Do Everyone a Favor!
It’s almost a new year – time to start thinking about how you want your new year to be different. One thing that many people start with enthusiasm at the start of the new year is a chore chart/system. They kick off with gusto and high expectations. Sometime in early March, the chart magnets don’t get changed. By April, mom is actually dusting the chore chart. Relax, I do not have a new chore chart for you. In fact, I’m not even a fan of New Year’s resolutions. I am a fan, though, of teaching your children to be active in keeping your home and family running as smoothly as possible.
Now that 3/4’s of my kids are actual adults, I feel confident sharing five things that worked as they were growing up and have proven to be skills that are serving them well as they start their own, independent lives.
You are the mom, you win. Accept this and move on. Yes, it’s true you probably are the best toilet-scrubber, dishwasher-loader and laundry-folder in your house. Once you have kids, though, it’s time to start using your powers for good. If you’re reading this site, you want to do the best by your family. That does not always mean having the most beautifully folded fitted-sheets. By the time your kids are about three, you should be including them in daily chores. It will slow you WAY down, but the end results are worth it. A three-year-old can sort socks and learn his colors. He can copy you folding towels. Give that preschooler a dust-buster, small broom or a used dryer sheet and put him to work on baseboards, between stairs and under beds.
See tip number one. Remember, you are the best! Now, as your kids learn to pick up household chores, keep your mouth shut. As long as you are seeing honest effort, give reasonable praise (don’t go crazy, they’re not the best remember?) and resist every impulse in your body to redo the job they just did. Next time your child folds towels, gently mention that the finished product should look like a rectangle. Do not criticize the last effort or say anything about being disappointed. Let them know that it takes practice – then let them practice.
Break things down into kid-sized bites. If you ask a 3-year-old to clean up his room and then walk away, don’t be surprised when you come back to find him covered in dust bunnies and holding a nasty, old Happy Meal toy chattering happily to himself. Young kids need you to stick with them and walk them through the steps you want them to take. With kids over 10, give them a list with the specific things in their room you want them to address. Check in periodically because they will get distracted. If you go into jobs recognizing that you are dealing with short attention spans and a lack of interest, you’re less likely to get angry.
Set up two simple chores for each child each day. Rotate chores (when age-appropriate) to keep kids from getting bored. When my four boys were young, I had a weekly sheet that listed everyone’s two chores for the week and, because I had grown so tired of keeping track, a note of their current seat in the car (left-middle, right back, etc.). Pick a time you want the chores done by (allow for dawdling) and stick to it. If you are not prepared to shut things down when a deadline isn’t met, no one is going to take the deadline seriously. Good news? You only have to shut things down once or twice until the kids know you’re serious. The earlier you start doing the two-a-day thing with your kids, the more natural it becomes. You avoid that one week of demanding lots of work followed by several weeks of the kids being asked to do nothing. Make the kids understand that their participation is vital.
Bump up chores as kids get older. Tweens and young teenagers will often rebel over their regular chores. They feel as if they’re being treated like babies. Sit down and talk about it. Explain that some of their earlier chores are things they should just be doing by now (making bed, etc) if they see it needs done. This is the time to teach kids how to iron, how to sew on a button, how to change the oil in the car, how to make a few simple meals and then assign them those jobs. It will be like when they were wee little – frustrating to watch, but rewarding in the end.
Yes, this does create MORE work for you because you are taking on the role of teaching. However, kids learn quickly. After a year or two, the next time you get the flu or are otherwise sidelined, you’ll be amazed at how well your house runs without you. Your kids will be confident helpers who can make you a cup of tea, keep laundry running and make sure the dog is fed. By the time they are heading off to college, you’ll be confident that they KNOW how to take care of themselves.