Here’s how you can get junior to do his part around the house.
Running a household is no light task. There’s the laundry and the ironing to be done, then there’s the grocery shopping which has to be put away. Beds don’t get made by themselves, and dinner doesn’t magically appear at the same time every day on a beautifully set table. Although bathrooms and kitchens are used by the family, who is the one who actually gets down to scrubbing and cleaning?
More often than not, the task of keeping a family home clean and comfortable falls solely into the hands of the adult family members. As parents, we place a lot of emphasis on the importance of studying and working hard. Our children are given multiple opportunities to learn how to play the piano, dance ballet, swim confidently and play chess like a champion. But how many children actually know how to iron a shirt, or set a table properly? Surely, knowing how to cook a few simple dishes is more important than knowing your piano scales?
As an adult, your child might no longer play the piano, but he will still have to eat. Knowing what goes into running a household is a vital life skill, for both boys and girls. But, household chores and responsibilities are precisely that – a chore. Mundane and repetitive tasks that simply need to be completed. Trying to motivate children into helping around the house can be like trying to fill a bucket with water – except the bucket is full of holes. Sometimes it is easier to just get on with the job yourself, rather than feel like you are nagging again. However, if you look objectively at what the tasks actually are – hanging out the laundry, setting the table, drying dishes, for example – they might seem numerous, but each task in itself is fairly straightforward. So much so, that even a child could easily do it.
If you compare a child of three years to a child in primary 3, chances are the toddler will be more heartily willing to help mummy around the house. Younger kids are so eager to learn, so try and encourage a sense of “mucking in” from an early age. Whether it is cleaning up spilt water or putting an empty bottle into the bin, toddlers can also help out. But be realistic about your expectations. Rather than expecting perfection, praise a genuine effort to help and rejoice in a positive attitude.
Obviously, each child is different, with different abilities and interests. If your child is interested in cooking, encourage the efforts rather than complain about the extra mess. If your child has a special connection with the family pet, make it her special responsibility to make sure the dog has enough to eat and drink, and someone to play with! The important lesson here is to give the child responsibility and autonomy.
Clean as a Family
Set aside a fixed time, for example during the weekend, to clean your home together as a family. Each family member has their own responsibility – older children can vacuum and empty bins, while younger kids can help out with the laundry – and there is a sense of team effort.
Put on some upbeat music, and make household chores fun rather than tedious. More complicated tasks, such as making the bed, can be broken down into small steps for children to learn by doing. Inject some healthy competition into household chores. Set a timer and see who can complete their tasks the quickest, and most importantly, properly!
“But I Did That Last Week!”
Keeping a chart of household chores with strong visuals rather than a list of tasks can provide your child with an objective view of what they are actually doing, rather than what they perceive themselves to be doing. Alternatively, keep a bowl of simple “chore coupons” for the daily grind – such as clearing up the dinner table or drying the dishes – and the kids can have a draw in what they have to do. Anything that objectifies the situation and avoids favouritism will help children develop a healthier sense of social responsibility within a family setting. Be consistent in making sure that everyone does their part whenever possible. Household chores provide very little entertainment value in the eyes of a child (and most adults!), but by trying to build on the sense of familial responsibility and respect of the other people living under the same roof, instead of focusing on the motions of the chore itself, will hopefully make your child realise why helping to clear the dinner table is just another way of saying “I care”.
Some children need a different kind of carrot. The importance of familial responsibilities appears very low on their list of priorities, and no amount of pleading will get them to help out. Providing a tangible reward system might help motivate some children to help out more around the house. The carrot could be pocket money, more screen time, or doing something special of their choice. Each child and each family is different, so work out what would suit your family best.
Mum vs Maid
During the last ten years, the number of foreign domestic workers living and working in Singapore has more than doubled. There are currently 240,000 registered foreign domestic workers living and working in Singapore.
For many families, employing a live-in helper would be well beyond their financial means. For others, employing a live-in maid is a necessary luxury of balancing full-time careers with family life. Moral debate aside, if you are able to afford a live-in helper, it is all too easy to take for granted the fact that someone is doing all those unpleasant jobs like cleaning the bathroom and emptying bins. Just like many children think that mum will eventually tidy up their room once she has stopped nagging them, we are also sometimes guilty of expecting things to be “just so” when we return home from work.
Demonstrating to your child how to respect and appreciate a live-in helper can only really be achieved if you do so yourself. You are the ultimate role model here. If you take her role for granted, chances are so will your children.
Just because you have a helper doesn’t mean that your kids still don’t have to clear the dinner table, or that you don’t have to tidy up the kitchen after cooking up your favourite meal.
Household chores shouldn’t be a point of argument in a family, but sadly, the reality is far from this. Wasting time and energy nagging your child about the state of his room – you haven’t seen the floor in days! – will not make you feel any less of a fool when it’s you who ends up tidying the room. Talk to your child about the importance of helping out at home, how it’s not just about laundry and the state of his room, but about the other people who live in the same house. It’s about helping each other. Think of the sign that hangs over the tiny sink in the toilet of an aeroplane – please clean this sink for the next person. A quick wipe down of the sink and it’s ready for the next person. No fuss, no complaining. These are skills and habits that are just as important as doing well at school and passing music exams. They are key to being able to live independently as adults.