Tired of picking up after the kids? Here are some ideas to get them to help you out.
How wonderful would it be if Mary Poppins was a real-life person who could sweep in and clean out our children’s bedrooms? While there’s fat chance of that, it is possible to initiate our children into the mysteries of household chores. After all, if everything is magically done for them, how are they ever going to learn? Training younger members of the family to help around the house makes sense in so many ways – it gives you more time and they get training in basic life skills. By the time they’re teenagers, you’ll be able to sit back and relax (well that’s the theory anyway).
We all want to raise self-sufficient, reliable, and capable adults, don’t we? Coddling our kids and doing everything for them, including making them packed lunches and doing their homework for them, is probably not going to do that. I’m not advocating child labour, but shouldn’t everyone contribute a little to the household once they’re able to?
Begin with their own space
In the absence of that Mary Poppins character to magically clean up, the first step is getting kids to clean up after themselves and that starts in their own bedrooms. If your child’s bedroom looks nothing like this one and you can’t actually see the floor, then figure out ways to make them put away their stuff.
Make a place for everything
I don’t know how many times we’ve panicked in the mornings because we can’t find a school hat, a pair of socks that match, the second shin-pad, the swimming goggles…the list goes on and on.
As any professional organiser will tell you, being organised is easier if there’s a place for everything. We can’t expect our children to be tidy if we don’t have those easily discernible places. So do whatever it takes to help them organise themselves.
Encourage with rewards
Some people call it blackmail. I call it common sense. The rewards don’t have to be material until later. You could start off with other bargaining chips at first, such as time on devices, a trip to the park, a promise to read their favourite story before bed. Some families have star charts or other systems for rewards to entice their kids into helping out.
Create a schedule
If you have more than one child, you’ll need to cut down on the inevitable fights about who did what and when by making record of who did what, and when.
Make it fun
It must be the case that kids find chores fun – why else would we buy fake kitchens, irons and vacuum cleaners for them? Children love to play at being grown-ups and they naturally play-act the chores they see us do. So start early and get them to help out with those real chores, just make it fun along the way.
Start in the kitchen, which is one of the most creative places for housework, where they may actually enjoy doing the real thing. Play music, have a laugh and, at least initially, allow them to make the things they like to eat – sweet or savoury.
In many of the larger families I know, younger members are already rostered on for dinner duties. This is a necessity in some big families where everyone needs to pull their weight to make the household function. Start by having kids help in some elements of the preparation and then have them make simple things that don’t require too much chopping. You might then be surprised by how much young children love the challenge of following more complex recipes.
Of course they need to be careful around safety in the kitchen, but it’s good to learn early. Kids need to be taught about the dangers of sharp knives, electrical appliances, boiling water, handling hot things and what they can and can’t put in the microwave.
Easier said than done I know – when children want to help with the cooking, sometimes it’s easier to take over and do it yourself, but remember it’s worth suffering through a few less-than-fantastic meals before they can reach a certain standard. We all have to start somewhere.
Help them pack their own lunch
If both parents are working or you’re a single one, mornings can be crazy, with school uniforms to muster, breakfast to be prepared and school lunches to wrangle. Distribute the workload by encouraging your kids to start packing their own lunch boxes. If you keep the fridge and pantry well stocked with easy-to-find healthy treats, this shouldn’t be too difficult.
Diversify the tasks
Bear in mind there are a variety of tasks throughout the home that children might prefer as they grow up. Find out what they’re good at and what they like – one child might love cooking, while another loves gardening – so start to focus on that and there should be less in-fighting.
However, some jobs simply have to be done whether they’re enjoyed or not, so create a roster for those. The bathroom is probably the least palatable task to every member of the household, but we all use it and someone has to clean it. A roster is the easiest way to make sure everyone takes their turn.
Hands up who finds sorting and folding laundry one of the most laborious tasks in the house? It’s one of those I always try to delegate, and children will become more self-sufficient if they’re able to do these simple but necessary tasks themselves.
Make jobs age-appropriate
Make a list of all the various chores in your household and which ones you’d like to delegate. See what you think your children are capable of. For example, young toddlers might be able to put their things away, put dirty laundry in a hamper, and do some light dusting, while older primary school children could feed pets, empty and stack the dishwasher, water plants, or make beds. As they get older they can move on to those harder tasks such as cleaning, gardening and cooking.
Introduce other skills
If you run a home business, or any other kind of business, it might help you to get your kids involved once they’re of a certain age, as well as being a good chance for them to earn some pocket money. Filing is a simple task that a teenager could help you with. It will help you out a lot, while also teaching them some simple administration skills. You know all those receipts you have in a shoe box? As they get older, kids could even move on to simple accounting or data entry. After they’ve done their homework, of course.
Perhaps the easiest and best reward is simple praise for a job well done. As easy as it is, try not to be overly critical – unless it’s constructive. Be patient, kind and don’t get annoyed if they get it wrong. Otherwise you could end up with resentful and unhappy children.
Hopefully by the time you have young adults living at home, the hard work will have paid off and they’ll be valuable contributors to the household. Good luck!
Liz Durnan is a Houzz Australia Contributor. Previously a freelance writer and editor at a variety of magazines and websites in London, New York and Sydney. She resides in the Blue Mountains bush in a straw bale house they built from scratch. She writes about her passions – mainly books and sustainable housing – while writing a book and attempting a permaculture garden.
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