Making chores a healthy part of childhood.
Ever tried to get a child to help out around the house? You know it isn't easy. Requests for chores like setting the table or taking out the trash are too often met with whining, procrastinating, or outright refusals. But understanding what gets in the way of chores—and what may help to get them done—offers a better chance of raising children who become active participants in family life.
What gets in the way of children helping with chores?
- Unclear expectations. Children need to understand what the job is and what is expected of them. What constitutes a job well done: finishing a task (like setting the table or doing the dishes), or just a "good try"?
- Inconsistency. Any effort to establish expectations can get derailed by inconsistency— “I guess you can skip feeding the dog this morning; I’ll do it.”
- Contradictions between parents. If parents don’t agree on what is expected of children or when to make exceptions (or are not equally adept at refusing to give in to child procrastination or defiance), children usually figure out how to divide and conquer.
- Time. It takes time to teach kids how to do chores and to establish expectations, and busy parents and children can easily use lack of time as a rationale for adults doing the chores or leaving them undone altogether.
- Siblings. Brothers and sisters can become really good at subverting parental expectations. “It’s not fair” can become a mantra of older siblings when expectations increase alongside growing competence.
What helps children get the job done?
Assign young children easy tasks. Two-year-olds can be given such responsibilities as helping to take laundry out of the dryer, putting their clothes away, cleaning up after a meal by throwing away the paper napkins or wiping tables or counters, carrying a backpack from the car into childcare, or turning off lights at bedtime. Don’t expect great results when children are very young or chores are new: The goal isn’t a clean table when a child has an imperfect understanding of when to squeeze a sponge and when to wipe. The point is to establish the routine.
- Choose age-appropriate chores. Since chores are based on developmental levels, older children should be expected to do more. These chores can include some that take a little longer, require more effort, and are more complicated: setting or clearing off the dinner table, sorting or folding the laundry, washing the dishes, sweeping the kitchen, or taking out the garbage.
- Use tracking systems. Calendars and charts are not only good organizational systems, they can also be used for family language and math activities.
- Remember the child’s context. The worst time to expect chores to be performed is right after school—when a child may need some time to relax or blow off steam—or right before bed.
- Make all household members take part. Reduce conflict and resistance by making it clear to all family members that everyone has to pitch in.
- Recognize a job well done. No one is paid or highly praised for simply living, so why should chores be paid for or be the subject of effusive praise? Doling out allowances as a means of sharing the family income for “all the work we do” is a good way to recognize efforts and teach children about money. Moderate appreciation and praise that recognizes the effort and accomplishment reinforces the day-to-day expectation of making a family contribution.
- Involve the child in the decision-making process. Listen and give clear choices about tasks. “What chores are you interested in doing?” “Would you prefer to clear the table or put the dishes in the dishwasher?” But remember: You’re the boss and can assign a child a task he or she may not want to do. Periodically reassign chores.
- Try to have fun. Some chores can be fun for younger children. Laundry can involve games like sorting, matching, and tossing socks in the basket. Listening to music can add some life to chores: A little song and dance can become an entertaining background for getting chores accomplished.
- Avoid gender stereotypes. There is no genetic factor in who does laundry and who takes out the garbage. Of course, it helps if we can model this ourselves.
As with all aspects of good parenting, it is much easier to talk about turning children into responsible helpers than to actually make it happen. But the effort is worth it, and if you stick with it and understand the process, you will be well on your way to
creating responsible children and a healthy family structure.
This installment of “Kaleidoscope,” from Overlook’s Childcare Center, is excerpted from Bright Horizons Family Solutions for e-family news.