Getting kids to do work can be difficult, but in a society that's constantly pawning off work to others, knowing how to work is more valuable and more unique than ever. Often it can seem easier to "just do it yourself," rather than nagging someone else to get it done, but if approached in the right way, chores can be a good way for kids to develop the responsibility that is so needed in our world today. Here are 10 ways to teach your kids to work, while taking some of the load off your own shoulders.
1. Be the Example
We did just say you'd be taking the load off your shoulders, but you have to start somewhere. One of the biggest problems that kids have is taking cleanliness for granted. Especially in the past, kids haven't seen the work being done. Some mothers are so good at keeping a clean house that they make it seem effortless. When that happens, chores become a behind the scenes event—everyone knows, on some level, that someone is holding everything together, but without seeing it, it's almost like it doesn't exist. Bring housework out into the open. Start teaching your kids to work by letting them work with you. Even very young children can help with laundry and any number of other household tasks. Don't wait until your children are napping to clean everything up.
2. Teach Them How to Work
As a kid, one of the most frustrating parts of cleaning can be when parents assume you know how to do something when you don't. It's important to let your children learn on their own, but give them somewhere to start, and don't get too bent out of shape if it's not done right the first time. What's second nature to you will most likely be a whole new experience for them. This is where working together can be the biggest help. If you do it together the first time, or the first few times, your kids will be able to learn while doing and will be more likely to do things right when they have to do it on their own.
3. Start Early
It's never too early to start teaching kids to work. Even kids under two can do simple things like getting diapers before changing time, picking up toys before naptime, or helping to sort laundry by color. The earlier you start teaching children responsibility, the more likely it is to stick, and the less likely it is that they will have a negative attitude about doing everyday chores. If starting early is no longer an option, start as soon as possible and take a gradual approach. It takes 21 days to form a habit, so give new rules a chance to set in. Start by making kids responsible for their own things, and then add a few household things. If you have older kids, let them help decide when things should be done, but keep it within reason.
4. Take Age into Account
Give children tasks that fit their abilities. Age-appropriate tasks may change slightly depending on the child, but here are some ideas to get you started:
2 and under:
- Get diaper
- Put toys in bins or drawers
- Put dirty clothes in the hamper if the top is low enough
- Help set the table
3 to 5:
- Dust low furniture
- Wipe down the play table
- Help unload the dishwasher
- Water plants
6 to 9:
- Make the bed
- Feed pets
- Set and clear table
- Vacuum (depending on machine's height and weight)
10 to 13:
- Unload dishwasher
- Disinfect kitchen and bathroom countertops
- Sort and fold laundry
- Take trash containers to the curb
14 to 17:
- Clean toilet, sinks, tubs
- Prepare meals
- Mow lawn
- Help care for younger siblings
5. Set Clear Expectations and Follow Up
Once you assign a job, make sure your child knows exactly what is expected. You may want to give him a checklist, for example, if you assign a job like cleaning the bathroom. After everyone's done their chores, go through and make sure everything is done the way you wanted. If all is not well, talk to your child about what things need to be done better, or what things he may have forgotten. This may sound like a lot of work, but you should only have to do it once, and it will be worth it if things are done right from then on.
6. Divide and Conquer
Don't do everything yourself, but don't forget to give yourself chores either. When choosing chores or making up charts, kids are less likely to rebel if they see you dividing the work with them. (Visit myjobchart.com to create a free online chore chart.) If Mom and Dad are on the list along with the kids, then there's a better sense of equality in the household, and everyone can see how they're contributing as an individual. Make sure that everyone has something to do, and that the division is as fair as possible.
7. Don't Threaten
Be careful of what you say to your children, because you'll probably have to own up to it sooner or later. Issuing threats but never following through teaches kids not to take you seriously, and can lead to issues of mistrust and disrespect down the road. At the same time, make sure to set firm, fair consequences. Make sure kids know what to expect if they don't do the work they're responsible for, and make sure to follow through with them. To make life easier on you, try to use positive consequences--rewards for doing a good job.
8. Make It a Routine Procedure
Daily and bedtime routines, if developed early, can be a lasting habit that ensures that things get done without even thinking about them. If you can make bed-making and picking up after yourself second nature, there will never be a reason to fight over them later. Kids who have a regular structure in their lives tend to be better adjusted, feeling more secure.
9. Make It Easy and Fun
The way you look at housework will most likely transfer to your children. Be aware of how you react to cleaning up. Be positive. Some moms go on cleaning rampages, during which kids learn to stay away because mom is angry or hurried. Make work fun for yourself and for everyone else. Crank up the music, and let everyone take turns choosing what tunes you'll rock out to as you clean.
10. Be Realistic
Take your schedule and your kids' schedules into account. If doing chores before school every morning is not an option, don't give up. Find what works and stick with it. Lots of households work on a weekend chore schedule--taking one day a week to get all of the big chores done. Others find it best to do after school chores. Above all, do what works for your family.