Helping About the House - Professor Matt Sanders

Only last century child labor laws were introduced to stop the previously common practice of sending children out to be part of Britain’s mining workforce.

By contrast, today, children in some countries are able to sue their parents for mistreatment, and certain societies do not expect children to contribute much to the ordinary activities of the home.

Somewhere in the middle of all this falls busy everyday moms and dads with healthy active children; children who by elementary school age are capable of such household chores as washing dishes, tidying their bedrooms, clearing the dinner table, or working in the yard.

So should children help out around the house or not?

It depends, of course, on each parent’s particular view of family roles, however the responsibility of regular chores helps children learn self- discipline and how to apply themselves to a job, as well as new skills to carry with them into their own adult family life. Chores encourage children’s understanding that being part of a family involves contributing to the smooth running of the home.

As an added bonus, if you give your child chores, you will find you have more time to spend with them on other activities as well as more time for yourself.

Everybody wins — so long as a common sense approach is taken.

I once had a case where an 8-year- old girl was required to prepare breakfast for a family of five, wake her mother for work with breakfast in bed at 8:30 a.m., make school lunches, and wash all the dishes on her own — clearly not beneficial for a child.

The key to helping your children learn to undertake appropriate chores cheerfully and competently is to move slowly.

Whatever age you choose to introduce your children to chores, it is a good idea to start all children at the same time, even though they may be of differing ages. Children will accept the new responsibilities more readily if they feel they are not being singled out.

Always be aware of the physical limitations of your child and make sure you first take some time to work out with your partner exactly what tasks you think they are capable of.

The use of a written job roster stuck up on the fridge will help avoid future arguments and remind each child of what is required. Ask your child to suggest jobs they might like to do for the roster. If they say they don’t want to do anything tell them you will decide their jobs if they do not choose themselves.

You might like to initially offer some form of reward for completing chores properly such as a special activity or pocket money, but remember you should gradually reduce rewards over time as your child learns the roster. You will also have to spell out the consequences of not doing chores, such as going to bed early or not watching certain television shows.

Your child should learn to do chores as a general family responsibility, not solely as a way of getting rewards or avoiding punishment.

If your child does not complete a chore satisfactorily do not get into a debate with them about it. Ignore their protests or complaints and immediately carry out the previously agreed consequence. Be consistent and patient, and review each week’s performance in relation to the job roster. Give praise where it is earned, and encourage improvement. You and your child will eventually both reap the rewards.

Parenting Tip

Children can be manipulative when they don’t particularly want to do something. Try not to get trapped into allowing your child to keep doing something else instead of their chores under the promise that they will do the chores as soon as they have finished. Children won’t always keep to the bargain.