[Week 20 of 52 Weeks to a Better Relationship With Your Child]
The title photo (below) that goes along with this blog is an important example of how to engage your kids with chores and also kind of shows why a stool in my kitchen is one of my most important tools for engaging kids, and I’ll talk a little bit more about that after we go through the main body of the discussion!
Your first secret weapon is your own attitude
My children have good memories of chore time. In fact, so do I. I believe there are two main reasons why.
- I approached chore time with a cheerful attitude
- I came up with a system that combined learning, encouragement, and reality.
I cannot emphasize enough that if you want your children to have a good attitude about something, you have to have a good attitude first. If you drag your feet and complain about your responsibilities, they are very likely to do so as well. Parents have the opportunity to deeply influence their children’s attitude toward any kind of work, and this includes household chores.
Having a good attitude is not limited to just being cheerful. It also means examining why there are chores. There are chores because of life and people. The more life and people in a home, the more chores there will be. Chores are evidence of having enough clothes and food. Chores are often evidence that people did things together. While it is true on one hand that some chores are due to things getting broken and dirty, it is also true that some chores are simply a product of creativity. Chore does not have to be a dirty word!
Don’t assume your children won’t like chores
If you want to teach your child to play a musical instrument, you don’t approach them with apologies and a solemn face. You don’t emphasize how tedious long hours of practice will be. You don’t look sorrowful while you explain how you wish you had never learned to play the piano or guitar. Not if you are smart.
It makes more sense to tell a child how you made practice fun and how being able to make music has enhanced your enjoyment of life. You can do the same thing with chores. Help your children understand how doing and keeping up with chores makes life more enjoyable. Show them how to whistle while they work. Draw them into this nitty-gritty part of family life as another way to partake of one anothers company.
Characteristics of a good chore system
A good chore system will
- have definite goals
- be supervised
- provide feedback
- foster cooperation
- teach with clear steps
- offer variety
- be at a good time of day
- make things fun
Lets flesh out those ideas.
What are your goals with chore time? Mine were
- to teach the children how to do various tasks
- to help them have fun doing it
- to get help with things
- to help them experience the results of their activities
- to teach them practical organization
- to teach them to work together
But the children needed different sorts of goals. They needed
- to know exactly what they needed to do
- to know exactly how to clean it
- to know when they would be done
- to know how to get help or feedback
The first few times we tried family chore time, we didn’t have definite goals for the children. As a result, the children weren’t exactly dragging their feet with getting things done, but they were drifting. They never knew what I was going to ask next or how long it would go on. They felt powerless and, from their young perspective, kind of hopeless. You know how such things can seem never ending for a child.
When I came up with my chore system, there was immediate and almost startling improvement. If you think it sounds like a lot of work to set up a system, I suggest you weigh it against the possibly endless struggle that is likely to occur without such a helpful system. Spending a few hours with initial set-up, and then a couple of hours to adjust it yearly is a much happier way to spend time than in the conflict of undefined and unfulfilled requirements.
In my chore system, I had charts that could be easily referred to by everyone. Items could be checked off. Notes could be made as necessary.
Be a benevolent supervisor and provide feedback
How closely you will need to supervise your children will vary with their ages and change over time. At the beginning of implementing a chore system, supervision will be most effective if it happens regularly while they work. They need to know you are watching and evaluating. You need to see if they understand.
Typically, I would give them all a chance to get a good start on the chores. Then, I would wander in and ask how they were doing. I would look at their progress in a friendly way, ask them if they had considered such-and-such, tell them one or two things that were important to me. The tone of the supervision was to be providing feedback without demanding perfection or making them feel their work was always inferior.
One thing that helped a lot with feedback was having the directions for more complicated chores posted. Bathroom cleaning was one area where this was very useful. The steps and supplies for each step were taped to the inside of the cupboard for easy reference. This also made it easier for me to help them, avoiding complications due to my faulty memory or distraction.
Younger children were involved in chores in two ways. They might be paired with me or an older sibling, or they might be given tasks that were well within their grasp. For instance, a younger child could be very effective at collecting all the dirty laundry. Some of our kittens got quite the rides during laundry collection!
When it came to pairing older and younger siblings, I made it a point to limit the number of chores they were paired for. I didn’t want older siblings to feel saddled with younger children constantly. I also wanted to make sure that the younger children had opportunities for independence.
Cooperation by circumstance
Just because one person was going to be responsible for the main cleaning of a certain space didn’t mean that other children could get away with leaving a mess. Each person still had to be responsible for what he had left out. If it was in the way of where someone else needed to clean, they had to be a team.
