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Help your child to become more independent

Posted on 02 October 2017

Working parents complete on average 26 morning tasks before going to work. These range from making the children’s breakfast and preparing lunchboxes to spelling and reading practice.

That’s just the morning shift.  The second shift (dinner, supervising homework, taxi service to after school activities, bedtime routine) begins when you return home from work.  In fact working mothers are on the go for an exhausting 28 hours extra a week on top of their day jobs. 

Why?  I compared notes with a friend on what we expect our children to do around the house compared with what our parents expected of us.  The contrast was stark.  Whereas we were expected from a young age to wash and dry dishes, tidy our bedrooms and later to pack our school bags / PE kit bags, my children do very little beyond unloading the dishwasher with ill grace.

I’m not alone.  A recent survey found, a quarter of children today undertake absolutely no household chores.  A lamentable inverse relationship has emerged in the space of a generation whereby the more mums and dads do on the domestic front the less children help. 

Why do our children do less household chores than we did?

It’s fair to say that our children have less free time than we had.  More is expected of them at school in terms of homework and after school activities and many more children today are in wrap-around care.   As a result we feel our children just need to relax at home unburdened with chores.

Despite this fact I have a nagging feeling that I’m, in part, responsible for creating this situation. In truth I find it easier to do jobs myself than argue with my children or bite my tongue when they take an inordinate length of time to complete a half-hearted botched job.

In turn my children have internalized this expectation dramatically swooning in response to any request for help or worse asking how much will you pay me?

Deep down I know I’m not doing them or myself any favours.  Fast forward 5 years I do not wish to be doing laundry for a 16 year old who could perfectly well do it themselves or worse send a child off to university unable to prepare a simple meal.  In short I’m denying my children the opportunity to develop essential life skills and in doing so creating extra work for myself.

How to get your children to help more around the house

With this in mind I have resolved to expect greater participation from my children and steel myself against the inevitable objections with the following response:

We don’t have time

During term time I will expect my children to do everyday five minute jobs such as making the bed and packing their school bag and will give them other responsibilities that can done within an hour at the weekend.

During school holidays we will have a discussion about responsibilities and draw up a schedule that expects more of them. 

It’s easier to do it myself

Easier than what  - not teaching them essential life skills?  Start young; if your children are toddler age set the expectation that they will contribute while the willingness is there to help. 

Assigning chores won’t work with older children.  Your first goal is not getting help around the house but giving your child the experience of how good it feels to contribute.

It’s sooooooo boring!

An honest response and one that gets to the heart of the problem - lack of motivation.  Make it about fun and mastery.  View chores as an opportunity for your child to get good at a life skill.  In time they will take pride in being a capable cook or gardener. 

Make doing jobs fun.  Put on their favourite songs and sing along together.  Do jobs together –my children love cooking so long as I provide a running “masterchef” commentary.

Nagging V’s complaints

Maintain a robust sense of humour and do not give up.  Accept that chores will never ever come first on a child’s list of important and urgent things to do. 

Pin up a written routine in the kitchen and be consistent and cheerful about your expectations that it will be done, until a habit has been created and remember reminding isn’t nagging.  How your request will be received has a lot to do with the tone it is delivered in.  Silliness often dissipates power struggles and introduces lightness and fun to the situation. 

With this new resolve I responded last night to my son’s request to do a job he could perfectly well do himself with, “and what did your last servant die of?” To which he cheerfully responded, “lack of work.”  Oh dear, we have someway to go!

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