Children in the West today typically spend less time doing chores than children in other parts of the world. As recently as one or two centuries ago, children had to participate in daily chores to keep the household functioning. Today, according to the Maryland Population Research Center, average 6 to 12-year-old spends less than 30 minutes a day doing chores.
There’s little debate about the benefits for kids when they help with household chores, but how do you get them to participate? “When kids do help around the house, it’s frequently done under duress; parents often have to plead, bribe, and threaten to get their children to do basic things like taking out the trash or cleaning up after dinner,” writes Brett and Kate McKay. So how do you change this cycle? And how do you get your husband involved (if he isn’t already)? All it takes is a little planning on your part.
Assign a Person to Each Chore
Before you expect people to help around the house, you need to clearly outline what needs to be taken care of. Husbands often want to help, but they don’t know what to do. Sit down together and make a list of what needs to be done on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. “Go over the list together and see if you can agree on a fair division of labor,” recommends JustMommies.
“Parents generally get caught in a nagging cycle out of habit; we get stuck in repetitive behaviors just like kids do,” writes James Lehman, MSW. Instead of constantly reminding family members to do their chores, write them down and display them where they will be seen. Even the littlest family members can help; just make sure you assign age-appropriate chores for them. To help them know what’s expected of them, print pictures next to the words on the family chore chart.
Once everyone knows what chores they are responsible for, you need to teach them how to do them. “No one knows automatically how to do housework; we need to learn,” says Dr. Eileen Kennedy-Moore. “Doing chores with your child allows you to offer appropriate guidance and help.” Eventually, doing the chore will become a habit and your supervision will no longer be necessary.
Be Fun (And Flexible)
“Doing chores has been shown to develop children’s large and fine motor skills; sorting laundry, sweeping, and digging in the dirt are great ways for children to develop and practice these skills. And this in turn makes them smarter,” writes the McKays. “Studies show that young children who take part in hands-on activities, like chores, develop the parts of the brain that are needed for more abstract thinking like reading, writing, and math.”
Chores are important, which is why it’s crucial to make them something that your child will want to be a part of. “If your attitude while doing the chores is light-hearted, your child will be more willing to participate,” according to Kennedy-Moore. “It doesn’t take much effort to ‘accidentally’ throw a sheet over a child’s head while making a bed or squirt the cleaner in the shape of a smiley face.”
You want chores done well, but you’ll see long-term participation from family members (including your husband) if you don’t expect perfection. JustMommies recommends, “If the laundry isn’t folded perfectly – who cares? If there are still dust bunnies after he vacuums, he’ll get them the next time. And if he dresses the kids in crazy mismatched outfits, leave them as they are.”
Set and Maintain Expectations
Especially when dealing with kids, you want to make the chore process as easy as possible. One way to make it easier is to put excess clutter in storage. You will also see success when you establish clear routines with all members of your family. Kennedy-Moore calls this a “when/then” system. “When your children have hung up their coats after school, then they can have a snack. When they’ve put their dishes in the dishwasher, then they can go play.”
Lehman agrees. “The choice shouldn’t be ‘excitement or chore.’ The choice should be ‘boredom or chore.’ What I mean is that kids have to understand that they can’t go listen to music in their rooms or just hang out until their chores are finished.”
Getting family members involved in keeping the house clean and organized is a job worth putting your time and effort in. You have to remain consistent to keep the progress going, and it may require putting some things in storage to make the job easier at first, but eventually everyone in the house will know what’s expected of them. Maybe one day, they’ll see something that needs to be done and they’ll do it without being asked. Now that’s something to look forward to.
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