Have you noticed this sad/funny thing about parenting? It is the only job in the world, where if you do your job right, you make yourself redundant. Our role as parents is to teach out kids to not just be able to survive on their own but thrive, when they leave our little nests and fly out into the real world.
The best way to raise responsible children who can do this is to get them to help with age appropriate chores around the house now. Research has shown that children who began helping with household chores at the early age of 3 to 4 years old grew up to have better relationships as adults, succeed more in academics and career and were more self-sufficient compared to other children who did not do chores or started doing chores in their teens.
Now, there are several ways that we parents can go about getting kids to help around the house. The two most common styles are –
(a) The Military Style, where the parents lay out the dictates of what the kids are expected to do and enforce it strictly by withholding privileges or through threats and punishments; and
(b) The Teamwork Style, where parents treat the family as a team and get kids involved in the day-to-day chores.
Both of these styles work well in the moment: kids learn to do chores and take responsibility. With the Military Style however, kids feel a sense of constant oppression, and there is always some sort of mutiny brewing. The Teamwork Style, on the other hand, fosters a sense of coherence and connection. There is bickering in the Teamwork Style too, mind you, but it is generally light-hearted and fun.
Which one would you rather have in your house?
I thought so.
Fortunately, we can all implement the Teamwork Style of management around the house and get kids to help with chores using a few simple steps. Here are the five that have helped us -
1. Involve Kids in Everyday Tasks
Start small. While you get dinner ready, casually ask your children to set the table. While you pack their lunch, request they get the snacks ready. When you are sorting the dishwasher, ask kids to put away the cutlery.
As time goes by slowly get them involved a little more. Maybe they can help with chopping tomatoes while you prepare dinner. Perhaps they can fill water bottles to go in all the lunch boxes while you get the sandwiches ready. Maybe they can sort the dishes from the dishwasher that go on the low shelves while you sort the dishes that go on the high shelves.
The key here is to do things together rather than assigning them a chore and ordering them to get it done.
How do you choose tasks to get your kids involved in? Whatever they are capable of doing and does not put them in danger is fair game. If you are looking for ideas of age-appropriate tasks, here is a list of 50 simple challenges, sorted by age, for teaching kids responsibility.
2. Don’t Use Nagging or Threats to Get the Task Done
The Military Style relies on assigning chores and nagging kids to do them, with threats of strict consequences if the task isn’t done. The problem with this approach is you end up being responsible for getting the task completed.
Instead of this nag-and-threaten-until-the-job-gets-done approach, find ways to make kids take responsibility for the tasks. Here are some ways to do so –
- Sneak it in. While you are having a discussion about something interesting that happened in school today, if you were to pass a handful of cutlery from the dishwasher and point to the drawer, the child will put the cutlery in the drawer without questioning it. You could do this a few times until the child associates sorting the dishwasher (or laundry!) as the time to talk about interesting stuff.
- Make it fun. Entice them to join you in the chores by playing games while you do the chores together. In our house we love word games, and as long as we are playing a game, my daughter will happily stay in the kitchen helping me with whatever I need help with.
- Make it routine. Stop by any good school during transition times and you will notice that the kids will happily put away items from one activity before moving on the next. In later years, the teacher does not even need to remind them to do so -- the lessons taught early in school life are now set in, and it is routine to clean up between two activities. We can do the same at home too – not just with cleaning up, but with any other routine tasks.
The key to getting kids involved is to create an inviting environment for them to help out around the house and avoid things that can create resistance.
3. Do Not Let Things Devolve into a Power Struggle
Kids are kids. Sometimes they don’t do what they are told. Instead of losing your cool and letting it devolve into a power struggle, try some of these tricks from the ever popular book “How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk” by Faber and Mazlish –
Let’s say you want your child to help with setting the table.
- Describe what you see or the problem. Instead of ordering your child to set the table, simply state “Johnny, the table needs to be set” or “Uh-oh, it’s dinner time and the table isn't set yet”. Often, just a simple statement like this that states the facts instead of a direct order will get the job done faster.
- Give information. Alternately, you could try saying “I’m tired after a long day and looking forward to a nice dinner. I could use some help in setting the table.” You could take it a step further and add in a playful tone “Where are my super helpers that always help me with setting the table?” Recent research has shown that giving the child the identity of a “helper” makes them more likely to get involved.
- Say it with a word. When we rant and rave, it’s easy for children to tune us out. Instead, just use single word reminders – in this case, “Kids, Table!” – can be more effective than a lecture. I would never have believed how well this works until I tried it. In our house now “Lights” gets lights switched off, “Shelf” gets shoes put on the shelf where they belong and “Sink” gets the used dishes taken to the sink all without a single word of resistance.
4. Acknowledge a Task Well Done
Once a task is done be sure to acknowledge it. This will encourage the kids and they will be more enthusiastic to be your super-helpers on the next task. Here are a few tips to get this part right –
- Avoid blanket praise like “Good Job”. As Dr. Kohn explains in this article, this can cause more harm than good and result in raising praise junkies.
- Use descriptive praise. Tell your kids exactly what they did right – for instance, “I love how you sorted away all the toys in the right bins. This makes the room look so organised.”
- Share your feelings. Give them a glimpse of why you liked their help – for instance, “I get so tired at the end of a busy day. Your help with fixing dinner makes it so much more enjoyable and less of a chore for me and it is now a favorite part of my day!”
- Just say “Thank You!”. Often that’s all it takes… acknowledgement and gratitude for a job well done.
5. Let them be Kids
At the end of the day, this is our home. This is our family. It is a place for calm, peace, serenity, joy, happiness and good memories.
It’s not the army.
Some days kids just don’t want to do things. Empathize. Understand. Find ways to make it fun. Motivate.
If nothing works and you can do the task, take one for the team. If you are too beat to do it, let it slide.
Those are the days I resort to my favorite quote “Good mums have sticky floors, messy kitchens, laundry piles, dirty ovens, and happy kids.” :)
Sumitha Bhandarkar is the founder of AFineParent.Com, a community of parents who believe that “Great Parents are Made, Not Born”. After a rocky start to her parenting journey, she is now a huge proponent of positive/gentle parenting.