Especially for Parents: Fall Clean-up

by Alli Zomer


It doesn’t seem to matter whether you have school age kids, the rhythm of the school calendar is ingrained in all of us. September always feels like a time that we are supposed to regroup. It may be arbitrary, but it is hard to escape, so I tend to embrace it and try to think about what I need to refresh in my life each fall.


This year I have one big topic in mind: chores. It seems like that should be a four-letter word. In my mind, I know that engaging my young children in chores is good for everyone. It teaches kids responsibility and how to contribute to the common good, and it takes a small amount of the work off my plate. Except that it doesn’t, because figuring out the right way to approach chores becomes a new chore all its own! We have tried various things since our kids were young like setting and clearing the table or picking up toys, but I always feel that I am lacking a systemic approach. It feels too haphazard and makes me wonder if it is doing them (or me!) any good.


In May, EFC preschool teachers attended a training called “Happy Helpers” that focused on how children’s confidence and behavior improves when they are given genuine and meaningful responsibilities. Teachers walked away from that training with a greater appreciation for how meaningful work helps children build foundational life skills as well as a positive sense of self. I have seen many of them put these principles into practice over the last few months, and I have been really impressed with the results. Which made me wonder, what could we as parents learn that might allow us to foster “Happy Helpers” at home too. Of the many tools and lessons contained in the training, here are a few that stuck with me from one article our trainer shared:


Questions to ask yourself about chores:

  1. Am I being realistic? If something is too hard, it will cause frustration. If it is too easy, children will feel it is unimportant or not “real.” Tailor jobs to children’s abilities – a two-year-old can set forks and napkins on the table, but probably isn’t ready to wash Grandma’s fine china.
  2. Do children know what is expected? Directions should be crystal clear so that children know what you are asking of them. Rather than saying “clean up” try “I need you to put all the toys in the bin, the books on the bookshelf, and your clothes in the hamper.”
  3. Do tasks match kids’ interests and talents? People are more likely to do things they enjoy. Of course, not all chores are fun, but, when possible, try to put your animal-loving child in charge of feeding the dog.
  4. Do kids have a say? Think about how you might give children control of how or when they complete a task. This creates a sense of buy-in.
  5. Am I a good chore role model? Try to maintain a positive attitude about your own chores. (This one is a stretch for me…it’s hard to find the joy in washing pots and pans).

Those questions were all helpful to me as I thought about how to revamp our chore approach this fall. But here was the kicker, the one that really stuck with me: complaining, grumbling and tantrums will happen – accept it! The advice was a little more nuanced than that, but essentially the author is encouraging us not to get too bent out of shape by the complaining. They advise us to accept and ignore it – as long as the job gets done. This will be a shift for me, as my tendency is sometimes to continue talking or explaining until I get to some magical point where my 5-year-old understands the cosmic value of responsibility. News flash, that moment rarely comes. So instead, when I revamp this fall’s chore list, I am going to try to focus on the end goal – confidence, responsibility, and a slightly cleaner house – and spend a little less time worrying about the whining it takes to get there.


Read the full article here: