Labor Relations With Children

RAY GUARENDI

How important do you think it is for children to help around the house? And how can I get my kids to do more? Sometimes it's easier on my nerves if I just do the chores myself.

Chores are loaded with lessons about life. They show, not merely tell, a youngster that living in this home is everyone's privilege, so it's everyone's responsibility. Chores foster a sense of shared ownership and, as such, a respect for property, one's own and another's.

Household duties are forerunners of lessons about the work world. They help a child understand that work is inseparable from life, not just for grown-ups but, to a lesser degree, for those growing up.

The most durable lessons are taught young. Introduce kids to chores early, before they become allergic to work and sweat. Little ones love to help out, especially if they think chores are something reserved only for big people.

Take full advantage of a toddler's drive to imitate. Work in the same room together. Give him his own rag to help wipe the table, or dust, or dry his drinking cup. Let him hold onto the vacuum while you sweep. Odds are good he'll mess more than he cleans, but you're nurturing his attitude: I have to help, too.

Preschoolers are quite capable of doing their share. Two-year-olds can put away puzzles, toss their cup into the sink. Three-year-olds can help set the table, put clothes where they belong, control toy debris, and keep play areas within city health code.

In the beginning stages of chore-teaching, much of the effort is yours, but it's effort aimed at the future. As with any behavior, a little work on the front end of parenthood will pay off handsomely in coming years. As a child internalizes some sense of responsibility, the need for parental prodding decreases.

Joint ventures are a good option. One mother said, "The kids will give me twice the help if we do chores together, rather than my giving them separate work." For example, you wash the dishes, and they dry. Or, they wash and dry, but you straighten the kitchen. Sometimes merely puttering nearby, even if you're faking looking busy, weakens the kids' conviction that you're the straw boss and they're the slaves.

Certainly this doesn't mean that for every job you ask of John Henry, you must share the experience. Contrary to his impression, you do have other demands on your time. Then, too, some things should be his sole responsibility. On the whole, however, timing your work to coincide with his should improve his output.

Shared chores offer an unexpected bonus. The "forced" togetherness can prompt a child to open up with his thoughts and feelings. High quality conversations often are spontaneously wrapped around a cooperative leaf raking or house cleaning. Chores are prime times for kids to talk to us, even if that's because we're the only ones around.

Sometimes parents ask little of kids, saying there's little for them to do. My advice is to find things for them to do, or make them up. The typical youngster is far from over-houseworked and would greatly benefit by being required to do more. Even if most kids' present workloads were doubled, the burden would still only entail about a one-hour work week.

Household chores are a medium for all kinds of childhood lessons about life, fostering responsibility, cooperation, and respect for possessions, others' as well as one's own. While requiring some simple cooperation as early as a child is able (usually the toddling years) may initially be more effort for parent than child, it does lay down the expectation that everyone works together. And the earlier that attitude is imparted, the more durable it becomes, surviving even adolescence, when kids have violent allergic reactions to physical exertion.

Quite naturally, as kids get older, more activities compete with their time and desire to work for or with you. Therefore, you may need to structure your expectations.

Since household duties are standard requirements, or should be, in most homes, they are standard sources of friction. Typically, kids want to do less than we'd like. And if our main means of eliciting their help is through nagging, threatening, and yelling, then truly it would be easier for us to do their chores — if not on our muscles, then on our minds.

The following are some ideas for making your youngster's chores less work for you, while cutting back on the emotional turbulence that can drag a four-minute job into a forty-minute tug-of-word war.


Making Chores Easier

  • Make a list of household duties you would like from your kids. For most parents, the "would like" list is much longer than the "getting done" list. Divide this list into family chores — those chores that are expected because a child is a member of the family — and pay chores — those chores that will be linked to an allowance. If pay chores aren't completed in a timely fashion (to kids, "timely" means before the turn of the century), allowance money is proportionately deducted. The motivating power of this approach depends upon two key elements. One, provide no money for extras during any week when all chores aren't completed. Two, if a child earns money independently (e.g., babysitting, lawnmowing, birthday card opening), require a higher percentage to be saved — for instance, 75 percent as opposed to 50 percent — during any period in which the child has not earned all of his allowance.

  • Establish a core chore rule. All daily duties must be completed before privileges begin. If room-cleaning day is Wednesday, then no TV, phone, outside air, toys, friend-fun, etc., are available until the room has been mucked out and fumigated.

  • For Saturday duties or once-a-week chores, construct a list. Let each child alternatively select from the list, for a fair chance at the easier jobs.

  • For younger children, construct a chore wheel. List household tasks or rooms to be cleaned, and everyone spins the wheel for a task until all have been "won." Variants of a chore wheel are: flipping a coin for who washes the dishes and who dries, pulling chore duties out of a jar, or tossing a Velcro ball at a chore chart. This last one should bring out any hidden athletic ability in the kids. They'll learn to hit the one-inch square marked "wipe the bathroom sink" from 60 feet while never touching the two-foot poster of "scrub the kitchen floor."

  • When duties are alternated — that is, one time Hazel vacuums, the next time Alfred does — to ensure a cleaner performance, establish that any job needing to be redone results in an earning of the next turn. You may have to monitor to make sure that three minutes after Hazel has meticulously vacuumed the family room, Alfred doesn't sneak in and sprinkle cookie crumbs under the coffee table.


Technology makes less work for everyone. There's not as much need for children to help as there used to be. Consequently, we may have to work a little harder to identify ways for them to share the load. It'll be to our short-term and their long-term advantage.

 


ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Ray Guarendi. "Labor Relations With Children."

Reprinted with permission of Ray Guarendi.

THE AUTHOR

Raymond N. Guarendi, aka Dr. Ray, is a practicing clinical psychologist and authority on parenting and behavioral issues active in the Catholic niche media. Guarendi is an advocate of common sense approaches to child rearing and discipline issues. Guarendi received his B.A. and M.A. at Case Western Reserve University in 1974, and his Ph.D. at Kent State University in 1978. He is the author of You're a better parent than you think!: a guide to common-sense parenting, Good Discipline, Great Teens, Adoption: Choosing It, Living It, Loving It; Straight Answers to Hearfelt Questions, Discipline that lasts a lifetime: the best gift you can give your kids, and Back to the Family.

Copyright © 2003 Ray Guarendi




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