Tip–Increase the chances of household chores being done well and promptly by teaching kids how to do the task adequately, establishing clear standards for the job, and using reward and reminder systems.
Tools–In her book, Pick Up Your Socks, parent educator Elizabeth Crary offers parents several tools for helping children learn the various components of household chores and for addressing poor or non-performance.
- Teach the task. For most children, this means actually showing them each step of the task. For instance, telling a child, “Set the table” is vague. Showing her where you keep the plates, utensils, glasses, and napkins is necessary, along with being very specific about where each item is to go. (Reports one of our authors: “I once gave my three-year-old stepson napkins to put on the dinner table and found them all dumped on top of one plate.”) You also need to make sure that all items are stored in a place accessible to your child.
- Establish standards and a time frame for the job. If you’re not clear about a deadline, the task will get put off. A clear time frame would sound like, “Take the trash out before you watch any television” or “Set the table by 5:30 p.m.”
The standard for the job needs to be something both the child is capable of and the parent can tolerate. Be specific. For example, “Clean your room” could mean: make your bed; hang up clean clothes; put dirty clothes in hamper; put away toys on shelves; throw away trash. For older children, make a chart for them to refer to. Note: Beware of your re-doing a job after a child has done it poorly. It usually teaches the child it’s okay to be sloppy because someone will clean up after him.
- Reminders and Rewards. Most people, adults and children, need help and support when beginning a new habit or learning new skills. Reminders can be visual (a chart to be checked off every day), or verbal (a parent can give a reminder in the beginning. Put a deadline on how long you will remind the child, so that the responsibility for remembering does not become yours).
Rewards can be anything a child wants: treats, trinkets, privileges, praise, time, or attention.
Many parents assume that when a child no longer needs help doing the task, she or he can do it alone and responsibly. Unfortunately, learning a new habit takes much longer than learning a new skill. Encourage the habit by rewarding the kids when they remember on their own to do the tasks.
You’ll find more practical tips you can use right now in Pick Up Your Socks . . . and Other Skills Growing Children Need! by Elizabeth Crary.