“Captain, the area is secure.” My 7 year old son salutes as he says this. It’s dark, the only light is coming from my oldest 3 children’s flashlights, and my own headlamp. Suddenly I hear the adorably urgent voice of my 5 year old. “Captain! I see some papers on the ground over here, the baby might choke!” I turn my headlamp’s beam in her direction. “Ok soldier,” I say, “pick them up on the double and get them to the garbage can before the baby gets them. I’ll come vacuum there immediately.” “Sir, yes sir!” comes her obedient reply.
Is it an elaborate game of make believe? Nah, we’re just cleaning the house. It helped that we were pretending to be a group of highly trained soldiers whose orders were to make the floors safe for the baby to crawl around. I’ve got to admit, I patted myself heartily on the back as my daughter later looked at me lovingly and said, “Mom, you made this alot more fun.”
The game of chores
In the past, I like many parents, have found it more than a little difficult to get my kids to clean up after themselves on any kind of a regular basis. It was a struggle of monumental proportions. One evening I was reminded of what was missing from our work. I had to teach a class, so I told the sitter, my sister, that the kids would need to clean up before bed and I apologized because the place was a disaster and I knew the darn near impossible task I was leaving her. I gotta be honest; I didn’t really expect her to pull it off.
Upon returning home that night she gave me the rundown of the evening. She had, of course successfully gotten them in bed on time, with jammies on, annd teeth brushed, which is a feat in and of itself. But the really amazing thing? The house was spotless. I listened in awe as she spoke these ingenious words: “They REALLY didn’t want to clean up tonight, so I tried to think of ways to make it more fun. We turned off all the lights and picked up the whole house using just flashlights. It took an extra 20 minutes or so, but it was a blast!” She illuminated for me what I and many other parents sometimes lose sight of in our hurry to teach our kids responsibility: It can be FUN!
It doesn’t have to be complicated or elaborate. I remember as a kid my parents had this amazing game called “Whoosh”. It was simple: Start in the doorway of a particular room, someone calls out a number (the number of things we each pick up and put away), then someone else yells, “Whoosh!” We’d race through those rooms at top speed picking up and putting away the designated number of items. The first person to finish and make it back to the doorway of the room was the winner. What did they win? Oh, just the much sought after job of calling out the next number, or for second place, saying “Whoosh!” Simple, effective, and sheer genius.
The Necessity of Chores
Every kid needs to feel needed at home; they need to feel that they can contribute to the family. High self-esteem and self-image is earned not through compliments and encouragement, though that can be nice, but through struggle and accomplishment. This means that we have to let our kids struggle sometimes! I know, I know, this goes against all the principles of our self-indulgent society, but if we’re constantly permissive and indulgent parents, we’ll never have kids that can survive on their own. Letting them struggle and accomplish things on their own will teach them to believe in themselves, and instill in them a desire to constantly improve. Teaching them to work at home using chores, however, is sometimes more of a chore than doing the chores ourselves. Here are a few suggestions to make this a little easier.
Make It Fun
In the immortal words of Mary Poppins, “In every job that must be done there is an element of fun. You find the fun and SNAP! The job’s a game.” From an early age if we do this our kids will learn to associate chores with us and fun. Especially for our little ones, each chore they have should be age appropriate, and should come with the choice: With help or without help. Then later as they get older we’re able to take the “us” part out and they are left with fun and chores.
Set a Deadline
They should have something they’re responsible to do for the family each day. We call these ‘Family Contributions’ at our house. I’m not talking about them cleaning up their room, or their own toys, I’m talking about things that contribute to the family at large. We have a jar of them (Family contribution jar) that the kids draw from daily. Their deadline for the contributions is typically before they play with friends, or before the end of the day (or week for the bigger ones). Try to steer clear of the “Do it, do it now” approach, it’s not only unreasonable, it’s just asking for trouble. Also, have a plan for what will happen should the deadline pass without the contributions getting done. Will they be awakened to do it if the deadline was the end of the day? Will they be paying someone else to do it, or will you be selling some of their stuff to cover the cost of you having to hire someone to do it? It’s best to have a plan ahead of time to avoid nagging and ugly battles over it.
The main thing is, keep it light. They’ll know it needs to be done not by you lecturing them about it needing to be done, but by your taking the time to teach them how to do it, and your taking the deadline seriously. Just remember that Mary Poppins lady wasn’t full of baloney, “a spoonful of sugar” really does help the medicine go down, in a most delightful way.