Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Teaching your children to do chores

Ah the good ol’ days when I didn’t have children and my house stayed neat and tidy with very little effort. Then my son came brought the tornado two’s and disaster three’s and so on.

Although I would never trade motherhood or my amazing child for anything, it seems that children come pre-programmed to throw our homes into complete chaos whatever stage of childhood they are in.

This week we are going to talk about ways to teach your children responsibility along with helping around the house.

Here are things kids can do broken down by age group:

Ages 2 and 3 (This age group is also in a earlier blog post)
Many toddlers are eager to help with chores, and while their “helping” may not always be appreciated, keeping their excitement and the habit of helping out alive, should be. Sticker charts are a great way to keep toddlers excited about helping. Their chores may have to be completed with you helping every step of the way, but you are laying the groundwork for children that find chores and helping a way of life.

Some chores 2-3 year olds can do…
  • Help make the bed.
  • Pick up toys and books.
  • Take laundry to the laundry room.
  • Help feed pets.
  • Help wipe up messes.
  • Dust with socks on their hands.
  • Mop in areas with help.

Ages 4 and 5
Preschoolers still find helping to be an exciting venture and usually are thrilled when time is taken to teach them new chores. They are ready to do some chores without constant supervision. Rewards at this age are very motivating. A sticker chart that allows you to build up to bigger rewards can be appropriate. For some preschoolers, tying chores to an allowance is a great option and fosters independence in choosing a reward.

Some chores preschoolers can do in addition to the ones above…
  • Clear and set the table.
  • Dust.
  • Help out in cooking and preparing food.
  • Carrying and putting away groceries.

Ages 6-8
These school age kids may or may not still have their childlike enthusiasm for completing chores. What they do have, however, is an overwhelming desire to be independent. Parents and caregivers can guide children to become independent in their chores, using chore charts to keep track of their responsibilities both completed and pending.

Some chores that they are capable of in addition to the ones above…
  • Take care of pets.
  • Vacuum and mop.
  • Take out trash.
  • Fold and put away laundry.

Ages 9-12
Children in this preteen age are capable of increasing responsibility where chores are concerned. Keep in mind that many children this age rely on continuity. Find a system that works for your family and do not change it without the input and support of the people it directly affects. Make sure that you factor in rewards and consequences and address those issues with your children. Let them know the consequences of not completing chores, as well as the rewards for fulfilling their responsibilities.

Some Chores preteens are capable of in addition to the ones above…
  • Help wash the car.
  • Empty the Dishwasher / Learn to wash dishes.
  • Help prepare simple meals.
  • Clean the bathroom.
  • Rake leaves.
  • Operate the washer and dryer.

Ages 13-17
Teenagers are developmentally ready to handle almost any chore in the home. At the same time a teenager’s schedule can sometimes become quite hectic, leaving little time for chores. Make sure that the workload of your teenagers is manageable.

Some chores teenagers are capable of in addition to the ones above…

  • Replace light bulbs and vacuum cleaner bags.
  • All parts of the laundry.
  • Wash windows.
  • Clean out refrigerator and other kitchen appliances.
  • Prepare meals.
  • Prepare grocery lists.

Other tips to consider:
1. Be reasonable in your expectations.
2. Be an example (when you slack off, they tend to slack also).
3. Have consequences without being harsh.
4. Get organized before you expect everyone else too.
5. Supervise (do not interfere unless work is not being done).
6. Train your workers.

And finally, try very hard not to “redo” the work that they do so it meets your expectations. They will see what you are doing whether you realize it or not and do one of two things: Never really do the job well because they know you are going to redo it or, feel as if that nothing they try to do is good enough for you.

It is ok to show them what you expect it to look like, just don’t expect perfection from them only after a few times of them doing the chore, especially those under the age of 10. It took almost a year for my son to make his bed well enough for me to not send him back to work on it again.

Having your children help around the house not only teaches them an essential life skill, it also makes life easier for you as the parent. When we’re all helping, family life is happier too!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Kids and Cleaning: When pulling teeth seems easier.

I often get asked by Mom's and Dad's how to motivate their children to clean up around the house. One of the most common complaints I hear goes something like this: "My girls / boys room is a disaster, I send them in to clean it, deprive them from all the day's activities and privileges, 4 hours later, they have cleaned up nothing!"

Contrary to what you were hoping for, most children under the age of about 10 need supervision when cleaning up gigantic messes. Realizing that you, as the parent, need to be actively engaged while they clean is the first hurdle in the battle.

Here is something to consider: If the mess they are trying to clean up is big by your standards, imagine how they see it. They are overwhelmed immediately and do not know where to begin. As a few minutes pass, they see some toy or book amidst the chaos that looks interesting and they focus all their energy on one specific item and try to block out the rest. I remember feeling like this as a kid (I preferred the shove everything under your bed technique, sorry about that Mom!) and giving up just like many children do.

Here are questions to ask yourself about your children in regards to cleaning up:

  1. Does everything they are cleaning up have a home and/or a specific spot? This is a critical step in teaching your child how to clean up after themselves. Often times a child gives up quickly when they do not know where things belong.
  2. If the items all have homes, does your child know where it goes? When choosing a home for toys, books, etc., pick the most logical place that would be easy for your kids to put it away. Complicated configurations and difficult containers are a sure way to hinder the process of clutter clearing.
  3. If it does not have a home do you really need it? Over sized stuffed animals and "happy meal" toys tend to be some of the worst offenders when it comes to cluttering up spaces. Unless the toy or the stuff animal is a beloved toy played with on a daily or weekly basis, it's time for the toy to be sent to good will to make room for the toys actually being played with and used.
  4. Can you get rid of something else to make the item a home? As our children grow, they also grow out of toys. Getting rid of toys that are no longer played with can easily free up more room for current toys they are actually playing with. If you are done having toddlers in the home, now is a good idea to purge those toys and send them off to charity so they won't be mixed with toys they actually play with, thus resulting in less clutter and less clean up.
  5. When cleaning up has your child returned things to their homes or have you been fed up and cleaned it up yourself? This is also another critical question to ask yourself or see for yourself by asking your child if they know where a specific item goes, you might be surprised with the answer. We "think" they should know where everything goes, but how often have we actually seen them return the item to its home? Toddlers especially could benefit from this trial and error process. As busy Mom's we tend to give up and put away half of our children's toys just so we can move on to something else. Spending that extra time once or twice, will help you see whether adjustments need to be made so that your children know where to put everything.
  6. Label EVERYTHING! Whether you label toys with pictures for young ones who cannot read or you add handwritten or fancy printed kind, labeling will ensure that the item will be put back in its home.

Here is a trick I have used with my child and with clients with multiple children when cleaning up. Instead of telling them to clean and then walk away expecting them to "just do it," try this:

Set a timer for 5 to 10 minutes (depending on the task) and ask your child to pick up all "like" items and put them away within the period the timer is set. For example: Start by having them clean up "just" the books. Once they have cleaned up all the books, set the timer again to cleanup all the Cars, Barbies, Trains, Lego's, etc., always by category, not all at once. Set the timer in small segments and continue to have them work on cleaning in categories of "like" items.

You will find they enjoy being timed and "beating the clock".

Before you know it, they will have things cleaned up in less than half the time it would have taken them otherwise. Breaking it up into small projects with "like" items also helps the child understand how to break down the mess in their minds so it's easier to clean. Try it at your house and let me know the results!

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