Happy Helping Hands

July 7, 2014, Parenting Success Network

A friend and I were chatting the other day about how we are trying to find our summer rhythm at our houses. Summer brings with it a nice change of pace and opportunities to be outside so much more. I find myself relaxing a little more as a parent in the summer as the weather seems to give me an extra dose of  energy and patience. Although I love summer and the fun it brings, I have made a realization during the last couple of weeks as we have been enjoying summer to the fullest, while at the same balancing all of the demands of life. My simple realization is that my kids need to help more with chores. With my children at home so much more of the day with either my husband or myself, messes abound and I feel like I can’t keep up! When I’m not working or  swimming at the pool or river with my kids, I find myself instead swimming in a sea of laundry or trying to avoid my messy kitchen (and wishing that it would magically clean itself one of these days).

While in the process of trying to devise a plan of how I can help make chores a more consistent part of our routine, I came across this article from a New York Times blog. I can very much relate to the author, and from conversations I’ve had with many friends throughout the years, I know that this is something that parents  with children of all ages deal with. I think that it is a very normal struggle to figure out how to help children learn responsibility within a family while at the same time trying at best to minimize the whining and avoidance tactics that children can masterfully develop. Many of us start new routines and then find ourselves having a hard time sticking with them after things don’t go as well as originally hoped for. Sometimes plan A turns quickly into a plan B.

Although I am still in the process of finding what works best for my own family, I know that there are things that  have helped us in the past. If you are looking for a starting place to help your children learn how to help more at home, here are a few helpful tips to consider:

  • Remember that it is easier to be consistent when we set realistic expectations for what our kids can reasonably accomplish. If your children aren’t helping very much around the house, start small. It is better to be consistent with a few simple chores than to start off with too high of expectations and not follow through at all. As children experience success in the small tasks, we as parents can slowly increase the amount and difficulty of chores given as they get older.
  • Let your children have a say in what they do. While certain chores may be non-negotiable like a child having to clean his/her own room, take the time to listen to what he might like to take ownership over. For example, my six-year-old really wanted to be in charge of cleaning up the mudroom. He likes to organize the shoes and even help mop the tile floor. Children will at times learn to do and follow through with chores that they don’t enjoy (I still can’t say that I enjoy scrubbing toilets), but it can help reduce the struggle when the task is something that a child enjoys helping with.
  • Break more difficult tasks into pieces. If I send my children into their messy rooms and simply tell them to clean everything, the whining usually quickly beings. If I instead break the job into many small jobs, they usually have a better attitude. I might start by saying, “Clean up all of the books and put them on the bookshelf.” As my children continue to check in with me, I can keep adding on another piece to the puzzle until the whole room is clean.
  • Model how to perform a task. While we might take the time to show a seven-year-old how to fold a shirt, his version of folding might look very different than my ideal for awhile.  When children try hard but still have a hard time with a chore, it is important to praise the effort. We do not need perfection but we do expect effort.
  • Make chores fun! This is an easy one that I forget too often. Do a race with your children to clean up the playroom or turn on a fun dancing song and see if they can have the room tidied up before the song ends.
  • Remember that even young children can help with chores. A three-year-old can help set the table while you are making dinner and then carry his/her plate back to the kitchen after eating.
  • Let you children know that their chores must be done before certain fun things get to happen. For example, it might be standard in your house that your nine-year-old water the flowers outside before she may go and ask a neighbor to play.

I would love to hear what has worked well for your families when trying to establish and maintain chore responsibilities.

Gabe helping me plant our garden this last spring.
Gabe helping me plant our garden this last spring.