Are Chores Soothing for Kids?

Are Chores Soothing for Kids?  One aspect in particular helps ground children.

Sofia and Mark raking leaves in front of our old Syracuse house

Hello everyone,

Life with a new baby, a middle-schooler, and three in-between is still wild and wonderful.  Diana is deliciously warm and snuggly, and even though she is still waking at least three times a night, I have help.  Sofia, who gets up early for chorus every day, has started making breakfast for Luke when he patters down to the kitchen in the dark morning.  And when I can’t make it, Virginia, who is in fifth grade now, picks up Mark from kindergarten and walks him home.


Diana tucked into the Moby Wrap before we drop the kids off at school

The most intense part of the day for sure is after-school until bedtime, when eating, spilling, singing, fighting, racing, whining, cleaning, begging, and cooking are all happening at the same time.  But when all the stories have been read, homework logs have been signed, and bedtime chats have been had, the house is serene.  Even though I should go straight to bed myself, I love getting really sleepy while reading a magazine or newspaper.

Something stood out to me in an article about getting kids to help around the house in this month’s Better Homes and Gardens:

“A chore is more likely to stick if it’s done at the same time every day, like setting the table for dinner.  As [Kim John Payne, M.Ed., coauthor of Simply Parenting] notes, “That’s when the task becomes something soothing that helps ground your child.”

My kids have been doing various chores since my oldest was in first grade, but when I think about it, the one chore that they never argue about is the one that has always been the same no matter where we have lived, what we have going on, or how old they are:  that is, setting the table before dinner.

You often hear adults saying that they find it therapeutic to iron, or wash dishes, or mow the grass, but I’d rarely thought about the predictable routine aspect of chores.  But it makes perfect sense:  kids (and adults) crave structure and familiarity.

Boring is Good Sometimes

The repetitive, familiar, sun-up-sun-down nature of regular chores must make it seem like the work is part of life, part of a family’s revolving world.  Assigning regular responsibilities to a child — whether it rotates by week or alternates by day — is also easier on the parent.  I find that while one-off assignments are met with a lot of resistance, routine chores become more automatic, like brushing teeth and getting dressed in the morning.

(That’s not to say that my kids don’t complain or negotiate, or claim that “No one has as many chores as they do.”  But fights are rare when it comes to regular chores, especially ones that always happen at the same time every day.)

We’re All a Little OCD, Aren’t We?

I once read that tasks that require repetitive motions, like sweeping, raking, or shoveling snow, evoke a relaxation response in the body that helps reduce stress.  Just like walking, knitting, or meditative chanting can give us a feeling of restfulness, so can activities that help the whole family, such as scrubbing pots, folding laundry, or vacuuming.

Don’t you also find that any chore that offers instant visual (or aural) feedback is very satisfying?  For example, one of the most popular chores here is mopping the kitchen floor.  Kids get to see the floor become shiny-wet and clean as they progress around the room with the steam mop.

We also find that vacuuming is almost more fun when the floor is really dirty.   We love to hear the clickety-click of crumbs, sand, and pebbles as they are sucked up through the metal wand of our canister vacuum.  And of course, the clearly visible results of blowing leaves and cutting grass make us feel like we’ve really accomplished something.

Everyone Wants to Be Needed

But I wonder if a chore’s most powerful calming effect comes when it gives us a sense of purpose.  We all crave meaningful work, right?  Household tasks give children a sense that they are doing something worthwhile and that is essential to their  family’s overall well-being.

I love getting assistance with the work of running a household, but expecting my kids to help around the house has grounded them in a way that I deeply appreciate.

How Our Kids Began Helping

Chore chart ideas for kids and families

Sofia was seven and Virginia was five (Mark was only three months) when we moved to New York City.  Maybe it was the move to a big new place, but the girls seemed untethered and antsy, and they were becoming more disrespectful and wild in their play.  What’s more, I was feeling overwhelmed with cleaning and laundry (done down the hall with handfuls of quarters), and in the mornings before school, I felt like a barking gym teacher in need of a whistle.

I began making the girls responsible for getting themselves ready for school (with checklists, timers, and rewards and consequences).  Then I gave them everyday tasks that would help with rush hours:  before going to school, they alternated tidying up their shared bedroom or the living room; in the evening, they took turns setting the table, playing with the baby, and sweeping after dinner.

Cleaning wheels for taking turns on family household chores

Once those helper assignments were established and people seemed happy (and very capable), we began sharing the cleaning tasks on the weekend.  I taught them how to clean the toilet, to dust, and vacuum.  I no longer felt like Cinderella, and at least to my eyes, they looked less like the spoiled sisters.  We were like partners, and the kids became responsible for themselves, but also for their apartment and their siblings.

