Grade-Schoolers Their Lives Expand : How Can I Get Them to Help? Chores, housework, motivation (part 1)

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Q: My son keeps saying everyone at school gets more freedom than him. Am I really as out of step with other parents as he says?
A: Your child is using a common and powerful negotiating tool, that of making comparisons with other parents and children. This can be very helpful, as it is prompting you to consider the freedoms you give him and check whether you are being reasonable. However, don’t make your decisions based on just his report. Check out what is acceptable for his age by talking with other parents directly, be guided by developmental information in books, and think through the values and standards you are applying. Once you’ve gathered this information, decide whether you are prepared to loosen the limits or stick with them. Remember—no matter what you decide, you are in a process of fostering his independence, so freedoms need to be reviewed regularly and adjusted to allow him to make more choices for himself.
Q: My partner says I am too hard on the children. I think he’s too soft. Who’s right?
A: Very different parenting approaches can be frustrating for both of you, and may mean your child plays you against each other. There is no single correct parenting style. However, consider what your child is learning from each of you. Is he finding he must be manipulative to get what he wants or that it’s okay for adults to disregard and contradict each other? Whatever he learns he may apply in his own relationships outside the home. Consider what you want to teach him. For example, you may wish to show him that adults are respectful of each others’ decisions and that he can have a say in what happens through negotiating rather than by finding a way around the rules. As you loosen control and include your child in decision making, he’ll learn his views are valued. Similarly, if your partner finds it hard to judge when to give in or stand firm, help him out by talking together about what you’ll do. When you model respect for each other and the ability to compromise, your son will follow in your footsteps.
Q: My child’s bedroom is a bombsite. How can I get her to clean it up?
A: Your child’s bedroom is her special space in the home, somewhere to express her personality and have her privacy. It can also be a gigantic mess. Before you take action about the state of your child’s room, think about whether this is your problem. If it’s not, then simply close her bedroom door and accept she has chosen to live this way. You may, however, feel she needs to learn neater habits or address health or cleanliness hazards, such as spoiled food or toys to trip over. If so, blitz the bedroom with a big tidy up. Do this together with your child, or she’ll feel her privacy has been violated. Next, agree some rules, such as, “The floor will be cleared of toys each night,” and, “Put dirty clothes in the laundry basket daily.” Lastly, notice and praise your child for any acts of tidiness and, of course, set a good example yourself and keep your own bedroom tidy.
Q: I constantly remind my daughter to do her chores, yet she does nothing. What can I do?
A: For you and your daughter, it seems an unhelpful cycle of “you ask and she resists” has developed. In this situation the focus has moved from the chore itself to a battle of wills between the two of you.

She may feel your constant reminders mean you don’t trust her, while her lack of effort builds your frustration. Break the cycle by avoiding the urge to nag: You know it doesn’t work. Instead, find out from your child what gets in the way of her completing her tasks and ask her, if she was in your shoes, how she’d solve the problem. Children can be surprisingly insightful about what would motivate them. You may explore hidden reasons for her behavior—perhaps her favorite show is on at the time she is supposed to clear the table, or she hates the smell of the cat food she has to dish out. Find solutions together, such as changing the timing of tasks or feeding the animals together so you do the part of the job she can’t handle. Take the burden of reminding her off your shoulders by using a kitchen timer or a poster to jog her memory. If these don’t work agree, to fire off a single reminder yourself, such as a text, to get her going. Bump up her motivation by changing the reward for her chores. Perhaps she’s lost interest in the original incentives you offered. A different privilege, such as choosing the Friday-night takeout meal or movie, or a small monetary reward may get her started. If she doesn’t help out despite all this effort, then some consequences, such as missing out on rewards and privileges, will need to be used.

