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Firstly, we need to be clear in our own minds why we’re giving our youngsters chores to do. It shouldn’t just be about getting tasks done or teaching them how to work. The aim of the shared approach is to develop responsibility, independence, self-esteem and an understanding that people need to co-operate and work towards common goals.
Get them started as soon as they’re capable of undertaking the simpler chores. Most two-year-olds and certainly three-year-olds can put their toys away and clear their plate from the table.
Break tasks down into small steps that are appropriate to their age and ability. This means that each part can then be carried out successfully and give them satisfaction.
We need to make it very clear what we expect, and we might need to show them several times so that they can understand what needs to be done.
At times they might want to do it their way and, if time and patience allows, we should give them that opportunity to experiment. However, if it isn’t done to the level that they’re capable of, we’ll need to insist that it be done properly.
To help them understand what makes a good job, show them the difference between a job well done and one sloppily done. And tell them when they have done a good job.
At times we’ll need to work patiently with them to sort out any problems or safety aspects and balance being ready to offer advice with not stepping in too quickly.
It’s also important not to overwhelm them with chores. As adults we know only too well what that feels like. They need time to be children, time for leisure activities and later on for homework and other commitments.
Bribery is out. The best payment is a smile and a thank you.
As they grow older support part-time jobs such as lawn mowing, baby-sitting and paper runs. This further teaches independence and responsibility, and they have to learn to work to other people’s standards.
Taking this approach does take time and patience and sometimes it can seem easier to do it ourselves. However, doing it ourselves may mean always doing it ourselves! And, what’s more, it’s a proven fact that having someone else do the dishes is kinder to the hands than even the gentlest detergent.
There’s a long-term bonus, too. Once established as part of the way the family operates, it’s more than likely to be the way the family will operate forever. The co-operation, sense of team and support for one another will be there for life.
- Ian Munro