Where We Are Now


No, my kids don’t paint our house, but they loved helping me test paint colors. (Next week, we’re going to have a pink house!)

When Enrico insisted on professional cleaning help (at least while Diana is a little baby), I resisted because I knew that working together was good for us.  But since I wasn’t sure how my recovery would be, I conceded.  The girls now help us with childcare by giving the boys a bath and putting them to bed some nights.  With a big house there is always stuff to do, so they can  choose from tasks in the garden (pruning bushes, weeding, and raking leaves) or in the house (like organizing closets and cleaning inside cabinets and drawers).

And they still alternate setting the table before dinner and vacuuming after. On the odd day, Sunday, I ask Mark and Luke to help.  Mark, who is five, will whine and make excuses until Luke, three, says he wants to do it, and then they start fighting over who gets to do it.

I guess it’s time to include the boys in our regular routine.

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  • Daisy October 16, 2013, 7:39 pm

    I can definitely relate to feeling like Cinderella. Sometimes I even send the kids out with my husband to do something fun so that I can clean up without distractions!

    I was so used to doing everything for babies that I didn’t notice when they became capable of doing things for themselves. I’m trying to get my big kids (5 and 3) to start taking responsibility for small things, such as taking their dishes to the kitchen.

    We have pack up time each day before dinner, which feels like torture for all of us. My husband often says that he would rather do it himself, than trying to get our girls to cooperate. So much complaining, but I must admit, my oldest daughter is getting better at it. And it is a valuable lesson.

    I think I will need to use some sort of chart for the mornings next year. My second daughter is starting preschool, so there will be two of them to get ready. There are many tasks that they can complete themselves. We just need to set a routine they can follow.

    It has been interesting to read about how you do it, Amy.

  • Sofia Suardi October 11, 2013, 6:45 pm

    Wow, I never thought of them like that, but I see now how when you ask me to set the table, I never complain anymore. I’m just so used to it that I don’t even notice. I remember when I would complain so much whenever you would make a chore. It was like my tantrums now about getting an iPhone or an iPod Touch. :)

    • Amy October 13, 2013, 9:08 pm

      Dear Sofia,

      Thanks for helping me put the begging for an iPhone into perspective!

      your mama

  • Fan in the 22301 October 11, 2013, 4:08 pm

    I love this, last year my kindergartner raised money in their class by doing extra chores at home to them give to a charity. Since my kids already have to clean their room, make their bed and set and clear the table, we added in vacuuming, using the shark cleaner and cleaning toilets. The other kids in the class were paid for dressing themselves, eating their meals and brushing their teeth. When I heard this, I did a double face palm.

    • Amy October 11, 2013, 4:50 pm

      Hey there,

      I’m so impressed with all that your kids are doing. I bet their classmates were too!

      Take care,

  • Jen @ Jen Spends October 11, 2013, 11:03 am

    I’m so relieved to know that your oldest was 7 when you started formal chores. I’ve been worried that it’s one of those things that if I don’t get it going within a certain window of time, it’s never going to work. With so many things going on, it’s been tough to get organized.

    I agree, routine is very soothing. My favorite chore is washing baby bottles. It’s relaxing, and I feel a little sense of achievement seeing them all sparkling clean.

    • Amy October 11, 2013, 4:48 pm

      Hi Jen,

      It’s rarely too late. I’m sure your kids will jump on board whenever you are ready.

      Washing baby bottles does sound relaxing, especially the way you describe it.


  • Charlene Ross October 10, 2013, 3:56 pm

    It’s interesting -my kids are much older than yours – 16 (boy) & 13(girl), and you are right – their daily chore of emptying the dishwasher (he does the top, she does the bottom) are never met with complaint. They switch off taking out trash and recycle (both hate taking out the trash – it smells & requires putting in a new plastic bag!) so sometimes I will hear the occasional “I took out the trash last time,” but usually they just do it because they know they have to.

    As for weekend chores my son does them as soon as he can so he can get on with his day. My daughter is the opposite – putting them off as long as she can. Again, once in a while I’ll hear the “I did that last week,” but usually they just do their work.

    I don’t know that they are “soothed” by their chores, but I do think they appreciate the routine of them.

    This was a great post with a great perspective. Thank you! (And I loved your little chore wheel – wish I’d thought of that when my kids were younger!)

    • Amy October 13, 2013, 9:06 pm

      Hi Charlene,

      I love hearing how other families handle chores. I thought it was interesting how your son and daughter handled them differently too.

      Thank you for stopping by and sharing. p.s. I liked reading your blog — your writing style is both funny and relaxed, confident and easy.

      Take care,