My 11-year-old son and nine-year-old daughter never participate in
household chores. They have very little expected of them – like making
their beds – yet even this is often left undone. I feel like they tune me out
when I try to talk about this. I’m sick and tired of doing everything for
them and not feeling any reciprocation. Help me Sara!
It’s easy to feel like a maid to our children
when they expect us to tidy up after them.
When children are very little, they want to
pitch in. Most love standing on a stool with
their hands immersed in warm sudsy water
and dirty dishes or sorting through socks to
fi nd matching pairs. Their help is sometimes
more of a hindrance and it’s normal to feel
guilty if we don’t always want it.
However, I am not convinced that there is a
correlation between the chores a child helps
you with at age four and the level of motivation
to help at 11. At four, your child wants to
engage with you and wants to feel helpful and
constructive. At 11, your child wants to be left
alone and doesn’t care about the unmade bed,
clothes on the fl oor or dishes in the sink.
Your children may not purposely be going
against you, but may not see the same mess
that you see. Understand that their priorities
and perceptions are different than yours. Then,
modify your expectations.
Rather than coming at them with requests
or demands, set up a family meeting where
you can discuss everyone’s “contribution” to
the smooth running of the household. (Use the
word “contribution” because “chore” often has
a negative association.)
Let them know that you are tired of
nagging and yelling. In a calm but authoritative
voice, tell them you would appreciate their
help in coming up with a “solution” to some
“problems”. Encourage brainstorming for
solutions even if they sound ludicrous at first.
For example, if your son suggests paying his
sister to hang up his clothes, maybe that’s not
such a bad idea! Other solutions may include
choosing particular days on which everyone
spends a half hour hanging up clothes that
have been draped over chairs.
In our home, our laundry system works
well because it is clear and consistent. Our
children are responsible for bringing hampers
from each bedroom into the laundry room on
Sunday afternoon, sorting through the clothes
according to colour and type and placing
the underwear and socks into the washing
machine. We bought a large three compartment
laundry sorter to make organizing easier. I
wash and fold the laundry and my husband
puts it away.
Although they may not admit it, contributing
around the house actually helps children feel
that they are vital, important members of the
family and that without their help, the system
might fall apart.
The bottom line: If you keep tidying up after
your children because it’s easier and quicker,
they will never feel the need to clean up after
themselves. So, get together as a family to
set up systems in advance, along with logical
consequences for not following through, and
then let your plan do the talking.
Sara Dimerman is a Psychologist, author and parenting expert in the Greater Toronto Area. Read more at helpmesara.com.
Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, July 2013.