As Orthodox parents, we value instilling routines of prayer, fasting, and service to others. One simple way to promote the development of self-control and caring for others is to establish consistent chores for our children. Establishing routines is the hardest part, but the benefits of having children accomplishing tasks and growing into confident and competent adults is worth the initial frustrations.
When I decided to establish organized chores for my three adopted children, I remembered that chore charts had never worked for me in the past with my biological children. I’d usually decide that getting my kids to do chores was harder than just doing them myself, so I’d give up in frustration, but somehow in my classroom, I had no trouble assigning chores and getting them done. I decided to strategize and see if it could be more successful if I had a better plan.
First, I made a list of chores the kids could take over. I divided the list evenly among my three kids according to their ages and abilities. Then I found a chore chart online by searching for images of chore charts and selecting one I liked.
As I filled out the chart, I made sure that the chores for each child should take them no more than 20 minutes a day. I wrote up a simple job description for each task and made sure the supplies they needed were handy.
After presenting the chart to the kids, I spent a lot of time making sure they knew how to do their chores up to my standards. First I modeled how to do each chore, then I assisted the child as they did the chore, and then I watched them as they worked by themselves. I found that they didn’t know as much as I expected about things like cleaning mirrors, vacuuming, and other simple tasks, but once they were shown, they proudly did a good job. At first, I made point of inspecting their work, but now I only do it occasionally.
Once a week, each child vacuums our whole house, cleans the children’s bathroom, and takes out all the trash. For example: Andrew vacuums on Monday, takes out the trash on Wednesday and cleans the kid’s bathroom every Friday, while Nick takes out the trash on Monday, cleans the bathroom on Wednesday and vacuums on Friday. They look forward to the day when all they have to do is take out the trash! On other days, they might have a simple job like watering the plants or a harder job like clean and sweep out the garage.
Tailoring chores to things they love will make it more satisfying. Nick and Andrew especially like the pet care job and they taught our dog to jump through a hoop! My youngest daughter loved cooking. When she was little, we pretended to host a cooking show together while making dinner each night and she never saw cooking as a chore. Daily, they make their beds, set the table and help with dishes.
Sometimes they’ve complained about chores, but when I set a timer and showed them that the chores usually take 15 minutes the complaints stopped. I found that for my family, it works well if we all do chores at the same time, so I usually do a simple chore of my own while they are working, so we are all working together at our tasks.
On our chore chart, I included a flexible slot to use it for bigger projects like yard work or “sunshine” chores. Sunshine chores are special jobs they do for other people. One week, their sunshine job was to write notes to our older relatives who live far away. I sat with them as they wrote and told stories about each person. Several of them wrote back, thanking them for the sweet notes and it brought my kids closer to their new family.
It’s best to start chores with very young children. Little children can make their bed and put away toys. It’s much easier to start training little children to do tasks if you start early. My adopted children grew up in chaotic environments where they had to fend for themselves until they entered the orphanage which was very organized and expected them to do lots and lots of chores including being responsible for their clothes, toys, personal care, cooking, cleaning and growing food in the fields. It was amazing to see how cheerfully they seemed to work.
My boys made their beds beautifully when the lived in the orphanage, but in our house they slacked off until my husband created a bed making competition: whichever boy made their bed more neatly got a quarter. Suddenly, the beds were perfect.
Developing the chore system that works for our family took me about a month. I made adjustments to my original plan, spent a lot of time training the kids and did not let them wear me down. The chores became a routine part of their life and they have become more helpful in other ways now that they do chores. Six months later, the system works smoothly and I regularly get compliments from my friends. My children are more confident and it has brought us closer as a family. The kids appreciate things I do for them more now that they have a role in keeping the house clean. Doing chores has helped them to feel like this is their house too, which was very important for my teenage adopted kids, but can also help pull back biological kids who are starting to feel less like they belong as they enter their teen years.
Ways to successfully establish routine chores:
- Start chore time with a short prayer
- Choose chores wisely: fast, easy, and truly helpful to you!
- Include chores that make the child responsible for their own things, for household tasks, and occasionally give them a sunshine chore to serve others
- Teach your child how you want the chore done by first showing them, later assisting them and then inspecting their independent work
- Keep supplies on hand
- Create a chart to stay organized and provide routines
- Have a set time for chores and keep it less than 30 minutes
- Use lots of praise and logical consequences to keep them from slacking off
- Keep them moving with upbeat music
- Expect the first week or two to be time consuming, but your reward will follow soon!
Developing a habit of taking care of things is very healthy for our children and helpful for us. It pulls the family together when tasks are accomplished together and gives a way for our children to see how by serving others they are also serving God.
Prayer before any work: O Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of the eternal Father, Thou hast said, “Without me you can do nothing.” In faith I embrace Thy words, O Lord, and bow before Thy goodness. Help me to complete the work I am about to begin for Thine own glory: in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. (Source: OCA prayer book)