We all know how important it is to teach children life skills but why are so many young adults heading off to college and the world at large unable to do simple household chores? I can think of one thing right off the bat, it’s often times easier to just do it yourself! Perhaps, but that doesn’t help transfer useful knowledge to those who need it most, the next generation.
I’m guilty of it, no doubt. I’m pretty sure it was a tactic that my daughter enlisted to get out of chores, by just pretending to, sort of, kind of do a chore and then watch Mom crumple with exasperation. Oftentimes I just didn’t have the patience to insist she redo the task until it was completed properly. Similarly, if Mr. Manor wasn’t going to vacuum the way I vacuum then I would cheerfully say “its ok, no worries, I’ll do the vacuuming”. Perfectionism is a faulted trait that I’ve been working on for years and wish I had been able to nip it in the bud sooner.
Young household members not only need to learn how to do chores properly but it’s critical for them to understand they constantly affect the environment around them with every activity. Understand that I’m talking about more than just picking up toys or craft supplies after an art project although I have a few tips for that as well. One thing I’ve noticed is that it seems to be easier to assign chores when there is more than just one child. Obviously older kids will have more complicated tasks but when everyone has a responsibility, it seems to level the playing field. Don’t worry that it’s too late to start with your elementary or middle school aged child, it’s never too late to start! Here are some tips to get everyone to help out:
• A chore chart is handy for assigning who, where and what needs to be done and it can be set up for daily or weekly chores. Empty check boxes are rewarding for anyone to check off after completing a task or giving the child a star sticker to place on the chart is a nice pat on the back. Parents and guardians should be on the list as well, giving kids that sense that you’re all in it together.
• Assign age appropriate chores, even a 1-2 year old should be “cleaning” even if it’s just wiping their high chair tray with a clean dishcloth. 2-3 year olds can feed pets, sort dark and light colored laundry, tidy their beds, or help with paper recycling. 4-8 year olds are great at matching washed socks, wiping table tops clean, putting laundry into the washing machine, sweeping and sometimes vacuuming if it’s a canister vacuum.
• Make a game out of picking up. We used to do 20 second tidy ups which lengthened depending on age. A family I know has kids taking turns at being the pick-up wizard, using an invisible wand to point out to their siblings what needed to be picked up. Setting timers can help although I’ve seen it cause anxiety in some children so test it out to see if your child responds as if they are in a race or if it just overwhelms them in a negative way.
• There’s no better excuse to go green with household cleaners!! Kids can scrub a tub with a baking soda paste, use non-toxic soap and water to mop with or use a 1:1 ratio of water and white vinegar for washing windows. Of course age appropriately only.
• Younger children really need your undivided attention during chore time. In a perfect world, we ask for such and such to be done while we go ahead with our own project. That might work with older kids/young teens but with a younger crowd, plan on being right there next to them, to coach and encourage and of course to reinforce.
• Rewards or allowances are certainly up to you but it seems like young ones need to understand that there is a certain amount of basic, inherent responsibility for every member of the home. Everyone should have their base chores and perhaps extra credit or above and beyond rewards are gifted to those who thrive when they have their eye on the prize. It doesn’t have to be monetary or material either, it can be a special activity or special time spent together.
• Don’t use chores as a punishment.
• Mix up assignments. Rotating chores not only breaks up boredom but continues to teach new skills.
Lastly, let go of perfection when it comes to the final results. The laundry may be folded as if it was done in the dark, not every crumb has been swept up and the windows are pretty streaky but it was done with sincerity and effort and that is what is important.