Chores. It’s probably a word we all have some degree of dislike for. A word that probably tainted a part of your day in childhood – unless your parents made it super interesting. It’s certainly a word that leaves a sour taste in my mouth as an adult! But, here’s a little story…


Once upon a time in the 1990’s, there was a little girl who was told each day to make her bed, clean her room, lay the table and unpack the dishwasher – much to her dislike. She did it “met lang tande”, whined and dragged her feet. When her mom, at her wits end, was tired of fighting, she’d close the bedroom door and tell her that her room should be tidy later on in the day. During the day, the domestic worker would pick up after said little girl despite the mom’s pleas to leave the girl to do it herself. Said little girl grew up, got married and moved out the house. Said little girl was me.


I could never understand why my mom hated us moving our toys to the lounge. I thought she was overreacting when she complained about having “just tidied” a room only to have me come and unpack something or add a dish to a finally emptied sink. But one day, sitting in a heap on the wooden floors of our flat, mop in hand, sobbing, did I finally understand her frustration! It was never ending! There was always washing in the basket at the end of each day. There was always a dirty cup in the sink. There was often a spill on the kitchen counter, a fine blanket of dust on the faux leather couch or a few clean clothes tossed on a chair. No sooner was the house clean and then a mess again.


Add children…


Oh my living! Crazy times! HOW is it possible that someone with arms and legs a third the length of yours can unpack faster than you can clean or create more destruction than you could imagine in the split seconds that it takes for you to put a clean shirt away?!?  It never ceases to blow my mind!

Back to that day I sat weeping on the floor of our flat…

I remember feeling so underprepared for the role of “house wife” that lay before me. I actually wished in that moment that I had been given more chores as a child so that I would have had some idea of what I was getting myself into when leaving the cushy life I lived at home. I honestly didn’t have a concept of how relentless the cleaning would be!


So, I decided that, as far as possible, my kids would grow up doing their bit! I was actually determined that I didn’t want help in the house (a very unusual thing not to have in South Africa) but to rather task each family member to be responsible for his/her mess. I have had help at certain periods in our married life – when we moved to a big house and I was working and also for the first few months post babies. But, I really want my children to understand that their mess is their problem!


Here’s what it will teach them…

  1. Take responsibility

If you made the mess, you clean it up. I am not your picker-upper. When they get to school, you will have instilled valuable life skills. As a preschool teacher, it was very clear which children were given responsibility at home and which weren’t. The ones who looked after their things were probably taught to put things back and to take care of their belongings. I remember even watching children wipe up a spill and I could tell who had done so many times before and who had never held a cloth in their hand!

  1. Gives independence

When they are young, children thrive on being able to do things, as my toddler would put it, “by self”. Embrace their independence while they are still eager!!

  1. Everyone has a part to play

If you live in a home, you play a part in the family. No one should be waited on. Every member should be taught to give and serve. Everyone should contribute to the running of the home.


Now, here is the question – when do you start giving children chores?



One thing I have learnt from teaching is to never underestimate what a child is capable of! I have always said to parents – expect a lot and lower your expectations if they can’t manage rather than expect little and not realise the potential of your child.

My one-and-a-half-year-old started showing an interest in helping around the house several months ago. She watched me dust the house a few times and, one day, picked up the duster and began to do it herself. She initiated it and it kept her entertained longer than her concentration span would normally allow. I would have never thought to hand her a duster. Truth be told, a duster is dirty in my OCD mind. But, the life skill was more important than my issue with dirt!


These are the things we expect of our almost two year-old.

  • Tidy up her toys (she knew how to tidy up before she could walk.)
  • Put her dirty clothes in the wash basket
  • Wipe her table after a meal
  • Feed the cat
  • Lay the table (with the help of a parent because she’s too short to put things on the table!)
  • Take her plate or bowl to the kitchen after a meal
  • Of late, clean up her mess such as crayon on the carpet!!!!


And guys, she is absolutely capable of all of the above! Tidying up was the first thing she learnt. My husband started teaching her by carrying her with her arm wrapped around her toys and dropping them into her toy drawer. It starts early! The other bonus is that, at her age, she is willing! Boy, am I going to jump on this band wagon before she realises the definition of chore! As your children get older, you can add the following…

  • Wash the dishes
  • Sweep
  • Mop
  • Dust
  • Vacuum
  • Wipe surfaces
  • Cleaning bathrooms
  • Watering plants
  • Washing windows
  • Iron
  • Fold and put away their clothes
  • Set the washing machine and hang up the washing
  • Stack and clear the dishwasher
  • Cook once a week


These are just a few off the top of my head! I’m sure there are many more! I promise you, by the time they leave home, they will be more than ready to run a household of their own. I think there are also many males who sit on their backside and expect their wives to bear the load when they are just as responsible for the mess in the house! Perhaps more of the mess than other members of the family because they don’t take any responsibility for it! Imagine raising a generation of men who do their bit to make the house run more smoothly! My dad had a night a week to cook, he washed the dishes every Saturday morning, and, in between, he’d often do the washing and help hang it out or make meals for people in the church. He would also pick up extra dinner nights if my mom came home late from a school function. An extra bonus was tea in bed every morning and evening. My husband does the same. He did all the housework when I was recovering from my C-section – from doing the dishes to washing cloth nappies!

It all starts with chores from a young age! Introduce them when your kids are older and you will introduce a new reason for attitude and whinging. If they grow up knowing what is expected of them and it’s already a part of their lives, they won’t know any differently!


One thing I have also noticed is that my daughter learns by example. Even though she is more of a hindrance than a help, she tries to help me with various chores she has seen me do throughout the day. I often used to think that she’d be better off at a daycare where she played more and had more adult attention but, my word, I have realised just how much she has learnt being at home with me. She takes out the washing and the nappies (which she is quite good at!) and tries to fold them. She walks around doing a very hasty and haphazard job of dusting. She stands on a chair beside me when I wash the dishes and regularly steals the sponge! These are all things that she will soon be able to do with some efficacy! My job will be halved!


Do yourself and your children a favour and give them chores! You can thank me later!

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