Should kids do the washing up?

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This blog post is by Nicola Baird sharing ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children. This post is about how much children should help at home. For more info about my book Homemade Kids with lots of ideas about parenting (and ways to get even very little children cooking), click here.

Should your children do the washing up? And would you pay them to do it?

At Mayhem Corner there are often dirty saucepans and dishes piled up waiting for a heroic washing up volunteer. Although I think families should share this task, or the cook shouldn’t have to do the plates too, there are some practical problems about getting the dishes done in a house of just two adults and two kids.

The washing up is such a pain if you homecook
Lola, 13, is tall enough and dextrous enough, and generous enough to wash up. But it’s rare I ask her. Now, if we had a washing -up machine the children would certainly be asked to alternate its loading and unloading. But as we don’t, the 20 minute plus job of washing up starts to take on a rather epic work load for a child. Nell, 10, would have to stand on a chair to do it (actually I’m sure she’d love this). And for both it would cut into their homework, music practice (respectively three and two instruments) and general downtime which enables them to read, play, look after the various pets and – vitally -choose to do things that they haven’t been told to do.

I’m a soft touch: I feel most kids are at school, indoors, for too many hours in the day anyway, so how can I add to this by chaining them to the kitchen sink? It’s the same with cooking. That takes me about an hour a day, and of course it’s a useful skill which should be learnt by a trusted grown-up’s side. But with the burden of homework at secondary school it would be hard for Lola to cook a meal regularly for the family – although she should be able to manage this during holidays and half-term.

Recently other mums told me their Year 7 and Year 8 daughters (approx 11-12) were great at making jam tarts with foraged blackberries, sponge and fairy cakes. And my Nell who is in Year 6 (of primary school) is cooking her way through a recipe book from the Lime Lounge cafe, a fabulous place we enjoyed during our Solomon Islands summer trip (see pic for Nell’s latest experiment with triple choc chip cookies). But all children need more than show-off baking skills…

Simple skills for a junior cook – peeling potatoes, operating the timer, all egg dishes (boiling, poaching, scrambling etc), pastry making, shopping for ingredients, looking in the fridge/larder and working out what can be cooked without having to go to the shops.

Simple dishes a 9-year-old + ought to be able to create (perhaps with help over cutting, when the oven is used or boiling water is involved) – roasting veg/meat/fish; baked potatoes; all egg dishes; toast with a topping; other bread meals (pizza, bruschetta); dips like guacamole, tziki/raita; puddings (eg, cakes/crumble/ anything with apples).

If children don’t learn when they are young it’s very hard for them when they leave home, go to university or set up their own families. Even now I’m convinced my partner is not very adept at cooking because he never had to do it when he was a child – the kitchen was mum’s job then.  But as my girls go through secondary school with an increasing pile of nightly homework, now we’re back at the time constrictions!

Do you have any ideas how to teach or tempt your kids into the kitchen to do useful cooking and washing-up tasks other than just bake teatime treats?And would you pay them to do this? I feel helping should always be a voluntary choice (albeit a 3-line one that has to be done!), so refuse to pay cash for household chores. But I know lots of parents who do, and of course it could be seen as quite a good way to offer pocket money…

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7 Comments on “Should kids do the washing up?”

  1. wordsfallfrommyeyes Says:

    Absolutely the kids should do the washing up – it’s part of life.

    • homemadekids Says:

      Hi, well, I agree, they should wash up. But my little one can’t reach the sink! Also I keep being tempted by meditation which insists that washing up should be (could be) a meditative task and not one to be done in haste while multi-tasking. Nicola

  2. homemadekids Says:

    this is from Facebook: Kelly wrote: “Let the kids off… They’re going to have enough of it to do when they grow up… And if you have daughters, beware of turning them into great cooks and washer-uppers now, so when they leave home they automatically fall into that role with the boys they live with – whose mothers have let them off. . I would hope parents now treat boys and girls equally in this regard but I fear it is still not the case. I left home not knowing how to boil an egg… And I quickly picked it up, when I wanted to. Having said all that, I encourage my kids to help with cooking – boring stuff as well as cakes – but only when they want to (which is often enough”

  3. hedgehoghugh Says:

    do the dishes NEED to be done at the same time as you being busy and Pete is watching men run around hitting each other? Probably not. So just let them fester for a while. As for your theory on learning young – neither myself nor my wife did kitchen stuff at home (apart from some drying and putting away) and at boarding school there was no option. When I started cooking for myself at 18 I became a vegetarian and got the idea of food – and have cooked ever since. My dearly beloved has just discovered baking … and now too enjoys time in the kitchen … so, time …
    But the main thing is to get them to love the idea of food – where it is from – because when you love the food you have to take some responsibility for your affair, and clean up after!

    • nicola baird Says:

      Admittedly there is no dish tower yet, But half term means an awful lot more cooking/washing up and I fear I’m beginning to see the point of boarding school, even when you normally love being around your kids. I do love your suggestion about getting children to love food though – it’s a far more interesting skill. Nicola x

  4. rachellplatt Says:

    I know this post is out of date, but I couldn’t resist chipping in. My Dad used to make me do ALL his ironing, including boxer shorts and pillow cases and TEA TOWELS – yes tea towels – for my pocket money (the princely sum of £2.50 and I’m not that old). Plus I had to do two hours cleaning every Thursday night after school. Now, at the time I thought it was an outrage, but it paid off in the end. I worked as a cleaner all through my teens and earned really good money from it – and I was good. I also think that at Uni and in flatshares it made me a much nicer person to live with, one with better social skills than many.

    I have no problem with pocket money coming hand in hand with chores, or also with offering the opportunity to earn more pocket money by doing more chores. But I do think there should be a basic level contributed to the family that is not remunerated and I guess washing up comes within that category. It is important for children to learn that we are all in it together and have to help each other out, I believe.

    Having said all of that that I do feel like the homework burden these days is a lot more cumbersome than it was in my day. My 14 yo brother came to China with us when we moved there for a year and he was expected to do 3 hours homework a night. I always felt that it was too much to get him to do housework as well, but I always made sure I made the point that I was doing his chores for him, because he was working and on the weekend he had to do them.

    • homemadekids Says:

      Rachel, fantastic anecdote. Pete (my partner) taught our two girls to iron over the recent Easter holidays and they both thought it was quite fun, and were very interested in the idea that you can make money from just folding up a shirt. There are so many domestic skills to learn so if you don’t occasionally help out (or get paid to help out) how can you be a reasonable person to live with later on in life? The balancing act is obviously homework versus housework, and, as you found with your brother in China, that will be dependent on so many things. Very glad to have your feedback. Nicola


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