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Berkeley Parents Network > Advice > Teens, Preteens, & Young Adults > Chores


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Too much work for an 11 year old?

March 2009

My ex seems to think it is appropriate to make our daughter, 11, work to earn...her regular clothes, cookies for her class, her phone, an extra book, her friend's birthday gift, a movie while on vacation in the hotel, and many more of these types of things. She ends up working half of the weekend (truthfully about 4-5 hours) to ''pay'' for these things, every weekend she is with him. He just adds up the hours, which carry over to the next day she's with him, so that it is a constant activity. I believe in chores, some of which can be part of an allowance, some which should be a part of helping a family function. But I am struggling with the amount of work my daughter has to do to get things that don't seem inappropriate for a parent to provide. All of the list of things above was in a months' time. I would appreciate feedback on this. Thanks! struggling


You and your ex have vastly different parenting styles and that can be very uncomfortable for your child and for you. Having said that, it is really important to determine how she feels about it. Is it stressful for her? Does she feel inadequate? Does it make her feel dad's love is conditional on her performance? Or, is it kind of a fun game or challenge in which she feels a sense of accomplishment upon reaching her goal? Her feelings about this process will likely change over time. What could be fun now could become intolerable or infuriating as she gets older.

As difficult as it may be, it is important for you to separate your current feelings from hers. You may be reacting to what may be a type of rigidity on the part of your ex, and you can probably predict that this will not be very useful as she matures and enters adolescence. It will be important to stay attuned and communicating well with your daughter on hw she's feeling about those visits. I don't believe you've said whether you (or your daughter)have been able to discuss this with her father in a productive way. If not, and your child is feeling distressed, this is a situation where a mediator or therapist may be useful. Some therapists, including myself, do family work with divorced families.

Without knowing more, I would also say that this could potentially be an opportunity for your daughter to deepen her relationship with her father by learning to communicate with him about her needs and feelings. Ilene


What are reasonable chores for a 12-13 year old?

Sept 2001

I would appreciate hearing what parents feel are appropriate expectations for a 12 or 13 year old girl (in the 7th grade) in terms of household chores and responsibilities. What "home ec" skills should a girl of this age know or be learning? What kinds of tasks, and expectations for how well they're executed, are reasonable? For example, how much help with making meals, cleaning common areas, pitching in on "special chores" is reasonable? Every family/household of course is different but understanding the range of practices currently out there for this age/grade would be really helpful.


I'm thinking back a couple of years. In our family, the primary focus for the kids was on their schoolwork. So their main 'chore' was their own homework. Secondarily, they were expected to take care of their own rooms. That meant changing the sheets, vacuuming their rooms. In addition, from about 9 or 10 years on up, they made their own lunches to take to school. It was a relief for me to be out of the lunch-counter business.

As far as helping with meals for the family or cleaning common areas, we were pretty casual. The kids would help set the table, load the dishwasher, or put away the clean dishes. We didn't have a schedule. If they were asked to help they were expected to help. They did not make their own dinner, but if they wanted a special dessert or if they were having company over, they might make part of the meal. We had a live-in grandparent, whose focus was on the kitchen, so he saved everyone an hour a day I believe. The kids were not allowed to leave their things all over the living room or family room unless they were going camping or on some other kind of field trip the next day. They helped in the yard with planting and with mowing the lawn every so often. I did the watering as I'm the only one who really likes doing that. My son would take the trash to the curb, vacuum the living room when asked, and wash the kitchen floor when asked. My daughter would feed the cats and turn the compost.

Beyond that, they each did things to help out on the basis of what they liked to do or needed to learn. My daughter would re-arrange furniture and decorate for parties. My son would give advice and help with anyone's computer problems. When I finally realized how little he appreciated my work as laundress, I had him do his own laundry! Both kids were also expected to help beyond the home with projects sponsored by church, scouts, or school - the homeless shelter, tutoring, saving the newts, cleaning up beaches... Bonnie Hariton


I have a 13 year old daughter. I've had her doing chores since she was 10 years old. My daughter is responsible for her own laundry, cooking rice, once - twice a week her brother (age 10) and her clean their own bathroom, keeping their room picked up and clean, dusting & vaccuming their room. They also both dust the living room furniture. They both clean up the dishes & table after dinner. Since every family is different, maybe start out by having her set the dinner table & clearing dishes after. Folding laundry and putting her own clothes away. As she gets used to this routine maybe add on to her chores. She should do these things on a consistant regular basis. Keep a routine going. I am married with 2 children age 10 and 14. I tell my kids we are a family team & need to work as a team to keep this household family running smoothly. Of course it doesn't always run the way you would like it.
I have struggled with this as well. We have two 13-year-olds -- here are the expectations we currently have for them: they can choose each night how to help with dinner (either help do the dinner prep/cooking or help with cleanup), pick up their belongings from common areas daily (dining room, living room, etc.), plus one weekly chore (like bring out trash/recycling). They are also expected to cleanup all dishes/pots etc. from any breakfast/lunch/snack prep that they do. We started this level of chores when they were 11. At first it was more work to have them help than it was just to do it without them, but now they are experienced enough to cook without assistance (when motivated!). We still spend a fair amount of time reminding them about chores. But it is very gratifying to see them make progress and start to do more things without being reminded. And although they may complain or resist, I can also see that they feel better about themselves when they feel they are contributing to the household in this way. Diane
First of all, girls' chores should be no different from boys', so I don't think it makes any difference that my experience is with boys instead of girls. Being a girl myself, I am pretty sure that girls don't like washing dishes any more than boys do. Everyone hates chores equally.

