Parents need all the help they can get these days — so should children help out more at home, asks Lindsay Woods.
As a child, my parents expected only one thing from both myself and my brother when we were at home; to stay outside.
Chores, or ‘jobs’, for us did not stretch beyond the remit of picking our clothes up from the floor or a hasty clean-up of our rooms when it became near impossible for the Hoover to do its duty.
My mother would have rather willingly entered a field with a rabid bull than let us near her most prized and valuable possession… the washing machine.
At weekends and holidays from school, we had breakfast before being handed a bag with our lunch and a reminder of not to darken the door until dinner as we headed off into the fields with friends.
The mantra of ’80s parenting was: ‘Just stay out of the way, it’ll be easier’.
In 2019, as a parent of two, the notion of ‘free-range’ children has changed considerably.
With the advent of tech and inclement weather due to the climate crisis, combined with the fact that a sizeable chunk of us are living in built-up areas due to a number of socio-economic factors, it means our children are indoors more frequently and therefore physically moving less.
Throw in a household with both parents working, and it becomes quite evident that all hands, even those smaller ones, are needed on deck; not only from a physical exercise aspect, but also due to modern-day time constraints.
Just recently, one mother’s ‘Age-appropriate chore guide for kids’ went viral when it suggested that children as young as two years of age should be tasked with household duties.
This included minor suggestions such as picking up after themselves to, in my eyes, gargantuan asks such as dusting and making their bed.
When my children were of the aforementioned age, I adopted more of a ‘monkey see, monkey do’ approach.
They would mimic me picking up their toys etc and replicate same.
However, I’m pretty sure that had I requested them to make their beds, it would have been met with a glazed look as the theme tune to Peppa Pig rattled round and round in their little heads!
Yes, it is important to encourage responsibility and foster their independence, but with a toddler, there is only so much time you can allocate to doing so before you begin to tear your hair out.
Ever wondered about at the pace a young child moves at when set allocated tasks? Glacial.
A survey conducted by End of Tenancy Cleaning London asked almost 2,500 parents — with children of various ages and genders — how easy was for them to get their offspring to complete different chores.
Those listed ranged from feeding pets, to making beds, to weeding the garden.
The survey discovered that tidy-up activities were the most favoured, ie 75% for putting toys away.
A staggering 71% stated that their children water the plants in the home.
Now, I love my plants and some are fussy customers, so the thought of letting my children near them gives me as much fear as it once did for my mother in relation to the washing machine.
If I were to contemplate letting my children anywhere near the foliage, it would mean I would have to supervise same for fear of leafy casualties.
Which defeats the purpose of assigning them hard labour in the first instance.
So, how can you engage your children to start contributing to the daily household tasks?
Sinead Brady, career and coaching psychologist, founder of WorkStyle.ie, and mum of three, is in agreement with the idea of chores for children: “I see it more as a contribution to the home.
"Basic things like taking your plate to the sink, picking up pyjamas, etc. I also believe it is important that kids see and acknowledge, from a young age, that things are being done for them.
"So, in many ways, they notice and respond appropriately. By which I mean, that at dinner time they say ‘thank you’ for their meal, but they are also taught to notice that someone is cleaning up for them afterwards and appreciate same’.”
It is an interesting extension of the actual task of doing… the acknowledgement of the doing for them.
Also removing the title of ‘chores’ and viewing it as instead, a contribution to the household, carries far more gravitas than attempting to reason with my own children as to why they should pick up after themselves.
Perhaps, by acknowledging their contribution, it would lessen the nagging on all fronts.
Sinead suggests the following when encouraging young children to participate: ‘It can also be reframed as a time to chat and be together — tidy-up tunes for younger members of the family can help spur momentum.
"For older children, it may be an opportunity to make it about discussion and relationship-building, rather than looking upon it as a chore’.
The above may well be the key in getting kids engaged in the least favoured tasks.
‘Making the bed’ ranked last in the survey’s list of chores, with a mere 9% of respondents claiming their children would complete the task with minimal fuss.
I have been guilty of resorting to an attitude of ‘Just let me do it!’, to save time, and the fact that I will have to re-do the lacklustre efforts so that they may sleep in the bed that night without having to navigate a spaghetti junction-esque tangle of bedding!
Perhaps I need to encourage their contribution while observing same in order to achieve a welcome result.
‘Feeding pets’ was the number one task favoured, with 83% choosing it as their children’s favourite.
I can attest to this in my own home. I can also see the lure for kids in doing so; it’s quick to complete, and supplies instant gratification on all fronts.
Fido or Mr Fuzzy-Pants get their chow on, and express their thanks with furry cuddles. Beats being nagged by your Mum about some shoddy bed-making!
But when is the right age to start allocating jobs around the home?
Amy Morgan, GP and mother to her two-year-old daughter, says she actively encourages her child’s participation in small chores both in and out of the home.
“When in the supermarket, I get her to help me put groceries in the basket. While at home, she helps wipe the table after eating and helps tidy her toys away at end of play.”
It appears age is not so much a contributing factor in deciding to assign household duties to children, more the nature of the tasks themselves.
Fostering a culture of care in the home by helping with the daily chores should have positive repercussions for our children as they grow.
It is not only teaching them to care for themselves, but also those around them.
There may be substantial merit to the saying: ‘Mighty Oaks from little acorns grow’.
Even if those little acorns may still need the occasional helping hand making the bed.