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Getting Kids to Help With the Housework

January 23, 1986|BONNIE McCULLOUGH | McCullough, based in Colorado, is the author of four books on home management. and

Parents assume children should help with household chores. Children feel they should help, but why isn't it happening? One reason is that parents forget to use basic management strategies at home.

As a general rule, children will not notice when things need to be done. They need to be trained. Most of them have not matured to the point where they work for intrinsic reasons. An organized system of instruction with parental support will increase chances of getting children to work at home. Child power is a terrific resource, especially for busy parents.

Several years ago, I co-authored a book on this subject: "401 Ways to Get Your Kids to Work at Home" (St. Martin's Press: $6.95). No matter what the reason for having difficulty getting children to help out around the house, there are some basic strategies that will improve chances.

On Command

--Don't expect young children to do things by themselves. Just because the child is old enough to bend over and pick up something, parents assume the child can do it over and over again on command. This is not true. To pick up and keep at it takes a high level of maturity. Young children need adult presence when they work, even until ages 6, 7 or 8.

--Do not expect the child to manage too many things. Cut down the quantity of items in a child's bedroom to a manageable number for the age and maturity of the child.

--Let the young child help when willing. If the child wants to help, find a way. If not, substitute a way the child can feel helpful.

--Make it as easy as possible for the child to do the job. Consider the physical arrangement of equipment and supplies.

--Don't give one child authority over another unnecessarily. It can cause resentment and opens the way for arguments. Because of their immaturity, children with authority can use it incorrectly, using power and force rather than love and patience.

--Offer incentives to help children reach work goals. Success in reaching those goals builds an inner reward system. Eventually, maybe, they will keep their rooms clean and help around the house because they like to.

Chore Assignment

--Write down the chore assignment. Do not leave it to the child's memory, opening the avenue to misunderstanding. Use some sort of chore chart or calendar to make assignments. Rotate jobs for fairness and experience.

--Don't make work sessions too long. Children are more likely to work energetically if they know there is an end. You might state "two hours of work in the yard" or offer a written list and promise that when everything is crossed off, the day is theirs. Don't add to the list. Children catch on quickly, and this tactic will squelch the child's motivation.

--Never redo a child's work if you have approved it. They will think you do not value their efforts and they won't try as hard the next time.

--Teach children how to do the job. Don't assume it will be totally learned by watching.

--Keep it fair by sharing. It is just as unfair to expect children to do all the housework as it is for children to expect the parents to do it all. If the problem is that children don't realize how much you are doing, put names and jobs on the chore chart too.

Part of the Game

--Set a regular time every day for work. All children try to get out of work; it's part of the game. Children will balk, cry and throw tantrums to try to escape if they think there's a chance they won't have to work, especially in the beginning. Some days their help will be needed more than others. Decide what you expect and then stick to it, but at the same time be flexible and understanding. As the child matures, adjust the chores, change requirements and include him or her in decision making. In the beginning it will take more time to teach children to work than if you simply do it yourself; but eventually you will reap the rewards.

--Be consistent in what you say and always follow through. Should you tell a child to take out the trash, you have to be willing to insist and to issue discipline if necessary. Don't say something unless you mean it.

--Be consistent and flexible at the same time. Be firm enough to give a basic structure to life, but don't expect perfection. Do not expect that children will do their chores or clean their bedroom perfectly every day. You are not building a robot; you want children who can think and plan and care. You probably do not have every bit of your life caught up every day. As in your own life, perhaps visiting a sick friend is more important today than painting the porch. Guide them in making good choices, then teach them how to make it up or recover from that postponement. That is flexibility, putting people above things.

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