When my boys were 12-13, they were expected to either set the table or clear the table for dinner every night. Still true now that they are older teens. They might occasionally have one unpaid Saturday chore, such as cutting the grass or helping to put groceries away, but usually there are no weekend chores. They help with cooking dinner on weekends, on holidays, in the summer, but not during the week. When they do help cook, it's more for socializing than a chore because we all enjoy cooking. But regular chores - they just don't have time during the week for them, if their homework is going to get done. (I have always felt resentful that kids must spend so much of their day at school, and then come home to spend the rest of the day on homework. Why can't we have family time instead of homework time? They don't really get fun to be around till they are teens and then all of a sudden it's all over and they are gone!) And if they have just one afternoon activity like practice, homework gets squeezed in to the late hours and they have to spend all day Saturday catching up on sleep they missed during the week. So I don't load them down with more work once they get home, and I think they should be able to relax (or sleep) on the weekends. We are lucky to have a housekeeper every week, and I pick up the slack on the menial tasks.

Another issue: their dad and I are divorced and since grade school we've had 50-50 custody. Kids in this situation have at least two additional burdens: There are two houses that need grass cut and garbage emptied, and there are two sets of parents they must satisfy. From the parents' point of view, split custody is an impediment to assigning one kid the responsibility for some task on an ongoing basis, because they are not at your house all the time. So tasks have to be assigned on an as-needed basis, not as an ongoing responsibility. From the kids' point of view, step-parents may have very different expectations from Mom and Dad, especially if they don't have kids of their own and suddenly find themselves sharing space with older kids. My ex's wife, who never had kids, was appalled at how little the kids did around the house. They actually didn't even know how to wash dishes or make a bed! That is my fault. I have low standards of tidyness - I throw everything in the dishwasher and I rarely make my own bed, so I never bothered to pass on these "talents" to the kids. So there was some friction between the kids and the stepmom over chores for a while, with the kids complaining a lot about their "mean" step-mom. But I must say, she did teach them how to wash the dishes properly which has been quite useful at my house! And no mom really gets that upset about her kids complaining about their stepmom (don't worry, I don't dis her when the kids are around.) So, all in all, in terms of chores, the stepmom's problem was kind of a win-win situation for me. A Mom


Chores that I expected my teens to do at that age included:
Yard work (girls can do this too!)
Vacuuming (probably only a couple of rooms at a time at this stage)
Laundry folding and distribution
Kitchen help (usually only one of these at a time):
    preparing a side dish (flavored rice, etc.)
    set and/or clear table
    rinse dishes and put in dishwasher
    clean pots and pans
    clean refrigerator
    sweep/vacuum kitchen floor, then damp mop
Take out recycling
Empty all small trash cans in house and then take garbage out
Dusting
Wash car / vacuum car
Be responsible for cleaning their own room:
    change bed linen,
    collect dirty clothes in hamper,
    dust and de-trashify,
    organize desk (may need guidance and help for the first several times)
There are probably more, but that's all I can think of just now. The primary thing I stressed with my guys was to "Put all the toys away" afterwards - that means to put away the lawnmower or the vacuum cleaner or the laundry baskets, so they get used to the concept of "completion." --And it looks so much better. Also (very important), the first time or two they do these chores, someone (mom or dad) should guide them as much as possible, explaining how and why to do things in a certain order. Remember, though, your smart kids may eventually find a better or more efficient method than you, so be open for that. Your daughter may respond to chore expectations better than my little anarchists - I had to accept and be happy with whatever help I got without resorting to nagging (not always the level of dutiful submission a parent would hope for). Ah well, parenthood.
at 12 years ( and still at 15) my daughter does all her own laundry, washes dinner dishes once a week (should be more I think), puts out trash and recycling once a week, and on the weekends I assign her a different job to fill whatever need I have that week. These are things like clean the bathroom, vacuum the downstairs, vacuum the car, etc. I think kids are extremely capable at this age and need to contribute to the household maintenance. She has cooked dinner a couple of times but that takes more planning and my assistance in the planning so I have been lazy about it. I have also given up on things like her room. She cleans it when she wants, or whether she ever folds her laundry and puts it away. I do however inspect the jobs she does for me ( ie: bathroom cleaning etc) and insist she does a good job without being overly critical. This is how they learn how to do it well. I would just adjust the amount of work according to the other commitments your daughter has to make it manageable. lynn
Even though I have sons, I would like to respond. I'd like to think boys and girls should learn the same kinds of household chores, family responsibilities, care of one's self and one's home environment. Our one rule in this area has always been that our children should do what is asked of them, and do it cheerfully and to the best of their ability. As they've matured (they are 12 and 9) they have gradually taken on more and more duties that we expect them to do without being reminded, and additional things "upon request." This good attitude is tied to their allowance - we have never yet had to withold allowance... They both daily: make their beds, bring all their laundry to the laundry area, give food and fresh water and love to the cats, set the table for dinner. When asked they help with dinner, take out the garbage, work in the yard. The 12 year old makes school lunches for himself and his brother - sometimes with an assist from me. I am gradually teaching them both cooking skills, cooking measurements, about tools and ingredients. My 12 year old helps his grandmother with many heavy outdoor chores and has learned to handle garden tools, a small saw, and spreading of ground cover, hauling tree trimmings, and balancing a ladder properly. My younger son is especially interested in cooking and has become my "sous chef" for dinner making. I see all these things as gradual steps to self-suffiency, greater confidence, and leading a competent life. This is but one, personal approach. I hope it helps. All the best, Debby
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