Chores: Consequences Plus a Tidy Home
by Mommy MD Guide Jennifer Hanes, DO
Despite numerous types of punishment given to children by their parents, I believe that one method rises above the rest. Chores. This punishment strategy can be instituted as young as two years of age and can continue until adulthood. (I define adulthood as the ability to pay your own way. It gives children a goal to be autonomous rather than relying on others to pay, be it family or welfare.)
Assigning chores as a consequence for unacceptable behavior teaches invaluable life lessons. In life, actions have consequences. When faced with our consequences, we can chose to whine about them and seemingly make the misery last forever. On the other hand, we can acknowledge the consequence and perform the necessary tasks in a quick and cheerful manner speeding our return to the rest of our lives. This is the lesson taught to children by assigning extra chores as a punishment. It is a lesson they will carry into adulthood. By assigning chores as a consequence, the child is in charge of how long the punishment lasts and how quickly they can return to playing. It is a hands-on example to teach children they are in control of how they react to circumstances.
Of course, chores are also a routine aspect of life. Part of living in a home is performing daily chores. Most kids have their own assigned duties, daily chores, that work best for each family. However, when there needs to be a consequence (or punishment) adding additional chores teaches them life lessons and helps the house remain tidy.
In my family, for small children a “chore” is very simple like, “Please throw away the piece of paper on that chair” or “Please stack these juice boxes in the pantry.” The number of chores varies with the activity. For a pre-schooler, whining may result in two chores, but hitting a sibling results in 10 chores. As such, it is a great way to teach the severity of an action, “This is a very busy parking lot. If you let go of my hand the consequence will be 20 chores.” Then ask, “What did Mommy just say?” The repetition of “20 chores” often helps the child comprehend the severity of the warning.
For older children, of course, the chores can graduate to more difficult tasks like vacuuming or cleaning bathrooms. Will this teaches children to dislike chores? By definition, chores are work. They are unpleasant but need to be done. This is the lesson relayed to children. Some parts of life are not as fun as others. We can complain and waste our energy by focusing how bad it is, or we can choose an attitude that we may not be in control of the situation but we are in control how quickly it resolves and our attitude about the situation.
In our home, it literally becomes a race to get punishment chores done quickly. My four-year-old asks, “What is my second chore, Mommy?” as he bounds down the stairs, completing the first task. Five chores for a pre-schooler can easily be completed in a couple of minutes without the pain of trying to regulate a time-out. Additionally, when my kids are doing chores, I always “do chores” at the same time, so when my son completes five chores, several items have been tidy, and the house is in better condition.
There are many successful ways to teach children about actions and consequences. However, this is the only technique that gives a valuable life lesson while creating a tidy home. It is a winning solution.