This worked out one of two ways. Either the person who needed to clean there nicely brought it to my attention, or the person who had left the mess pointed out they needed to help. The longer the chore system was in place, the less this was necessary. The children learned it was more convenient to get their things put away on their own time and at their own discretion than to have to spend extra time doing chores when everyone else was done.
Teaching clear steps
Compare cleaning to cooking recipes. When you are first learning to cook a certain thing, the recipe is indispensable. You are not sure how changes will affect the outcome. You may not be familiar with all the ingredients or how they interact. Once you have tried it a few times with success, then some experimentation may be okay. However, sometimes, a recipe is just what it needs to be.
It really helps children if you break down the steps of chores. Describe the parts of a sink as you show them the first time. Teach them to think about the order of process for mopping the floor. Discuss the chemicals for running laundry and how they work. The more they understand why they are doing things, the more they will remember.
Once your children become obviously adept at certain chores, let them know you are open to suggestions for how things are done. Tell them that you are always learning better ways of doing things. But ask them to run their ideas by you, because you are the one responsible and with the most experience.
One of the features of my chore system was that every child got to do some of each kind of chore. This was sometimes accomplished by how the rooms were divided up. Some of this happened over time as older children were able to help with more complicated or heavier jobs.
Thus, every week, each child was dusting or vacuuming somewhere, even if it was a very small room. Each child has rotated through a time of emptying the trash when large enough to handle getting the trash cans down to the curb. Things like sweeping the kitchen floor were rotated throughout the week.
Another way to give variety is to break chores up over time. We can get so used to thinking of “cleaning the bathroom” that we tend to forget it doesn’t have to be done all in one day. If it is broken apart into several smaller jobs, it can still get done over the week without seeming nearly as overwhelming.
When should chores be done
In my experience, it works best if family chore time occurs more often in smaller time chunks. This is good for the kids because it is not so overwhelming to them. This is good for the parents because things are kept up better. But how do you decide where to fit that in?
Here are my criteria:
- Choose a time where you can be consistent. It doesn’t have to be the same time every day of the week, so much as the same time of a given day of the week.
- Aim for a time when the children are not too tired yet, but not too antsy. For us that was in the mornings after breakfast, Monday – Friday. Just another advantage of teaching our kids at home. It was much easier to work out our own family’s scheduling needs.
- Make it a time when you can and will work with them.
- Find a time that is not generally at odds with other activities. If you are trying to fix dinner, having chores going on around you can be quite inconvenient. Plus, you won’t be available to supervise as well.
- Don’t try to squeeze too much in when everyone is going to be pressured about getting somewhere.
- If you need to have a couple of separate chore times, that can work, too.
- Lean toward limiting the chore time, rather than extending the time to fit the chores.
How can you make chores fun?
The easiest way to make chores fun is to have it be a time of music. Our children got to take turns choosing the chore music for the day. As much as was practical, they were allowed to dance. Singing was rampant. Keeping the music out in the open and shared was important for camaraderie and communication.
Other ways to add fun are:
- to let younger children put up stickers for tasks completed
- add hug mom to the chore chart
- leaving them fun notes
- make a game out of finding all the dirt or dust
- letting them do chores in their pajamas
- letting younger children help even if they are not really helping that much
- let them take turns supervising
- have them take over each other’s chores on birthdays
- high-light jobs well done for the other parent or grandparents
Your cheerful chore time toolkit
It’s like a simple tool box that you keep in your garage. Nothing is really complicated. These strategies are like basic tools. Anyone can use them.
- Have your own good attitude
- Define your own goals
- Give the children goals they can work with
- Supervise in real time
- Provide helpful feedback
- Make cooperation natural and appropriate
- Clearly teach the steps in each task
- Variety is the spice of life
- Set realistic and maintainable time frames
- Create a fun atmosphere
Most of life is made up of work. We might as well have fun doing it.
Regarding the title photo on the website, you can see that my son is very young when he was cleaning the toilet, required a great amount of supervision, but he made some progress and was very happy with it! And it inspired him to be helpful and to be engaged in chore time over all.
And the same thing is true with having a stool in my kitchen. For years, I have found that if you just let a young child who is excited about helping you with the dishes get up on the stool next to you, give them a toothbrush and just a little tiny container with some soapy water, they can have a lot of fun!
It is a variation on play time for them. They play these things to learn how to be adults and it makes it more fun for you, too.