Updated: May 14, 2020
(Starting with chores)
Believe it or not, chores and activities our children do at home, are a much debated topic.
From the people who advocate to ‘let kids be kids’ and not having any responsibility (I agree with kids being kids, but that doesn’t exempt them from learning about responsibility, and accountability), to the ones who pay children for doing chores...
Whether that's because paying them is 'the only way I get my kids to help around the house' (I don’t subscribe to this view, more on this below), to the ones who pay children as a way for them to learn about money management.
At home, we do pay our kids for ‘bigger’ chores/jobs - different ones from the day-to-day ones.
So, no payment for making their bed, clearing their plate from the table, help cook, putting away their clothes etc, but yes payment to washing the car, paint the outdoor wall, help build furniture, for example.
Though often, they are happy to be part of the home-projects because they really enjoy it.
My eldest son is about to turn 10 (!!!) and he is a beautiful, beautiful boy if I may say so myself. Yes! A very biased opinion.
But being a bit more objective, and looking back, it was our commitment to involve him in family matters - since he was a baby - that has supported him in many areas of his life.
From independence, to confidence, to perseverance, to learning new skills...to name but a few. And no doubt, this will continue to support him in the future.
So how did we do it?
1. BUILD A STRONG RELATIONSHIP
First up, it was very clear for us that, as parents, we were building a relationship with our son from the very beginning.
Everything stems from the philosophy of involving our children from the start.
2. BE AN EXAMPLE
Yes, our children learn lots by simply watching us, so - zooming in on our topic of 'life-skills for the real world' - it is important for your child to see everyone in the household being involved.
For me that meant that I wanted my son to not only see me, but his dad, being involved in cooking, washing up, and doing laundry.
That wasn’t too hard because my husband pretty much did a lot of the house-chores (if not most!) during the first years of our relationship! And in fact, he's making dinner as I type this.
But I grew up in México, where some men (still!), don’t even know how to hold a broom! (I am happy to report that my sons can do it, and loved mopping).
Yes, our family circumstances will vary, and if we are single parenting or outsourcing housework, for instance, this might alter the view our children have about chores, and activities around the home.
Where you sit on the spectrum, would also vary from how you grew up, to your own beliefs, and conditioning.
But it is worth noting that research over many years, have found that "the best predictor of success in young adulthood, on measures related to education completion, career path, and personal relationships, was whether they had begun doing chores at an early age — as young as 3 or 4."
3. REFRAME & REMIND
Many parents have asked me “how do I get my children to do chores at home?”.
My first response is always to reframe, starting with, how we are approaching the subject.
Getting them to do things implies ‘control mentality'.
Involving them has a different - a more positive - connotation.
Providing them with life skills, again, has a different connotation. It makes us want to put time and energy into it - for the benefit of our children - rather than dragging ourselves to do it, forcing, and seeing it as yet, one more thing we gotta do.
Also, my children understand that all of us - doing things at home - contributes to us living as a family in a more harmonious way.
But they didn’t guess this!
I spelled it out! And I gave them examples of how their dad contributes, how I contribute:
Do they like their dinner being made? Do they like their clothes being washed? Do they like being driven to school, or sport? Do they like going on outings with friends, and getting a treat? Do they like their school?
And as you know, the list goes on and on!
It is important to remind them of this often. Not as a preaching sermon, but literally as a reminder of how we are ALL part of this family, so we all contribute.
4. FAMILY MEETINGS
How do we involve a child to contribute, to participate, to be an active member in the family?
At home, we are big fans of family meetings.
Family meetings are a practical way to come up with solutions. They are a chance for the kids to practise articulating their concerns. The meetings sharpen their problem solving skills, and help us all live more peacefully.
My dad introduced family meetings when my sisters and I were teenagers. I took it up a notch, and had our first family meeting when my eldest was two years old.
TIP: Don't underestimate how much your child can understand, participate, and contribute, from a very young age!
During one family meeting about chores, we came up with the idea of making a house-chores roulette wheel.
Every morning my husband says: ‘Spin to win!’ and the boys run (most of the time) to see what they’ll get for the day.
So from the very beginning, this was also fun for them.
This is not to say that they have not resisted. They have, and plenty! But because this was an agreement that came up from our family meeting, we all own it.
And again, it’s about reframing and communicating why this is important (see point #3).
4a. EVERY CHILD IS DIFFERENT
Which is why I don’t necessarily go by the age-by-age suggestions about chores, activities, and responsibilities.
Ideally, we would have been observing our child from the very beginning, and we can start connecting dots - not only about the long term aspects, but about the very practical ones too.
For example, when my boys were little and they would see me, the cleaning person who would help us occasionally, or their dad - clean the toilet - they were fascinated with spray bottles.
I made sure I brought them out specially for cleaning windows and toilets!
Our roulette has the main things we want help with at home, at the moment:
- emptying the dishwasher,
- sweeping kitchen and dining room,
- help with laundry
But we have added some they don't mind doing too:
- setting the table,
- cleaning the toilet - yep! they would choose cleaning the toilet over dishwasher any day! Can you believe it? I guess the spray bottles did the trick! :)
TIP: If you decide going the roulette way, I would suggest swapping the chores after a few months.
For very young kids, it does start with seeing mum / dad / caregivers do things around the house, and letting them 'help'.
Yes, this might mean more mess than help at first, but it is SO WORTH it! And I promise, it will pay off.
TIP: Make it fun if possible.
PRO TIP: Involve your child in decisions, and family matters, beyond chores, from very early on.
Here’s to embracing family life fully!