who can finish their tasks first, or schedule a little treat at the end of chore day (like going out for ice-cream or watching a video together). You don't have to make everything fun all the time – that's simply not realistic – but by maintaining an upbeat and matter-of-fact attitude towards household chores, you can do a lot to keep your helpers whistling while they work.

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