Kathy sets the table. Cayden clears it. They alternate taking out the garbage. Both kids make their beds, put away their own laundry, and do some of the cooking and house cleaning. Does this sound like a pipedream?
It may, but it’s true. As a psychotherapist and parent educator, I’ve helped hundreds of families, including my own to work together harmoniously. Still you may be thinking, “You haven’t met my kids!”
I’m certainly familiar with parents’ skepticism. Yet believe it or not, children of all ages—toddlers through teens—want to feel competent and useful. They want to see themselves as contributing members of the family. But they won’t act on their own; they need our help.
When we expect and guide children to be active members of the family team, we offer them the gift of self-respect. Despite our kids convincing antics—that roll of the eye, the retort, “I’m not your slave,” and that glazed look when you ask for help—children want to be competent, responsible, and cooperative. It’s a part of their very nature. A teenager summed it up: “I feel sorry for my friends; they can’t even make scrambled eggs.
Your beliefs are key! It’s vital that you believe that you’re truly offering your kids a gift, because children read us masterfully. If you’re convinced that every member of the team benefits, you’ll remain steadfast. When you face the inevitable bumps in the road, your convictions will help you move forward. You’ll solve any problems that arise and ultimately build the family team you believe in—with your kids on board!
If you have doubts, your children will challenge you.
We all have doubts. Some parents think the trouble it takes to get their kids to help isn’t worth the hassle. Others fear they’re burdening or imposing on their kids by expecting them to contribute. And others imagine that kids won’t do anything unless they’re forced to. They’ll act only if the motivating factor is fear, rather than the spirit of cooperation.
Doubts will fade when you recognize the many rewards for each member of the family. Too often, we see only the physical benefits we receive: “When you put your dirty clothes in the laundry basket, it’s less work for me.” We forget to point out to our children the concrete advantages they gain: “Your favorite clothes will be clean when you want to wear them.”
Begin as early in your children’s lives as possible. Even diaper-changing time is not too soon to acknowledge your infant’s help. “Thank you for lying still and making it easy for me to change your diaper.” Bring the songs that your toddlers learn in preschool into your home:
Clean up! Clean up!
Clean up! Clean up!
Everybody, do your share.
At first, make the family team informal. Remind your kids to put away their toys and toss dirty clothes in the laundry basket. Always appreciate them and admire their new skills.
Parents know that responsibilities need to increase as children mature, but often they’re uncertain what to expect at each stage. In my practice with families, I often ask children a simple question, “Is your behavior age appropriate?” Kids usually know just what I mean—and answer quite honestly. A ten year old readily admitted, “I should wake myself up each morning,” “I replied, “Then why do you rely on your mom?”
Kids have an “internal knowing”: a truth bell. They want us to tap that rich resource.
An excellent forum for everyone to take ownership of the plan is the family meeting. Family members talk openly about their expectations, work out differences, and ultimately make agreements. Family agreements should be written down or put in a chart. Be specific and thorough for the best results, as well as for future reference.
Tip #1: Make it easy for children to succeed.
Teach children to do their tasks so that they meet your expectations.
Make sure your family chart shows who does what, and when it needs to be done.
Tip #2: Develop a buddy system: Mom or Dad can partner with each young child.
The extra set of eyes and hands ensures that the job is done well.
Kids enjoy special time with the people they love the most.
Tip #3: Coordinate the completion of daily tasks with an established family ritual.
“All toys are returned to their homes before we read bedtime stories.”
“All pets are fed before we eat breakfast.”
Tip #4: Try to coordinate the completion of weekly chores with a fun activity.
“We’ll go for a bike ride as soon as Mr. Inspector signs off on all tasks.”
“We can bake the cupcakes for your class once the cat litter is changed.”
Tip #5: Keep chores and allowance separate.
The sense of accomplishment gained by contributing to the family should be its own reward; monetary incentives confuse the issue.
An allowance gives kids an opportunity to learn to manage money. It shouldn’t be used as an incentive or bribe.
Tip #6: Practice what you preach.
Children mimic what we do, not what we say.
If you want your children to complete their tasks, be sure to do your own.
Create a family team and you’ll bring out the best in your children and teens. Moreover, you’ll enjoy a bonus: you’ll discover the best within yourself!