little: absorb. Keeping House

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Making the bed and putting dishes in the sink are not only nifty ways for kids to earn pocket money. They are also skills your children will count on to become organised, self-sufficient adults.

It’s so easy to fluff my daughter’s doona and get it just so. It only takes a few minutes. And all the breakfast dishes are sorted in one fell swoop. Anyway, she’s out the door for the school bus at 8:30am. She doesn’t have time to be fussing with such minor things. I’m doing her a favour. Or am I?

What seem like trivial rituals parents undertake in a bid to keep a tidy house could, in fact, be essential building blocks to creating a self-reliant and capable adult fifteen or twenty years from now. Withholding these tasks from our children could well be a disadvantage. Instead of scooping up these minimalistic tasks and lumping them in the "quicker and easier" basket, consider relinquishing a little perfectionism and speed, and so give your child a valuable way to contribute to the household and their own feeling of importance. Kids like to feel needed.

There is also the ‘work-ethic’ idea – an attitude which allows us to not only strive for a better life, but to achieve immense satisfaction and happiness from our efforts. A work ethic is something that needs to be built into children when they’re young. Showing them they must put in effort to reap reward is a skill that is as essential to success and happiness as the air we breathe.

Although pocket money is a nice sweetener, tempting your child to help around the house may not be the easiest thing to. Here are some fun ways to make this educational ‘chore ‘easier.


Even toddlers can pull up the covers, put their toys in the toybox and put a cup in the sink. They also respond extremely well to small tasks like setting the table and putting clothes in the washing machine. It gives them a sense of purpose. And if it starts young, it stays stronger for longer.


A fun way to encourage children is to create a written schedule, clearly marked with each child’s name, so they can tick off their weekly jobs and feel as though they’ve really accomplished something. Put it somewhere eye-catching so all the family can see their special achievements.


Do you remember Mary Poppins? Spit spot! All manner of items flew lickety-split onto their shelves, and even beds kindly made themselves. We may not have such luxurious powers, but an attitude of fun can work absolute magic to get a job done. Complete chores while hopping on one leg, running on the spot or have one arm behind your back. Silly and challenging, but fun!


If you would prefer a cashless reward for your children, a sticker chart is a great way to keep track of their progress. Each completed job is awarded with a sticker, and once they reach their goal, they earn a treat. Treats could be a trip to the beach, playing scrabble with Dad or having a slumber party. Place the sticker chart in a prominent place so everyone can see it and admire your child’s progress.


Sing songs, whistle or tidy up to music – the louder and more up-tempo, the better. Make sure it’s music they like and have sing-a-longs as you move. Music can really make people move, especially kids!


If you have more than one child, set up a race… whoever gets it done first wins. If one child is involved, they will have to either race you (kids love this!) or get it done in a set amount of time (without being sloppy!). The winner gets winner status only; no prizes or it will defeat the feeling of accomplishment.


Make younger kids feel grown up as they work. Give them aprons or a special item to wear, and hand over life-size equipment, which they’ll get a real kick out of using (they love to vacuum!). For older kids, ask them to do things that involve a level of trust and make it clear that only children with responsibility and supreme agility could perform such a task. Make it known to others how well they then perform said task (even if they don’t do it so well!).


Ask your children what chores they prefer. As adults, we have our least favourite jobs to do – children are the same. If your child prefers one job over another, they are far more likely to complete it with enthusiasm and regularity.


While you can certainly guide, never try to criticise or redo a child’s cleaning attempt. It will make them despondent and reluctant to try again. And don’t forget to praise kids when they accomplish a task without your nagging them, however, don’t overdo it. Eventually, these tasks should become a given rather than a way to seek approval.

Read more of my ezine under "little Magazine".

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