Sometimes when our sons are scrubbing away at the house, one calls to the other, "Are you having fun yet?" A sarcastic laugh is the usual response. After all, anybody who has mopped, vacuumed, or cleaned bathrooms knows that housework is not sheer delight.
That's okay. Neither is life.
Sociologists have established as strong relationship between how people value work they do and how well they do it. Parents who want their children to do good work, therefore, need to let children know that the housework they do for the family is important.
Children may, however, grumble about specific chores we've assigned. How do we beat that? Give them a choice! Children who choose their jobs have a stake in them.
How often you allow choice is a matter for your own family to decide. The same is true for how choices are made. You may try several methods before you find one that works, and even that one may have to be developed as your children grow older.
Toddlers need limited choices: "Do you want to wear your blue or red shirt?" "Do you want to pick up trucks first or your blocks?"
Older children get a little more freedom: "What are you going to wear today?" "Would you rather dust or vacuum?"
By the time children are in their mid-teens, choices ought to be real and very broad: "How are you going to spend your clothing allowance this fall?" "What do you plan to cook for dinner?" "What are your weekend plans?" By then, the child will have developed the habit of making good choices. If not, as one mother wisely said, "I'd rather have my child make poor choices while she still lives with me than after she leaves home."
If you are having trouble with chores dragging on and on, try these strategies:
- Agree to work for a specified time, set a timer, then quit!
- Throw a "Cleaning Party" when everyone works until the jobs are done reward yourselves with an outing or a family snack.
- Put on a favorite peppy record and agree to work hard until the last song, then take a five-minute break. Anyone who doesn't work during the music gets a penalty that the family decides on before you start to work.
- Break a big job into shorter segments, and do one segment today (or this week) and another tomorrow (or next week).
- For jobs that nobody in your family wants to do, plan a "Drudgery Day" at the beginning of each season and do those jobs together.
- A cleaning game for preschoolers: Dust Muppet or Monster
- Draw a face on a large white sock for a dust mitt that "eats" dust.
- A Cleaning game for older children: Treasure Hunt
- Hand a note: "Make your bed.: On the pillow a second note: "Vacuum the living room." Taped to the vacuum handle: "Take out trash." Under the garbage can lid, "You are done for the day. Thanks!"
Cleaning may not ever be the family's favorite activity, but playing cleaning games and working together can make it a lot more palatable. Choosing their own chores not only gives children more control but also develops maturity.
This excerpt is taken from Children Who Do Too Little by Patricia H. Sprinkle. (Zondervan 1996), available at bookstores or by calling 800-727-3480.