It took me years to work out how to encourage my children to help with the household chores. Before that happened, I tried all the usual methods:
I designed rosters with jobs for each child for each day of the week. I wrote out lists of chores and let my children choose: first in, first choice. I tried a lucky dip system. I tried to disguise chores as games. I let my children experience the consequences of undone chores . By turn, I wheedled and threatened, pleaded and demanded, praised and complained. And yes, the chores got done and we lived in a clean and tidy house. But my children worked only because I prodded them along. They never learnt to gladly offer their help.
I knew there must be a better way, but for a long time, I was too busy and tired to want to discover it. With a baby crying in my arms, and mess everywhere, I just wanted the jobs done NOW and quickly: “I’ve asked you for help. Please do it!”
Then one day I stopped and thought about how I reacted when my children asked me for help.
“Can you help me with this please, Mum?” one of them would say.
I’d sigh and say, “In a minute.” Quite often that minute turned into hours. Sometimes I forgot altogether. I didn’t exactly give my children the impression that I was eager to help them. Admittedly there were times when it wasn’t possible to help my children straight-away. Babies and toddlers are rather time-consuming and unpredictable, and it wasn’t always possible to do things when asked. But I got into a bad habit of never getting around to helping, even when there was nothing stopping me. Didn’t I already do a lot for my children, without helping them with all the unexpected little extras they wanted me to assist with?
One day I decided to try something new.
“Can you help me with this please, Mum?” asked Charlotte.
I didn’t say, “Maybe later,” or “Can you ask someone else?” or “In a minute,” as usual.
“Of course I can,” I replied, putting down my own work immediately. I remembered to smile at the same time. It wasn’t easy at first. But old habits can be changed. And I found out that children really do appreciate my help.
“Thank you for taking us to our piano lessons,” says Imogen.
“It was my pleasure,” I say. Even though there are lots of others things I’d rather do than spend a morning driving to and from town, it is a pleasure. It’s a pleasure doing things for those we love. Although helping isn’t always convenient or what we want to do, especially when we are tired, we can still choose to do it. And that’s what I had to model in order to teach my children.
Regularly throughout the day, Gemma-Rose comes to me and asks, “Can I do anything for you, Mum?” She makes me a cup of coffee. She arranges some flowers in a vase and places them in my bedroom. She smiles and says, “I like cleaning your bathroom. Don’t you just love cleaning toilets?” (I can’t say I do!) She sneaks out and brings in the washing off the line, when no one is looking. I tried doing that once…
I came inside lugging the heavy washing basket and Imogen said, “Mum! How did you manage to sneak outside without us knowing? You should have told us you were bringing in the washing!”
“I thought I wouldn’t disturb you,” I replied. “I managed on my own.”
“But we like helping you.”
Children who like to help? Isn’t that what we all want? And I have discovered I like to help them too, especially when it’s not expected.
“Was it you who swept the kitchen, Mum?” asks Gemma-Rose. “I was about to do that.”
“I thought I’d help,” I smile.
My youngest daughter gives me a hug. “Thank you!” Then she asks, “What can I do to help you?”
Helpfulness begets helpfulness.
Getting kids to help with chores? I discovered it all had to start with me.