Most parents want their kids to participate in the household by doing chores. And rightly so. But how do you go about deciding which chores to assign your kids – and what role should you play in helping them complete their chores? Experts agree on the following points:
The first and most important thing is to start young. Generally speaking, says Dr. Roger McIntire, a child psychologist, parents wait too long to assign chores because they think their kids should be ready first. “But that puts the cart before the horse,” says Dr. McIntire. “They will learn by doing. Cynthia Ewer, the author of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Getting Organized” and other well-known books on home management, agrees: “A one-year-old will giggle if handed a clean diaper to dust the legs of the furniture.”
Make sure the chores are age-appropriate
While even toddlers can get excited about helping out, make sure that the chores you assign are age-appropriate. “Instead of assigning a simple task,” says Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson, a professor of early childhood education, “appeal to your child’s desire to do important things by giving it difficult tasks.” Simple tasks are often seen as boring, and your kids may quickly lose interest and do a poor job. One way to overcome this problem is to add complexity to simple chores as your kids get older and more experienced. For example, if they have learned to put the dishes in the sink, ask them to rinse them off and put them away. Kids are often capable of much more than their parents realize – and that kids let on. As Elizabeth Pantley, the author of many best-selling books on parenting, notes only partly tongue-in-cheek: “Keep in mind that a child who has mastered a complicated computer game can easily run the dishwasher.”
Make sure the chores are manageable
It’s also important that the chores you assign are manageable. Karen Stephens, founder of the “Parenting Exchange,” which publishes parenting books, says that you should teach your kids how to “break tasks down into manageable ‘can do’ parts.” Indeed, says Mrs. Stephens, it’s useful to “provide a checklist for steps to accomplish. This avoids children ‘forgetting’ steps or feigning confusion.” Mrs. Pantley agrees: “‘Clean your room is vague and can be interpreted in any number of ways. Instead be explicit by saying, ‘Put your clothes in the closet, books on the shelf, dishes in the kitchen, and toys in the toy box.”
You should also teach your kids how to prioritize, especially if you assign them multiple chores. As Mrs. Stephens puts it, kids need to learn how to “set and prioritize goals and determine what needs to be done to achieve them.” Finally, your kids will see the chores you assign as more manageable if they can be accomplished in a relatively short period of time: “Kids are more willing to repeat a short burst of tidying than a long marathon of cleaning,” says Dr. Eileen Kennedy-Moore, a child psychologist.
So, what role should you play in helping your kids complete their chores?
Do chores together – or at the same time
It’s important to either set aside periods of time where you do chores together as a family or, at the very least, do chores at the same time. “That way,” says James Lehman, the creator of many well-known parenting programs, “no one feels as if they’re missing out or being punished by having to complete their tasks. It’s just chore time.” Mrs. Ewer agrees that you should try to have all family members do chores at the same time. “From a kid’s point of view,” says Mrs. Ewer, “it’s downright lonely to be sentenced to clean a bathroom each afternoon after school.” That becomes so much easier to stomach if the kid knows “that all the other family members are hard at work, too. Cleaning misery loves company, you might say.”
Make sure your kids follow through – and don’t skirt your own responsibilities
It’s also important to make sure that your kids always complete their chores. “If your kids aren’t expected to regularly follow through,” says Mrs. Pantley, “they might start putting off chores in the hope that someone else will do them for them.” As a parent, you should complete whatever chores you have assigned yourself. As Dr. Brunner, a child psychologist, puts it: “Children learn the most from what they see you do, not what you tell them to do.”
Have fun together
Finally, try to make this a fun and enjoyable experience. Experts agree that you get the best results if you make doing chores a family event filled with love, laughter, and music. As Dr. Kennedy-Moore puts it, “if your attitude while doing the chores is light-hearted, your child will be more willing to participate.”
By Tanni Haas, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Speech Communication Arts & Sciences, The City University of New York – Brooklyn College.