When I proudly sent a picture of my four year old son helping me cook and another picture of him folding his own clothes, it was surprisingly met with criticism from my mom. Being the typical grandmother, she shot back, ”He is too young. Remember what you did at that age?”
Well, the truth is that he willingly helps me in these activities (touch wood), and for him, most of these are learning opportunities and fun activities, not chores. The other truth is that encouraging children to do chores from a very young age is an important part of parenting.
Why should kids contribute to household work:
Many of us assume that childhood is only for playing. As the kids grow up, we encourage them to focus fully on academics and extra curricular activities. Some people even believe that asking children to contribute towards the daily chores of the family is unfair and beyond their capabilities.
Childhood is the time to pursue a million little things. But learning to take care of themselves and contributing towards the family is certainly part of their growing up.
Because learning to do chores may not be a part of their school work, it is imperative that these skills are taught at home.
- Chores teach them life skills
This is the single most important reason for me to involve my son in every possible chore appropriate for his age. I want my child to grow up into a self sufficient adult, who knows how to iron his own clothes or cook a meal by himself.
- Makes them aware of the hardwork involved in running a household
Many children today grow up not understanding how much hard work it is to run a family smoothly. As a result, they take their parents for granted and demand that every single wish of theirs be fulfilled with a magic wand. Involving them in family contribution makes them understand the work that their mama and papa are putting in to bring money into the house, to feed their little tummies, to keep the house tidy and so on. As a result, they become more appreciative of their parents’ work and less demanding.
- Chores teach them responsibility and self discipline
Chores teach them that everyone in the family has a responsibility towards smooth running of the house. It teaches them how to manage their time to get tasks done and also make time towards other activities of interest to them.
- Makes them feel important
When children make little contributions to their home, they feel so valued and important. Any parent who has seen the proud smile on their little one’s face, after accomplishing a task, is a proof for that.
- Chores help them get used to monotony and reality
With increasing diagnosis of ADHD (Attention Deficiency and hyperactivity disorder) and related issues, psychologists are insisting that children should be engaged less in screen time and more in other meaningful activities. As adults, we know that not every moment in life can be as fast moving and exciting as the cartoon characters. Real life is made to a considerable extent of routine, mundane activities. Doing chores gets them used to the monotony, that is the reality of life.
Chota bheem may save his village effortlessly on television. But our little ones learn that even the smallest of tasks require effort and skills in real life.
- Chores are a great way to bond with the child
I would rather engage my child when rolling out chapathis or cleaning the house, than do it myself and constantly shout at him to not do naughty things. I find that my son bonds a lot more with me when I teach him a new household activity or let him help me out.
- Win win- Frees up your time for other things you love
While you teach your kid to be responsible, the long term benefit would be that some of your household work will be shared by your kid, freeing you to do other interesting things in life.
Those few minutes that my child saves me by making our family bed is really a big relief for me at the end of a tired day.
- Chores teach them team work
When you share responsibilities, kids learn how to work as a team to accomplish a task. This is especially true when they have siblings. Apart from delegating tasks and working together, they also learn to give a helping hand to each other. Eg: The older sibling helps out a younger kid who is struggling to get his task done.
How to encourage children to do chores:
#1. Catch them young
A proud mom told me that her less than one year old child helped put away her toys. This mom kept telling her child whenever she was putting away her toys, “Put them in the tray, come on”. One fine day, the baby got the message and started contributing!
Putting away their toys is one of the first responsibilities that you can encourage a child to do by herself. By the time my son was two years old, it was his responsibility to put away all his toys before he goes to sleep. Making my son understand it at that age has made the thought ingrained in his mind, that his work is his responsibility. He will also be asked to switch off the light and fan before he leaves a room.
Slowly, you can move them towards family responsibilities, which benefit the entire family, than just the kid.
#2. Toddlers are curious to learn-Make use of that:
One mom recently complained that whenever she is doing her chores, her toddler wants to chip in. She asked me how to make her understand it is my work, not hers. I advised her to grab the opportunity with both hands! Toddlers are very curious little humans who want to try out everything that their adult role model is doing.
Use this opportunity to teach them the chores. Take it from me- their contributions will only create more mess and extra work for you. But the intention to help is what matters. No matter how small their contribution is, encourage it profusely and keep teaching them how to do the chore in a better way. They will get better day by day. Some day in the future, you will be thankful for letting them create a mess that day!!!
My son used to love the art of folding clothes. But by the time he turned four, he realized that folding clothes was a boring thing to do. He had a million other things to explore in this world.
True that, but doing chores is certainly one of those millions things he ought to do.
I self-learnt a few tips along the way, which put him back in track. Here they are.
#3. Choose chores that are age appropriate and of interest to them
Choose chores that is appropriate for his/ her age. While the chore should involve an element of challenge, it should not be too difficult either. Choose the chores that align with your child’s natural interest. If your child loves playing with water, give them tasks that involve cleaning with water. If they love a clean place, then tidying up is their cup of tea.
