Getting the kids to help around the house
Getting kids to help around the house is an important and often challenging task for families. It is important not just because it can reduce the workload of parents, but contributing to the upkeep of the house and looking after their own belongings teaches kids much need independence and life skills.
Dr Marty Rossmann – a professor emeritus at the University of Minnesota – analysed data from a longitudinal study that followed 84 children across four periods in their lives: in preschool, around ages 10 and 15, and in their mid-20s. She found that “young adults who began chores at ages three and four were more likely to have good relationships with family and friends, to achieve academic and early career success and to be self-sufficient, as compared with those who didn’t have chores or who started them as teens.”
So how can you get your kids to help around the house? Here are some tips to get you started:
It is easy for parents to do for kids what the kids are actually capable of doing for themselves. Sometimes it seems easier and quicker if we do it for them when they are young, but this sets up wrong patterns of behaviour in both parents and kids.
Aiming to have kids to do tasks they’re capable of doing for themselves can act as their first contributions to the household when they are very young. For example a three year old is capable of:
- taking their own plate away from the table at dinner time. They can also take away the salt and pepper or other items on the table as well.
- picking up their own dirty clothes after bath time and taking them to the laundry basket.
- wiping up their own spills.
It’s much easier to begin adding tasks for the kids to do as their skills develop each year. For example, when they turn four, they can also start setting the table each night for dinner, when they are five they can then help stack the dishwasher after dinner etc.
As you are building on the tasks the kids need to do each year, it is much less of a shock to the system than if you wait for them to hit the teenage years and all of a sudden you want them to start doing more for themselves and helping around the house.
Factor in teaching time
As they start school, it can be a great time to increase the skill level of the tasks the kids are required to do around the home. Initially this will not save you time, but see the time you spend teaching and guiding the kids with these household tasks as an investment that will eventually pay big dividends.
It will take time to teach a five-year-old to dust shelves or clean windows, but they are tasks that they are capable of learning with some practice. The first time they do these tasks they most likely won’t be done to your standard and that is okay – they will get better at it! It took them a number of months to master walking; household tasks are just the same, so patience is required.
- When teaching kids new tasks, I recommend taking this approach:
- Work one-on-one with a child without distractions (e.g. no TV on in the background).
- Have the child watch you complete a small section of the task and do this without talking. Complete the task slowly and let them just watch.
- Let them ask questions after they have watched you do it.
- Give them no more than three tips to remember with the task – e.g. use a small amount of spray, change the newspaper regularly and use a circular motion for cleaning the windows.
- Ask them to repeat the tips back to you.
- Get the child to do one small section. Give constructive feedback only if necessary and keep it to one main point.
- Leave the child to complete the task without you watching over their shoulder.
Consider timing when wanting kids to do tasks around the house. When they are younger, it is key to get them to do tasks when they are well fed and well rested. As they get older, different considerations come into play. For primary school kids, it is worthwhile having a regular routine of when the tasks need to be done, for example the whole family might do their weekly tasks on Saturday morning. For teenagers however, the more autonomy you can give with them with the task the better. Reaching an agreement together about what time the task will be completed by that day, will generally work better than insisting they do the task at a certain time.
It is important for kids to realise that the household tasks they are completing represents their contribution to keeping the family home clean and tidy – they are not just doing the tasks for mum or dad. Having discussions with kids about how just as member of the family they receive benefits – comfortable place to live, food, water, etc. they also need to contribute to ensure the smooth running of the household.
Even following these tips, the reality of combining kids and households tasks means:
- there will be complaints about having to do them.
- the kids will often have to be asked to do them, even though they have a schedule and know when they should do them.
As parents, the best thing we can do is stay calm when this happens, be consistent with our requests for them to be completed each week and remember that the benefits the kids (and us in the long term) receive from doing these tasks will be worth the effort.
Nicole Avery is a Melbourne mum to five beautiful kids aged 8 to 18. She is the master organiser behind the popular parenting blog Planning With Kids and the author of a book by the same name, where she shares tips and tricks for organising the chaos of family life.