By Jaclyn Weidner
I’ve recently decided to take the leap and cross over from “new mom” to “experienced mom.” With 7 years of parenting under my belt, I can no longer hide under my blanket of “this is new and I don’t really know what I’m doing, so give me a bit of grace people!”
This self-imposed promotion makes me feel a little more qualified to write a “how to” article. So here it is folks: How to get your littles to help out at home! I am by no means an expert in this area, but we have stumbled upon a few things that have worked and I hope they can offer you some encouragement or springboard other ideas for what would work for you.
1 - Marketing
I’m being totally serious here. You need to sell them on the task. No one wants to do something simply because they’re told to. And yes I love the phrase, “because I said so” as much as the next mom, but unless you want to fight each time you want them to help out, trust me on this.
Part of marketing well is how we describe and name things. I don’t call any tasks in our house “chores.” The word chore makes me cringe and I feel like it will automatically be something I will loathe. I have chosen to call them “jobs.” For a little kid, a job is an important title and in turn makes them feel special. This builds into their intrinsic motivation for keeping a clean and organized home which moves them from parent-driven tasks to child-driven, which hopefully results in less fighting about cleaning up.
2 - Cast Vision
This is the cousin of marketing; the “why” behind something is critical. Why are you getting them to help out in the house?
We have explained to our kids that because we all live in our house and therefore all contribute to creating its chaos and undoing, we will all help make it a great place to live. This is the perfect opportunity to get their input into what they would like to do to contribute. This is a huge part of the overall buy-in process and helps them take ownership. The initial excitement here may be high if the kids are young, as they like the “idea” of jobs and contributing. Capitalize on this excitement!
3 - Training
One of the classic mistakes we can make as parents is to ask kids to clean something without actually showing them how to do it, or to show them quickly and expect they’ve ‘got’ it. When it comes to training, my best advice is to pick the time wisely. Right after school when they are exhausted is likely not a great time to learn a new skill. Likewise, if you are distracted by another activity, like making dinner, or don’t have the time available to teach the task thoroughly, you will likely be stressed and lack the patience required to teach a young child a new skill.
This summer I realized we had pockets of time that were ideal for learning new skills around the house. I could spend more time teaching new skills because we weren’t running from activity to activity.
3 - Rewards
Although I believe the best motivation is intrinsic, it is really hard to start with that as motivation for a small child. For us, an incredibly simple chart with a space big enough for a sticker has been enough of a reward system.
We have occasionally used a bigger carrot to dangle in front of the kids to increase motivation. For example: 5 days of stickers complete has equaled a trip to the ice cream store. This can be helpful when they are still learning their task and can get overwhelmed easily. The hope of earning an ice cream can help them push through when they’d rather give up. Once the task becomes a regular, manageable part of their routine, the outside incentives are no longer needed.
Mistakes we’ve made: Kids don’t have a very good sense of time. In the past we have made sticker charts too complex or lengthy so the reward was such a long way off it was overwhelming and they would get discouraged and give up. Similarly if the job I give my child is too difficult and they get frustrated and are unable to complete it, I am setting them up to fail, not to succeed. We want to create environments where they succeed, feel great about their contribution, and grow in confidence. Grow small, with one new “job” at a time.
4 - Grace
We are hoping for enthusiastic contributors to our home for the remainder of the years they live there. But we also hope to equip them with skills and capability for when they run their own households. We need to offer grace rather than be taskmasters. We need to allow for flexibility in “when” something is done. Personally, I experience times where I am too exhausted to fold laundry or empty the dishwasher. I have learned to either push through and finish the job or allow myself to rest knowing I will need to do it the next day.
If they are simply too tired to complete a task, rather than yell at them to finish or punish them, it is an opportunity to offer grace and come up with a creative solution. I can also ask them what they think would be a good solution. Whenever they can be part of the decision making process, they are growing in confidence and learning valuable life skills.
5 - Consistency
Often it can feel so much easier to simply do the task myself instead of walking alongside, encouraging, and teaching the skills necessary for the kids to do it. Being consistent is hard! But the rewards of pushing through are worth it for our kids and for us.
Jaclyn is a part-time high school teacher, and full-time mom to 3 energetic and talkative little girls. She loves to dive deep in conversation to get to the good stuff. In the words of her 4 year old she’s “just a little bit funny”. Her and her husband Brendan live just outside of Vancouver, Canada. Check her out on Instagram and Facebook.