Belfast Telegraph

Your kids should help around the house ... it's preparation for life

When should children start doing chores and should they get paid for doing them?

By Lisa Salmon

Most parents with any sense - and even those without - will get their kids to help around the house in some way.

Children doing chores is important not only because it makes running the home a little easier for busy parents, but also because learning how to complete household tasks properly is a vital life skill.

But while parents might agree children should do at least some chores, what age should they start, and should they get paid?

Parenting expert Suzie Hayman, a trustee of the parenting charity Family Lives, says children have a responsibility to share household tasks, without being paid.

"There are certain things you have to get done round the house so everything goes swimmingly - you cook, you clean, you tidy up, and if you didn't, the house would practically collapse," she says.

"Children receive the end result of all your cooking and cleaning, and that means they also have a responsibility to muck in. It's about sharing the upkeep of the comfortable home in which they live, and this idea of sharing the responsibility is something they should be presented with from a very early age."

Research suggests the average child is making cups of tea or coffee by age seven, running their baths aged eight, and helping with the ironing by the age of 10.

The study, by home interiors company Hillarys, found girls are usually asked to help out from the age of about four years, while boys begin to help at six years old.

The most common chore for boys was washing the car (23%), babysitting (14%) and DIY jobs (13%), while the top chores for girls were vacuuming (20%), helping with laundry (15%) and dusting (13%).

And as well as making cuppas and ironing, today's youngsters are allowed to use cleaning products such as surface sprays and toilet cleaner from the age of five, and load or unload the dishwasher at six years old.

But Hayman believes children should start developing a household-helper mindset a lot earlier, and suggests this could start with toddlers being responsible for keeping their room tidy. One way of doing this is by turning tidying up into a game, she says, asking toddlers how quickly they can put their toys away, for example.

"If you begin with the assumption that you don't tidy up for them from when they're very young, you can then add on things they're able to do as they get older, such as laying the table and fetching things for you," she says.

"Children see what you do and they want to copy it, so parents need to harness that and get them to do the real thing. There are lots and lots of things that children can and should be doing."

Hayman points out that if parents don't get children to do chores, they'll be totally unequipped for independent living as adults.

"You don't want that - you want to teach your child how to manage in the real world, and doing things round the house is one of them," she says.

If children are doing their share of the housework, they'll also feel that the house is theirs too, as opposed to feeling and behaving like guests.

Part of the reason some parents don't ask children to do certain jobs is because they know the child won't do it properly and they'll end up having to do it themselves.

But that, says Hayman, means they're creating a rod for their own back. "Is the world going to come to an end if the job isn't done perfectly? No it isn't," she insists.

"If they don't do the washing up properly, make sure they get the dirty plate and they'll soon learn. Make them suffer the consequences of not doing it properly.

"Don't do it for them, it's so much more important that they learn this is part of life than that the job is done perfectly."

A separate study found nearly all (91%) of teenagers say they help around the house, but almost half (45%) are paid to do so.

Of those who do chores, the most common are tidying bedrooms (75%), washing dishes (61%), vacuuming (50%), helping to cook meals (46%) and putting the bins out (44%).

The School Stickers study found almost two-thirds of teens (65%) are paid per chore, while 27% are given treats for doing jobs, and one in 10 is paid to do a list of jobs each week.

The best paid chores are babysitting, paying on average £2.67 per half hour, and cleaning the car, paying on average £2.73 per car. All other chores pay on average between £1.22 and £2.21.

However, Hayman insists that children should only be paid for doing chores that parents might otherwise have to pay someone else to do, such as mowing the lawn or cleaning windows.

"You don't want to get into the situation where your child says they won't do something unless you pay them," she stresses.

"If they do say that, your response should be, 'Fine. Then I'm not making dinner'."

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