Piles of books, LEGO blocks scattered across the floor, soft toys strewn all over the couch and pieces of doodles stuffed in the strangest places. Sounds familiar? Mess and clutter is a common sight when there are children in the home. Believe me, the experience of stepping on a piece of LEGO would remind any parent of the necessity of housework charts. Unless you fancy some LEGO foot reflexology, having children who are taught to tidy up their spaces is a step towards raising a housework champion.
While housework and children don’t sound like they get along, children should be taught to be responsible helpers. The enthusiasm for helping out could have dissipated once the children were growing up or aware that someone else would clean up their mess. We may plead, threaten or bribe our children to be responsible for household tasks, but these methods might not really encourage a sense of responsibility.
How would you feel if your child, now 20 and staying in a university hostel asks for help cleaning the room or doing the laundry? Would you regret not training your child to be more independent? Knowing how to make their beds, clear the trash, iron their own clothes, clean the home, prepare simple meals, caring for pets are skills that remain relevant for life. Housework gives children hands-on training in the basic life skills they will need to thrive as they head out on their own, while developing crucial traits such as hard work, responsibility and even delayed gratification.
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Here are 5 ways we can encourage our children to take their share of the housework cheerily:
1) Welcome help and do it with a smile
Teach your children that everyone helps in the house, not just the adults. It is often innate for young children to want to help, take advantage of the eager beavers by training them early. My three-year-old, for instance, has a keen interest in all things culinary. He frequently helps out in the kitchen by washing vegetables, mixing ingredients or pouring sauces. While he might create more mess by helping out, we still encourage his presence because of his exuberance. You could start with simple tasks such as watering plants, sorting out the laundry, putting away toys. Please don’t reject them if they volunteer, let them help you! Patiently guiding the little hands would go a long way. The skills will definitely be useful when your child lives independently at the hostel, during overseas postings or when they start their own families.
Housework should also not be a “chore” that no one likes. Smile while fulfilling those household responsibilities – they ought to be done with joy and pride! Adults can model this by refraining from whining or making disparaging comments. Praising your child for a job well done would reiterate how the child is contributing. Guiding the child to carry out the task well helps them to learn it well, and better as they perform it regularly.
2) Housework is another form of play
Inject some fun into housework! While preparing meals, you can let the little ones help with plucking leaves from stems, washing vegetables, stirring the batter, etc. They would also love “play-pretend” while helping out. One could be the “finest chef from Italy” and the other could be an aspiring MasterChef judge. Siblings could even compete against each other to see who can pluck the most leaves or chop the finest carrots. Just remember to use kid-friendly knives and tools!
If it’s a seemingly mundane task, play some familiar tunes from your child’s favourite movies and they will be grooving and working joyfully. The soundtrack from “Star Wars” for instance, lightens up the mood and helps speed up everyone’s pace.
3) Challenge your child
For older children, they can be perfectly capable of cooking up a storm if you let them. Encourage your child by having them in charge of dinner! From planning the meal, buying the ingredients, slicing, weighing, cooking, they learn a whole lot of skills from managing the budget to reading scales and thermometers. Who wouldn’t love to choose what they could eat? This would minimise the mealtime woes many parents face and turn fussy eaters into appreciative diners.
Alternatively, they could take turns organising a “family night” such as games’ night or movie night! Such opportunities would encourage them to take different perspectives in deciding the appropriate food, games and plan the relevant budget or schedule accordingly. It is a wonderfully subtle way of letting the child lead, while practising the art of planning.
4) Give them a chance to rule
Everyone loves to be “the boss”, so let your child have a say in the assigning of housework or tasks. They would love to decide what they will do and can even think of better ways to do them. You could be surprised at what the child prefers to do. My six year old for instance, has requested to help wash the car! Sometimes, children would not cooperate. You could hear them out if they refuse to carry out the task. It could be too challenging, or it could be an indication to let them choose their task.
5) We are a team!
Each family member has his roles and responsibilities. Give your children a sense of purpose so they would understand they are part of a team. Children of all ages thrive on praise and are more inclined to help out if they feel appreciated for what they have done. “Great job cleaning the floor! Now it’s sparkly clean!”, “That was difficult but you did it well!” are words that would encourage the child. This reinforces how the family is a team. It would be honey to our ears when we hear our children say “How can I help?” to us, acknowledging their ability to contribute.
However, reward your child with caution. Both monetary and non-monetary rewards could result in motivation that’s extrinsic rather than intrinsic. Taking a shower or making beds ought to be daily tasks that are mandatory. More challenging types such as mowing the lawn or cleaning shoe cabinets can be rewarded appropriately. Ultimately housework forms a good training ground for children to learn to serve the needs of the community at large.
Housework helps children succeed
Research by Marty Rossman, a professor at the University of Minnesota, has shown that one of the best predictors of success as an adult is whether that person started helping out at home from an early age. The longitudinal study conducted by Professor Rossman tracked 81 individuals from the age of 3 and concluded that the amount of housework participants did impact how well-adjusted they were as adults in having more meaningful relationships with others and more successful careers. Completing housework willingly requires mature judgement, less impulsivity and more awareness of others’ perspectives and needs. These are skills that develop gradually as children grow and mature, and these skills will surely last a lifetime.
In addition, doing housework gives the child the opportunity to reciprocate just as their parents and elders have done so much for them. Children will see themselves as important contributors to the family and feel a connection because of their roles. Also, your child will gain a sense of empathy and extend this to the wider community. Giving them a sense of responsibility would give the child confidence to meet future obligations and challenges. You would feel immensely proud to see your child all grown up when your efforts are paid off!
To get a sense of what chores are age-appropriate for your child, I’ve found this list (https://bit.ly/2zxJPjm) extremely helpful. Children can help out from the ages of 2 if you let them! As a parent, I would love to see my child be an independent and responsible adult. But that will need to wait as household chores beckon. Start early and make housework part of the daily routine! In no time, will your child be attuned to the rhythm of household responsibilities. Have fun!
Ee Jia is a parent of two highly energetic boys, runs a health food retail and distribution startup and also writes for a living in her free time. While she occasionally ‘enjoys’ LEGO foot reflexology, she hopes there will be a day she can stop singing the “Clean Up” song.