#4. Make chores sound exciting
This one certainly makes a difference. If your child feels compelled to do a chore, he may want to run away. As a parent, you can certainly manipulate your toddler into believing that putting away toys or putting clothes into washing machine is an exciting activity. This is more likely to work with toddlers, than older children.
#5. Set small goals, do not overwhelm them
When I dumped all the clothes the little one had to fold, like a mountain, he ran away without folding a single cloth. While this irritated me, I talked with him and learnt that these are too many for him to fold. So, I took away everything and gave him just ten small clothes that he can easily fold. TADA.. they were folded in an instant. I put them in the cupboard with loads of praise and offered him another ten clothes. He was happy to get them folded too.
#6. Don’t instruct, join them on the field:
I have found that whenever I sit on the sofa meddling with my phone, telling him indifferently to put away the toys, he hardly ever gets into action.
Instead, I step in close by and tell him, “Put the puzzle pieces in the box first, next put away the playdough toys into that bag. Now put your child safe scissors back in its place.” This way, the work gets done quickly and sincerely.
I do help him put away things that may be too challenging for him eg: The playdough scattered into a hundred pieces. I help him with that while he puts away rest of the toys.
However, if your child insists on doing an activity independently, step away and let them do it their way.
#7. Divide the work
Sometimes I tell him, “While I put away the vessels in the sink, you put away your toys. Then we both can go and read your book together. Let us see who finishes first.” This really motivates him to get work done on time.
#8. Reward with a twist:
The other day, my son insisted that he wants to ride the cycle on the road, which meant that I have to run with him. I was not quite inclined to do it that day, because I had a backlog of hundred clothes to fold.
But I told him, “When you help me fold all the clothes, I will come with you for cycling.” Believe me, he folded around fifty clothes that day, without any sign of getting distracted. By that time, I had finished folding my own clothes and happily went with him for cycling.
#9. Make chores part of their schedule:
If doing a particular chore is a daily routine, at a specific time of the day, children are likely to do it without any second thought.
#10. Let them choose their favorite chores:
Some of my son’s favorite chores include rolling out chapathis, peeling garlic, chopping veggies in my veggie chopper, sweeping the house, cleaning tables, putting away grocery in fridge etc. When these chores are to be done, I never forget my little helper. Yes, some tasks are especially reserved for him. He will throw a tantrum if I do it instead of him! I hope I stay as lucky when he grows up.
#11. Rotate the chores, if they get bored with some chores
My son used to love plucking mint leaves, now he is bored with it. So I choose another chore for him while I clean the mint leaves. Rotating the chores avoids monotony, while giving them an opportunity to get adept at a variety of tasks.
#12. Positive reinforcement
When your child does not finish a task to perfection, do not criticize. Appreciate their effort and suggest how they can do it in a better way.
When a task is completed, pause for a moment and cherish the outcome of the hardwork. A clean sink or a well made bed is something to cheer about.
#13. Appreciation , with a catch
While appreciating good deeds is always important, it gets tricky because some chores are part of children’s duty. We should not inadvertently make them expect stimulation for their daily duties.
Instead, I mask my appreciation like this. I appreciate him for folding those clothes so beautifully(and not just for folding his clothes). I appreciate him for having improved so much in rolling chapathis. I tell him how tired I was doing chores, but how his help made so much difference. I tell him because he helped sweep the house, amma had time to read one extra story book with him.
#14. Public recognition
Whenever I speak to my neighbors or mom about how helpful my son is at home, he beams with pride. He is certainly likely to continue doing that help the next day.
#15. Monetary rewards- good or bad?
I am not in favor of monetary payment for chores. As a family member, everyone has their duties to share. If parents are not being paid for doing their share, neither should the kids be. However, if your child helps you above and beyond his daily duties, it is fair to give him some pocket money.
The dilemma of the working parent
In this blog, I have shared my experiences as a Stay At Home Mom.
The situation may be different for a working parent depending on the support system they have for child care. If the children are being cared for by elders at home, the grand parents can also nurture the sense of responsibility in kids. The situation may get tricky when there is a nanny involved. We may expect that since the nanny is being paid for her job, she must take care of all the chores by herself.
However, it is important to make the kid take care of her own duties and involve her in chores as well. Depending on the relationship shared with the nanny, she can be asked to direct the child do the chore on her own. Else, the parent can work with the child in his/her free time. With a little creativity, sharing chores can be converted into a quality family time.
Some working parents tell me that being a working parent has made their kid independent as well as responsible. As children grow up, they share more responsibilities, easing the life of the working parent.
While we should take every effort to make chores an enjoyable part of kid’s schedule, it can turn into a necessary evil if the kid is resistant to help.
I hope the tips mentioned above will help bring your child back to track. And happily so.
Are you the parent of an older kid? As they get very busy with their academic and extra curricular activities, how do you still manage to let them contribute to chores? Do share with us in the comments.