I watched out my friend’s window as her 12-year-old chopped wood in the back yard. I wasn’t sure which was more amazing, that he was helping without having been asked or that my friend was allowing her son to use an axe, seemingly with no undue anxiety on her part. He entered the house, taking off boots and gloves before shoving a couple of logs into the wood stove.
Why was her child taking on such grown up tasks when I could barely get mine to clean their rooms? “She must need the help” my own father casually responded when I described the scene to him later that evening. I needed the help too, I decided, and would figure out how to get it.
After many years of careful study, I now have a teenager who takes out the garbage without being asked and a four year old who is almost solely responsible for the feeding of our cat.
It’s easy for household chores to drop off our busy to do lists when everything from homework to swim team to piano lessons battle for our family’s limited time. However, even if we think that getting the child to do the housework will be harder than doing it ourselves, household chores can be just as beneficial as any extracurricular activity for our children’s social and emotional growth. Experts agree that household chores can give children confidence and self-discipline, encouraging children to see themselves as an indispensable part of the family. Luckily even a child as young as two or three years old can begin simple chores.
Here are some tips I’ve found helpful along the way:
1. Give your child choices
Children like feeling as if they have choices. If they are able to choose from a variety of chores, they are more likely to accomplish the chores happily. One child may prefer emptying the dishwasher while another enjoys setting the table. Compliance is more likely if a child’s preferences can be honored.
2. Make sure chores are appropriate to the child’s age
Even toddlers and preschoolers can help set or clear the table, feed pets, sort silverware out of the dishwasher, put toys away, put laundry in the hamper, or even run a Swiffer duster around the living room. Giving children chores that they can complete themselves helps with feelings of confidence and gives them a sense of accomplishment.
3. On the other hand…
Doing chores together can make them more enjoyable. Preschool age children often respond well to a simple clean up song. Some chores, such as unloading the dishwasher easily lend themselves to cooperation and they get done faster too!
4. Try a visual reminder
Just as adults take satisfaction in checking off a to-do list, a chart on the fridge can help children track their accomplishments. If the child is too young to read, draw a small picture or use clip art to represent the chore in a concrete way. Clothespins or Velcro can be helpful in making the chart interactive.
5. Teach, and then check for understanding
Model the chore for your child and then make sure he or she has understood. Having them show you how they will do the chore ensures that they paid attention to instructions and that you can trust them to do the chore independently.
6. Offer an allowance. Or not.
While everyone agrees that chores are a great help in raising productive, responsible children, the verdict is still out on whether or not an allowance is necessary or helpful. Many experts seem to condone an allowance. Others condemn one. Of course, there are benefits both ways. Choosing to provide an allowance means that children can learn to manage money at an early age and of course provides additional motivation. Others feel strongly that children should help the family without financial reward.
7. Have a back up plan
If you choose not to offer an allowance, it may help to have some other motivation. The words “as soon as” can be almost magical in getting children to lend a hand. “As soon as you finish your chores you can play Minecraft or watch TV.” “As soon as you’re done with your chores we’ll be able to go see your friends.” “As soon as your chores are finished, I’ll be ready to start making those cookies we were talking about.” The use of “as soon as” puts the responsibility for doing chores in the child’s own control, even as it makes him or her realize that Mom or Dad is running the show. In these scenarios, the parent doesn’t really care whether or not the child gets to watch TV or eat cookies. If the child wants to play Minecraft, she will get her bed made. If he wants to go see his friends, he will vacuum the living room. And if not, the child knows that the blame is his or hers alone.
Whether your children are toddlers or teenagers, these tips can help transform household chores from a battleground to a regularly scheduled part of the day.
Jill Morgenstern is a wife, mother to four, and teacher. She has 13 years of teaching experience and a Master’s Degree in Teaching Reading. She writes at http://dotrythisathome.net.