How To Divide and Conquer Household Jobs for Kids

household jobs

When our kids were young, it was always a chore to figure out how to handle household jobs.  

When it came to the kitchen, I had trouble finding a way to get my kids to help. I tried several things but they usually fell by the way.

If I asked a child to set the table, he had five reasons why he shouldn’t – and all of them involved the other siblings and what those siblings weren’t doing at the time.

One of my philosophies of life and parenting was to recognize a frustration, figure out why I was frustrated, and then find a solution.

When I took the time to consider this situation, I realized that I often ended up doing something myself because it was less hassle than trying to figure out “whose turn” it was. How ridiculous, I told myself one day. These kids are controlling me!

I was tired of spinning my wheels and decided to figure out how to get some tough traction so I’d quit spinning.

In this case, the problem was that no matter who I asked to do a task, they always had a reason why they shouldn’t. It-is-somebody-else’s-turn or I-did-it-yesterday or You-are always-asking-me were just some of the excuses. I wanted to be a fair mom, but it was time for my kids to learn that life wasn’t about them, that life wasn’t always fair, and that I was the CEO of this outfit.

I found a way to give everyone his rightful turn and keep track of it so that no one could use any of those excuses again. It was a light bulb moment in my parenting, and it worked for us.

This can work for your family, but you will need to tweak it for the ages of your kids and the size of your family.  You can pair kids together or add other tasks to this list (such as sorting, washing, folding laundry, etc.)

Later I also came up with ways to divvy out housework. But this issue with helping in the kitchen was a daily, and sometimes three times daily, issue. I needed to do something, and I needed to do it now.

household jobs

I came up with a list of kitchen tasks and specific responsibilities to go with them. You can see them posted here, and you’ll notice how used they were over the years! If you know my kids, you’ll know why I had to be specific about those responsibilities. My offspring was really good at the line, “Well, it doesn’t say I have to wash my hands first, so I don’t  have to.”

kitchen job lists

We also had a card system. Each card spelled out responsibilities for the week for each child, and the cards were rotated weekly. Kids checked their assignment and knew what they had to do that week. If they wanted to trade jobs for a day with someone, it was okay with me as long as the jobs got done. Sometimes I did a child’s job because he did another task I asked him to do. There was a lot of leverage and believe me, I used it to my full advantage.Yet when I needed hands on deck, my kids had no reason to argue or finagle anymore.

Our week went from Monday after school to the following Monday after school. I did not feel like having my day-of-Sunday-rest interrupted with arguments of whether or not this was the right week for this assignment. Nor did I want the Monday morning pre-school rush to be stymied by an argument about whose turn it was to empty the dishwasher. Like I said, if you know my kids, you’ll know why I had to do my battle plan in detail.

It was fun to have my kids come in from school on Monday and run to the kitchen to see what their assignment was for the week.

I knew that when a younger child was assigned to kitchen duty, I’d be doing the majority of the cooking; but that was  okay. It would change the following week. A time or two I didn’t go in the regular order of the changing of the cards. As I recall, I needed a lot of help with meal prep that week and I put the oldest one on for kitchen helper instead of the baby.

Here is the list of responsibilities and instructions for each one as I wrote them up when my kids were around the ages of 2-12.  (No, the 2-year-old wasn’t assigned tasks, but by the time he was 4, he was on the list.)

kitchen salt and pepper

Table Setter 

  1. Wash your hands.
  2. Report to the kitchen
  3. Ask about plates (this means know the menu so you know if you need flat plates or soup bowls).
  4. Set the table:
    • plates
    • silverware
    • napkins
    • glasses/ice
    • pour drink
    • butter/jelly prn(if needed)
    • salt and pepper
    • anything else: (crackers, etc.)
    • Etc. (This means anything else you are asked to do.)