Q: Can I take back money earned from chores if my child misbehaves later?
A: Offering money as a reward for jobs done is a good incentive and gives you the option of withholding small sums if tasks don’t get completed. However, it is unwise to take back the money your child has earned through chores for unrelated misbehavior. If you do this, then you teach him that, no matter how hard he works, he may not be rewarded. He’ll recognize this is unfair, and may give up on his chores as a consequence. Do make chore money separate from regular pocket money. This way you can use pocket money as a reward for good behavior and hold it back it for misbehavior without affecting your child’s incentive for doing his chores.
Q: My children hardly help out at all right now. How can I get them started with housework?
A: Give a clear reason why chores need to be shared—perhaps explain that when everyone helps at home then there will be more time to have fun together. Give a specific example of something you’ll do as a family if chores are shared, or your children may not be convinced.

Create a list of jobs that need to be done each day, and encourage your child to say which ones she’d prefer. She’ll be more likely to do her chores if she has helped to make the list and chosen her own tasks. When chores are linked to her personal interests, you’ll get better cooperation too. For example, if she’s begged for a pet, then her task could involve the animal’s care. If she takes pride in her personal space, you could encourage her to choose vacuuming her bedroom as one of her jobs. Your sports-obsessed child may be willing to sort the laundry into whites and colors if this helps get her uniform washed first.

For you, the incentive to complete a task may be the satisfaction of a job well done or seeing tidiness after chaos. However, your child has probably not yet developed this sense of personal fulfillment, and external rewards are needed to keep her going. Spend some time with your child making a list of rewards from which she can choose; but do put limits on cost or time commitment so you don’t have to say “no” to too many fanciful or expensive suggestions. Activities and privileges tend to work well—for example, earning a later bedtime on weekends, an extra family outing, or her choice of Sunday lunch. A sticker chart showing she’s completed her chores can be motivating, and small monetary rewards are useful, since you’ll be able to teach your child about spending and saving as she earns. However, even the most prized reward loses its appeal after a while. Changing rewards regularly keeps your child’s motivation up. Write out a job roster, to show who will do each chore on each day. This helps your child see that tasks are being allocated fairly, and everyone is playing his or her part. Rosters act as a reminder of what is needed, and you can check off each item as it’s completed. The tally also helps you allocate rewards for jobs done.

Your aim is to teach your child to take a small share in running the household, so identifying one or two brief daily tasks works well and helps establish a routine. Choose the tasks you give your child with care, since her concentration and ability to recognize and manage risks are not fully developed yet.

Less directive, more reflective

As your child matures, your own parenting style is adjusting along with her growing independence. You will be less likely to tell her what to do and more often be offering advice and support as she comes to her own conclusions. Your child will learn through her own experience and rarely accept that she can learn from yours. While it can be hard to stand by and not interfere, there will be times when it’s safe to let her make her own mistakes. If things do end in tears make sure you’re ready with a sympathetic attitude and no “I told you so” to be heard.

Chores: benefits for everyone

Chores are tasks around the home that benefit everyone in the family—for example, setting the table or putting away clothes. Chores should not be confused with your child’s everyday responsibilities such as getting his cereal in the morning and packing his school bag. Both chores and responsibilities are important to your child’s development. Learning to look after himself and carry out domestic tasks are part of the life skills he needs to become an independent adult.

Q: What do you expect?
A: Your child has plenty of demands on his time. When he’s at home he needs opportunities to do his homework, play with friends, and relax, as well as helping around the house. There is no set or correct number of chores to give at each age, so it is up to you to make sure he is not overwhelmed with tasks. Gauge what he can do depending on his school, sports, and other obligations. Start small, perhaps with a 10-minute commitment every day, as it is more effective to build up from there than find he’s snowed under and have to back down. Make sure he is ready for the tasks he takes on.

While he’ll be able to complete simple jobs such as tidying his room or putting his dirty clothes in the laundry basket, he may need some help learning more complex tasks. Build his competence and confidence by teaching him to use household appliances—for example, how to work the vacuum attachments or microwave. An ideal way to teach is to complete the chores together until he gets the hang of them.


Children who regularly help around the home are more likely to be prepared for their adult life

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