Summer holidays are on the horizon and if the kids aren’t already helping around the house this is a good time to start.
I remember during one week in a summer when the kids were in elementary school, I was confused because here it was the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer and I seemed to be constantly busy. Then I figured it out. My son was away at camp and my daughter had an awful case of poison ivy on her hands.
I not only had no household helpers, my daughter needed extra help with her daily activities. It was a real ah-hah moment when I figured out just how helpful my kids were in keeping our household running.
It’s Summer — The Kids Get to Take Out the Garbage.
It happens often. I’m speaking to a group of parents of young teens when one parent says to me, “She’s fourteen years old and won’t even start supper. What can I do?”
My response is a question: “When did you start teaching her how to cook? And when did you start expecting her to help with meal preparation?” All too often this is greeted with a blank stare and a repetition that after all she’s fourteen years old and should be able to start dinner.
It’s not inherent. While a youngster will reach puberty no matter what we do, shewon’t suddenly have the skills we think should follow. I’m over seventy years old and can’t run wire to an electrical box. But I know lots of people, men and women, who are quite able to handle this task. At some point they were taught, they did it with some sort of supervision and now it’s a skill they have. This is how we develop skills.
There are many reasons why we need to involve our kids in the running of the house. The obvious one is that when they are ready to live on their own, they will need to know how to cook and clean. A more immediate reason is that, believe it or not, this will help them to develop positive self-esteem. Kids love to be needed in the running of the house, they feel good when they learn a task and succeed, the whole family benefits and they love to work with their parents.
When my son Foley was about two-and-a-half, he helped his Dad, John, put up drywall. John put a can of nails on a small, sturdy stool. He asked Foley to please get him a nail. Foley would reach into the can, bring the nail to his father and watch as he hammered it into the stud. And the job was over. Now, he had a choice; he could stay and continue working with his dad or go and play. He chose to stay and for two hours he diligently brought nails, one at a time, to his father. Now, was this the most efficient way for Johnto complete this job? Of course not. Usually he would have had the nails handy in the pocket of his apron and hammered away. But efficiency should not always be the goal. The drywall did make it onto the studs, our son learned about the role of nails and drywall in creating a solid wall, the two had a great afternoon together and for years afterwards both could look at the wall and know they had built it together.
If your kids aren’t already helping out around the house, summer holidays is a great time to make a start. I’m not suggesting that you put your kids on an eight-hour housework day, but there is some extra time. Not all jobs are as satisfying as putting up drywall, but learning how to cook can be immensely satisfying. Book some time with them in the kitchen so you can start to teach them how to put a meal on the table.
There are some tricks to getting your kids involved. The first is to reconsider your standards. Your kids won’t do it to your standards. Guaranteed. But as long as they are doing their best, relax. If you spend all your time re-doing their work, they just aren’t going to try to do well.
Teach them how to do the job. We often assume that because what we are asking is, by our reckoning basic and simple, that they will just know how to do it. Whether it’s setting the table, picking up their toys or separating eggs, they need to be taught.
And give your kids choices. They need to do some work around the house but can choose whether to dust the living room or wash the kitchen floor. When kids have some choice of chores, they are more willing to do the work.
They don’t have to like it. We often don’t, so why should they? Have you ever wakened on a lovely Spring morning, yawned and grinned and said to yourself with glee, “Wow, today I get the clean the toilet!” Not likely. But you do the job. It’s very liberating when your child whines “But I don’t like doing my laundry,” and you respond, “I didn’t say you had to like it, you just have to do it.”
Get started now. Let your children be productive family members. Don’t ask too much, but do ask. Everyone will benefit. Your children will grow to become capable young adults and you will find the workload much easier to handle when everyone works together.
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