Clear Table: (after dismissal from a meal)

  1. All children must carry their own plate, glass, and silverware to the kitchen and place in the dishwasher
  2. Clear everything else off the table:
    • other plates, cups, silverware
    • carry out serving bowls, pitchers, etc.
    • put salt and pepper away
    • put napkins in the trash
    • put extra food items in the refrigerator
    • Etc. (This means anything else you are asked to do.)household jobs

Empty Dishwasher:

  1. Wash hands.
  2. Empty all items in DW that are clean
  3. Put items away: stack things neatly in cupboards
  4. Items you can not reach must be put on the white cupboard counter
  5. Empty dish drainer on the side of the sink
  6. Etc. (This means anything else you are asked to do.)

Kitchen Helper:
  [The idea for this was to be a time to learn about cooking, but it didn’t accomplish as much as I intended. On second thought, they probably learned more than I realized]

  1. Wash hands
  2. Report to kitchen
  3. Help with fixing supper
  4. Hep get food on the table
  5. Etc. (This means anything else you are asked to do.).

Gofer:  Gofer means “go fer”. This means you go for things. You get things for Mama.

  1. Report to kitchen to find out what needs to be done
    • putting things away in the basement, back porch, etc.
    • you might be asked to go get things for supper, etc. (this included quart jars of applesauce, etc.)
  2. Be available after supper to help put things away
  3. Etc.  (This means anything else you are asked to do.)

household jobs

As my kids got older, I added tasks to these assignments. For example, the person who cleared the table also had to empty the trash. Granted, a four-year-old can hardly carry glass jars to the cellar, but they can empty silverware in the dishwasher and put it away. Sometimes the dishwasher emptier would carry jars to the basement for me and I’d empty part of the dishwasher for him.

If you have fewer kids than I had, you can combine some jobs. Your kitchen helper could also set the table. Your dishwasher emptier could also be the table clearer since the dishwasher is the main item for this task. Of course, if you don’t have a dishwasher, you adapt that task as well!

household jobs

You know your family and your kids, and you know what will work for them.

If you are concerned you might be asking too much of your younger kids, ask your hubby. He will be objective and also a support. (Dads are really good for objectivity and rationale, and your kids won’t argue if he shows his support.)

I specifically assigned the same person to clear the table and sweep the floor. Our kids believed in brushing crumbs onto the floor instead of wiping them into the dishcloth. So if they chose to brush crumbs on the floor, they also got to sweep those same crumbs off the floor.

Once we had another boy living with us for three weeks while his mother was out of state. He was so enamored with the jobs my kids had that he begged for one for himself. I redid the cards for those three weeks so he could be on the list. He thought it was so cool, and our kids enjoyed having him do his share of work.

I re-implemented this system when we had foster children who were old enough to help. Because everyone was doing it, even teenage boys didn’t mind being assigned a job for the week. It also forced boys into the kitchen to learn about simple, basic food preparation and proper table setting. They didn’t mind because it was part of living in our house.

This system might not be necessary if your kids are older. As they mature, teens and young adults more willingly help with routine jobs in the house without being asked.

We used this for several years when all six of our half-dozen were somewhere between two and twenty. The younger ones learned responsibility, and the older ones weren’t doing all the work while the younger ones got to play.

household jobs
Yep. These job lists are pretty worn. They were made 18 years ago.

Making those cards:

I used colored index cards and pasted paper with the typed assignments on them. The card was thumb-tacked to the bulletin board in the kitchen. For the instructions, I typed up the list and then I put contact paper on both the list and the cards. The contact paper preserved the cards for years.

The fun part about this is that, as the mom, you can tweak it any way you like. Let it work for you and take advantage of bartering with your kids for other tasks you’d rather not do. It’s a win-win for everyone. Plus, it makes meal prep and cleanup much more fun, and it will help your kitchen stay in better order.

There’s a sense of pride that happens in our kids when they have responsibility and learn to do it well. Like a well-oiled machine, household jobs can be more fun than conflict if we come up with a method that works for our family. Have at it. You’ll find things will be smoother and less squeaky all around.

pinterest divide and conquer household jobs


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