Preparing for the Trip: Chores

One of the key important ways to prepare early on for employment is to give chores to our children, including our children with disabilities. When kids learn to do work in the home, they are better prepared for work in the real world. They learn to understand the value of work, as well as the rewards that come from it.

When Andy was little, we started off with chores like picking up toys, taking his dishes to the sink, wiping off the table, and putting away the silverware in the dishwasher. Then, as he became older, his chores grew to vacuuming, walking the dog, putting away all the dishes in the dishwasher, taking out the trash, raking, and cleaning out the car.

It wasn’t easy because when he was little, he needed constant positive reinforcement, and I had to break up all tasks into small, concrete steps. Sometimes we had to use picture boards or write “shirts” on the shirt drawer to teach him reading and where to put his clothes. But as he has grown older, it’s become much easier. Now I can write tasks on a white board or text him and say: “Clean your room, vacuum the house, empty the dishwasher, and take out the trash, and then we can invite over your best friend. You need to finish by 2, or you will need to give me your iPad.”

Our kids with disabilities may have various challenges, but they’re also constantly growing and learning. That means we need to adapt chores to what our children are currently capable of doing while also looking at what more we can encourage them to do at different stages.

Below are some tips to encourage your child with a disability (and really any kid) to do chores and learn the value of work:

  1. Find lists online of what to expect of kids at different ages and find out if there are tasks (or parts of tasks) you think your child could do. So maybe the age appropriate task for your child is doing laundry, and if they aren’t quite ready for that yet, you could have them practice sorting, putting away folded clothes, and helping you fold things like washcloths and towels.
  2. Break bigger tasks into smaller tasks. For example, if your child doesn’t understand the direction to clean their room, break it down into smaller steps and deliver them one at a time. You could tell them: 1.Pick up your legos. 2. Pick up the stuffed animals. 3. Wipe off the furniture with this dusting cloth.
  3. Give kids picture boards of the different steps for different tasks and create chore charts to give visuals of what they need to do. Older kids may need a white board, texts reminders, or a print out with check boxes.
  4. Get them involved in organizations that teach chores like Scouts, service organizations, and camps. One of Andy’s favorite camps when he was 12-14 was horse camp at the YMCA, and the main purpose of this camp was for older kids to learn to care for the horses and help the younger kids. In this camp, Andy learned to feed and brush the horses, and, yes, even clean up poop. (This was not a camp specifically for children with disabilities; it was just our neighborhood YMCA camp.) And the first time Andy ever washed and waxed a car was when he was working to earn his merit badge for auto maintenance for Boy Scouts. Boy Scouts also helped him learn to cut with a knife, cook simple meals, do simple chores, and manage the money from an allowance.
  5. Give rewards and consequences. When kids are little, you often have to give rewards for each small task because they might not have the cognitive understanding to work toward a long-term goal. So you might need to give a healthy (or sometimes unhealthy) treat or special play time with mom or dad right away or iPad time. Some people like tickets and marbles, but I’m personally too disorganized to keep track of all that. Older kids can often be motivated by time with friends, money, shopping, or going somewhere fun.
    Also, sometimes kids aren’t motivated by rewards and end up needing some consequences. For my kids, the worst possible thing in the world to do to them is to take away a device, and sometimes we need to do that as a consequence because the device is what is distracting them from completing the job. And in the real world, you get paid when you do a good job, but there are consequences when you are late or do a job poorly. So, don’t be afraid of enforcing consequences sometimes.
  6. If you teach you kids to do chores at home, it doesn’t mean they need to do janitorial work for jobs. It just means they learn to do work and follow directions and get rewards for a job well done. In fact, if kids learn these skills at home, it can sometimes free up time at school. Often, teachers in middle and high school teach life skills, and if your child already knows those life skills, then you can make a stronger case for having your child pursue academic goals and/or different individualized career goals.
  7. As kids get older, you can also give allowances and help them learn to save and manage money. Here are some digital apps for tracking allowances, or you can download spreadsheets, you can get the book Managing My Money: Banking and Budgeting Basics.
  8. Don’t kick yourself if you start when your child is older of if you’ve gone for long stretches where you didn’t work on chores. Sometimes medical emergencies come up or life gets demanding. Just keep starting over and work on it as best you can. There were times Andy had pneumonia, or I had a baby, or my husband was traveling, and we didn’t do much of anything regarding chores. But then when life was calmer, and we actually had Saturdays at home, I worked on giving all the kids chores. Even sporadic efforts make a difference!

What others ways have you found to help your child with disabilities to learn the value of work through chores?