The beauty of childhood chores
Time and time again I have seen Parents (lovely parents) succumbing to the role of the classic ‘maid’. You know the type: gets everything prepared for the child so all the child has to do in the mornings is roll themselves out of bed into prepared clothes, eat the meal prepared, brush their teeth before walking to the car where they are dropped off at school. It sounds like royal treatment right?
In fact, instead of making princes and princesses with kind hearts of appreciation and respectful attitudes- it creates an entitled and frustrated complex in the child who can be ridiculously unhappy with their life.
Below I have enlisted several myths that as parents we often believe that hinders us from giving chores to our kids.
Myth #1: They won't do it right
This myth is one that we really need to internalize and be honest with ourselves. Is the reason that we have become the ‘maid’ from high expectations on ourselves that we expect the house to be more of a show home than a family home? And then asking the question why? Do we feel the pressure of society or the opinion of others that stops us from seeing the bigger picture?
It’s fine if we don’t mind our kids growing up feeling like we cared more about how the house looked than we cared how they were. This really hit home with me a couple of weeks back as a friend had commented that I shouldn’t let my kids eat in the lounge on the carpet as it makes a mess. So I tried it for a week and my 7 year old daughter said to me, “Well it’s not her house, we should be able to have our own rules.”
I was thankful for her honesty as it grounded me back to what parenting is all about- our own set of rules- what works for us, not changing because someone else thinks it’s too messy. My kids love to eat together on the couch and it’s been a time of connecting. Now we have decided if they make a mess- it’s their job to clean it up- the best of both.
Myth #2: I want my child to be happy
Happiness actually doesn’t come from receiving everything we want. In fact, true happiness is appreciating what we do have and being thankful and content.
In order to help children appreciate what they have- they need opportunities to work for what they get- it actually boosts their self-esteem as they have a reason to be proud of themselves and feel satisfaction. It is important that children are able to contribute to the family so they feel connected and needed. This all works together achieving long term happiness.
Myth #3: It's much faster if I do it for them
In the short term, yes it is faster to do things for our kids. Let’s have the example of making our kids breakfast. Let’s say that they have cereal and milk for brekkie and it’s of course much faster and less messy if we do it for them. But if we spend the time showing them how to carefully pour the milk into their cereal, not only will they learn a lot faster and be capable quicker, but also it will be one less job for you to do down the track. I found this with my youngest daughter who was three at the time and would always need help with her seatbelt. I found that I was always in a hurry to get to school or Kindy or the shops and didn’t have time to teach or wait for her to do up her seat belt.
If I had only been patient for one week, letting her figure it out and coaching her through it, I would have had four extra months of being able to get into the car without having to put anyone’s seat belt on which is very relaxing! It took me four months to realise that I was going to need to be more patient and let her give it a go. This meant I had to leave earlier, distract myself so that she could concentrate without me interfering
Myth #4: I'm showing love to my child
It may feel like you are helping your child out by doing all their chores for them but what we as parents are really doing is stopping them from becoming self-sufficient and independent. We have to think in terms of them becoming adults. Do we want our kids to leave home not knowing how to do their washing? Or not knowing how to cook a healthy meal and seeing their health deteriorate? We need to keep the future in mind as we teach our children these life skills. True love is helping our children do the hard stuff and learn character traits like perseverance, patience, hard work and care about themselves, others and the environment. The longer you do things for your child, the longer it will take them to know how to do things for themselves.
Myth #5: They will complain too much.
If kids aren’t used to doing chores, then yes at the beginning they will complain. However, once they get into the habit and routine of doing chores, you will find that they will actually complain less. The reason for this is that when kids aren’t doing chores, they become entitled. Nothing you do for them is good enough, the small things they are required to do become too hard for them and they have a lot of time to do nothing but fight with you and complain about life being hard.
Once children are doing their chores however, their self-esteem grows and they feel empowered and in control of themselves. This new sense of independance gives them confidence and purpose. They no longer have a reason to complain because they are feeling good about themselves.
Myth #6: I enjoy it
I know, who am I to tell you that you don’t enjoy doing chores for your kids right? But reality is that I have seen so many parents whose underlying emotion is resentment towards their kids. The reason for this is simple- they are bending over backwards for their children and instead of any sort of appreciation, they are met with an ungrateful and sometimes down right rude response. We can’t really blame the kid- if they are taught that they don’t have to do anything to contribute to the family, they end up feeling that it is their right for everything to be done for them.
A lot of times, the sweeter the parent is, the worse the child’s behavior.
Myth #7: My Kids are too young for chores
This myth is an idea that many parents have for a lot of things- toilet training, self feeding, using money etc. The problem is that when the child does arrive at the ‘right age’, it’s a frustrating, confusing and hurried experience for both the parent and the child. Instead of being able to take their time to learn, the parent expects the child to do it because they are at the right age instead of having taught them and it becoming a gradual and natural process. As soon as a child can crawl, a child can put their toys away into a toy box. In fact, they are usually quite happy to as long as their caregivers have time and patience to show them.
Children often don’t get an opportunity to do chores so we don’t know what they are capable of.
So how do we help our children to do chores? Where do we start? How do we motivate?
Before we get into it, keep these two quotes at the forefront of your mind..
Tip #1- Don’t do for your child what they can do for themselves.
This one seems simple but if you are used to doing everything for your child it is a hard one to keep yourself from overtaking, redoing or ‘helping’. Start taking note of all the things you are doing that your children have the ability to do- putting their washing away, putting their dishes in the dishwasher, getting their own breakfast, helping with dinner etc. If it is something you know they can do but they haven’t done it before, remember that children learn by watching, doing together and then on their own. With these three steps, children can do so much more than we give them credit for. Expect as they are learning to do more that there will be a hard transition time not only for your child but also for you! However, after they have learnt how to do jobs and you have learnt how to let them be independent, life will be a lot easier and better for the both of you.
Tip #2 – Have Faith in your child.
You may be surprised how well your child does- don’t ruin it by expecting them to grumble and do a half job. Independent children who can do things for themselves will do a lot better than lazy and entitled children who expect everything done for them. Keep this in mind as you believe in your child. Expect your child to do the chores that you know they can do and have taught them and if they don’t, give them natural consequences- eg, No lunch packed, no lunch for school, wake up late, they have to walk to the office and tell them why they are late, they don’t put their washing into the washing basket and have to wear dirty clothes. They will learn if you will let them and don’t rush in to save them each and every time. Have faith that from those life consequences they will learn valuable life lessons. Small kids, small problems, big kids, big problems- better to make all the mistakes in your home when they are young than big mistakes when they are older.
Tip #3- Throw away Perfection.
The first few times your child does their chores it will not be perfect. In fact, it may even look worse than before! Keep it up and remember the end goal is not a show home but a training home. Once the kids leave home you will have plenty of time to make your home look perfect. But while it is housing kids, remember to keep it a welcoming, warm space where kids can make mistakes free of charge and learn to try again and again (and again and again).
Tip #4- Encourage.
To encourage is to validate, notice and acknowledge what your child is doing. It is not telling them what they are doing is right or wrong but simply stating what they are doing and they can decide if that makes them proud of themselves or not. In the scenario that your 5 year old son just vacuumed his room you would say something like, “You vacuumed your room and you were careful around your bookshelf. Now it feels fresh and clean.” You don’t have to add any, “Good boy” at the end you can just leave it at that. Your simple observation of what he has done will be validating to him and not make him rely on your encouragement to do the vacuuming but help him to encourage himself. (For more on encouraging your child look at the article ‘Communication’ on this website).