by HEATHER LEE LEAP
My kids used to complain—loudly—if I asked them to help out very much around the house.
But, if your kids don’t have regular household chores, you are not doing them any favors, and as a parent you are working too hard. In any job it is important to delegate tasks and that includes running your home. If “Do it because I said so,” is not your style, create a cooperative atmosphere at home to get the jobs done.
Redefine your purpose.
Diane Zipper did chores as a child and she expects her children, ages 6 and 10, to do them now. But family precedent is not her only impetus. “I wanted help around the house and was tired of doing everything myself,” she says. Zipper’s comment is one of the keys to chore success. It’s not just about how to motivate your kids. There has to be something in it for everyone.
It’s time to rethink why you want your kids to do chores. If you cannot articulate a clear justification for doing them, your plan is doomed from the start. Kids will tune out intellectual arguments like “chores are good for you.” Your resolve will crumble if you tell yourself, “I know I should make them, but…”
Consider the environment you want to develop in your home as your children grow. Chores will teach them life skills and responsibility, but they can also teach them about community. When every family member contributes according to their ability and everyone shares the load, your home can run smoothly. Household tasks are an opportunity to share work, support one another and bond as a family.
Differentiate between chores and personal responsibilities.
Are there tasks you resent doing? Chances are the jobs that irritate you the most are ones your kids need to take ownership of. In our home, picking up your own toys and books, putting away your clothes and keeping your room tidy are not chores. They are personal responsibilities and children are expected to learn them at a young age. Even toddlers can keep their belongings tidy with assistance and direction. Anything kids can claim possession of falls into this category. If your child asks, “Why do I have to do it?” your only answer needs to be, “Because it is yours.”
Chores are tasks which benefit all members of the household. They do not belong to any one person, so everyone in the family should eventually learn to do them.
Chores are tasks which benefit all members of the household. They do not belong to any one person, so everyone in the family should eventually learn to do them. Chores might include taking out the trash and recycling, doing dishes, sweeping, cleaning, meal planning and preparation, pet care and yard work. These are the types of chores kids can rotate through on a daily or weekly basis. Helping a younger sibling with a personal responsibility they are too small to handle, such as changing the sheets on their bed, is considered an extra chore at our house and is rewarded.
Encourage kids to step in to do chores even when it is not their turn. Develop a habit of asking kids for help with a brief explanation. “Your sister has dishes this week, but she is gone until tomorrow, so please empty the dishwasher.” Remind your children that eventually their siblings will be called on to reciprocate.
Teach your children how to do chores.
Parents frequently forget this step as kids grow older and are expected to take on new jobs. Do not assume your children have seen the chore performed and will know how to do it or that common sense will prevail. Take time to demonstrate how you want a task completed. Remember new skills develop slowly. Share the chore with your children while they are learning. As your children develop more experience, their efficiency will increase. Encourage your kids to ask for guidance if they forget a step.
If you decide your children could use a refresher course, but they resist your input, have them walk you through a task or teach a younger sibling. Stay close by to steer them in the right direction if they falter. The act of teaching the chore will reinforce it for the older child. At the same time your kids will naturally practice team work.
After several years of doing chores, my kids still grumble, but we tell them matter-of-factly there are five of us in our house, and I simply can’t do everything. Diane Zipper and her husband agree. They remind their kids, “We’re all part of the family and we all help each other out.” Chores are not something to inflict on your children. Instead, they are an opportunity for your family to grow closer by working together.
HEATHER LEE LEAP is a freelance writer and contributor to many parenting magazines.