by Rachelle Tannenbaum
To many parents, the word “chores” brings up unpleasant memories of being nagged incessantly by their parents, or of unsuccessfully trying to get their own children to clean their rooms. But this doesn’t change the fact that children will not learn responsibility unless they are made responsible for something. And chores are one of the easiest ways to accomplish this. In this issue of the e-zine, we discuss the “why” and the “how” of getting your kids to share in household responsibilities.
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WHY ALL CHILDREN SHOULD HAVE CHORES
by Rachelle Tannenbaum
What lessons do children learn from chores?
- They learn that it takes a lot to make a household function, and that everything will work more smoothly if everyone pitches in.
- They can learn new skills, such as cooking.
- They learn to take pride in accomplishing a goal.
- They learn to take responsibility for setting goals and meeting deadlines.
Choosing appropriate chores
- Start young! Even very young children can do simple chores such as putting their dirty clothes into a laundry basket. It’s easier to get them into the habit early than to face resistance later on when you introduce chores for the first time.
- What if your kids are older, but haven’t been doing chores yet? Ease them into it slowly. Parents will sometimes make the mistake of trying to institute sweeping changes, with kids suddenly taking on all sorts of responsibilities at once. This is pretty much guaranteed to foster a whole lot of unpleasantness in the home, as kids resent this sudden, seemingly random burst of demands.
- Keep chores age-appropriate. You want to make sure that you give kids tasks that they can expect to be successful at. A four-year-old can’t do laundry or wash dishes, but she can match socks or carry her plate to the sink.
- Be specific in giving instructions. “Clean your room” is a vague statement; kids might either a) use that vagueness to get out of what they’re supposed to do or b) genuinely misinterpret what you want. “Make your bed and put your toys in the toy box” leaves much less room for misunderstanding.
- Allow some choices. You might give a child the choice between mowing the lawn or vacuuming the house. This might also mean allowing children to trade with siblings (or parents!). Either way, it’s a good way to acknowledge that different people have different likes and dislikes. It can also help kids with time management, by teaching them that they can choose between a fast-but-disgusting task and a longer-but-less-difficult task.
- Don’t pawn off all the worst tasks onto your kids. This will just foster resentment if they think you are using them as slave labor. Instead, let them see you getting “down and dirty” too. You could even trade with them sometimes, to increase the perception of fairness.
- Avoid reinforcing gender stereotypes. There is no reason a boy cannot learn to cook, or a girl cannot learn to help with home repairs. Not only will your kids be more accepting of diversity; they will also learn valuable life skills.
Most importantly, be consistent in your expectations! Once you decide that you want your kids to help with chores, there seem to be a million reasons to just give in and do it yourself. Maybe it’s faster to do it yourself, maybe the kids’ work isn’t quite up to your expectations, or maybe you just don’t want to listen to their complaints. While giving in may make your life a little bit easier in the short term, in the long run it will just make things worse. If you give in on some occasions, then this just teaches your kids that they can get out of chores if they complain enough or wait for you to do it first. Not exactly the lessons you want them to learn!
Making sure chores actually get done
- Provide supervision. This is particularly important with younger kids who are easily distracted. Even older kids will need supervision the first few times they try something new. From your kid’s perspective, there’s nothing worse than putting in a lot of effort only to find out he didn’t do it right.
- Create a chore chart for yourself. If your kids see you check off the tasks you normally do around the house, it will help them realize that they aren’t the only ones with responsibilities.
Praise kids for a job well done. This might mean verbal praise, a hug, or putting a sticker on a chart. But you should particularly provide reinforcement when kids do their chores without having to be reminded.
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