Many parents would be familiar with the frustration of Deirdre Sullivan in trying to get her children to help around the house.
“It’s a battle to get them to do their chores,” sighs the mother-of-three, who says the usual response to her request is ‘I’ll do it in a minute.’ “It was always a battle to get them to do the jobs and then they’d be half-done,” says the Dublin businesswoman.
Partly this is because her children, Cara, 9, Cian, 15, and Sean, 18, are so busy with after-school activities.
The boys play rugby, hurling, and football, while Cara swims, plays camogie, and does gymnastics.
Deirdre, 47, is not unusual. A survey by Mummypages.ie shows that only 33% of today’s parents require their children to do chores in the home, primarily because they feel their child’s life is crammed with homework and extra-curricular activities.
Deirdre, who juggles home-life with work as a business partner in Kay’s Flower School, in Rialto, believes her children should help out in the family home in Walkinstown.
It’s partly about showing parents respect, and partly about chipping in with the chores.
“It’s about giving your parents a hand, especially when they are both working,” says Deirdre, who has found ways of getting the children to do their fair share of the household chores.
“I leave them a list of things to be done: Emptying the dishwasher, bringing down their dirty laundry for washing, stripping their beds, sweeping up leaves outside, sweeping up the kitchen floor,” she says.
“My middle guy would be good to get things done, but not without a list!
“My youngest will bring down her washing and empty the dishwasher, but I don’t ask her to do much else,” Deirdre says, adding that her 18-year-old is “less involved than I’d like.”
Chores are important — they nurture a work-ethic and encourage a ‘can-do’ mindset in children, along with a belief that they should contribute to any situation, says Stella O’Malley, psychotherapist, and author of Bully-Proof Kids and Cotton Wool Kids.
Chores also encourage a feeling of ownership of the family home.
“Everyone craves the feeling of being needed and connected and needed by others,” she says, adding that children often want to get involved at an early age, but can be discouraged by busy parents, because they are too slow or don’t complete a task properly.
“Often, children have it early on; They will try to help at ages three or four, but they might get waved away, because they’re a bit slow doing something.
“It’s important that this flame, they have so naturally, does not get extinguished,” Stella says, adding that modern parents often fail to nurture pride in a job done well.
“Firstly, they’re not asking them to do chores and, secondly, if they do, they tend to come along and clean up afterwards, because the child doesn’t do it perfectly,” she says.
Mum of two Harriet McGuigan, 40, agrees that chores can make children feel part of a team — she says her children, Tessa, 10, and Ollie, eight, seem to enjoy being helpful.
“When they are doing chores, they’re chirpy and feel good about doing something useful,” she says.
“It makes them feel part of the family and an important cog in the wheel. It’s my philosophy, as a mother, that chores are hugely important for children — they’re life skills.”
However, Harriet, a psychotherapist by profession, warns that “getting your child to do chores can be challenging. This is normal — it wouldn’t be realistic if they didn’t challenge you!”
It can be harder for parents to get their children to do chores, because today’s kids can be overindulged.
“Your child may say their friends don’t have to do chores, and that you, as the parent, are just being lazy,” Harriet says.
“These are the challenges that you have to overcome. It’s harder to get them to do chores in this context, but, in the long run, it’s better for them,” she says, adding that she presents chores as a positive, as a team effort that contributes to the running of the home.
In the family home at Boolteens, near Castlemaine, Co Kerry, Tessa and Ollie help empty the dishwasher, make their beds, tidy their rooms, and bring their plates to the dishwasher.
“Tessa helps with getting the dinner and can make full meals,” says Harriet, who adds that the children are expected to hang up their coats, bring dirty clothes to the laundry bin, and put away their clean laundry themselves. She also intends to “introduce more involvement in cooking” and plans to teach them how to use the washing machine.
“It’s important for sons, as well as daughters, to do chores, because otherwise they may turn into the man who sits at the table waiting to be handed everything,” Harriet says.
Giving children chores is about helping them to help themselves, she says, adding that this is the greatest gift a parent can give a child.
Montessori preschool teacher Sarah Guildea, 31, is a firm believer in chores. Her daughter, Poppy, aged two-and-a-half, sees chores as fun.
“I think it’s very important to get children to do chores, but it’s also important to make play out of it,” says Sarah.
So, at the family home in Trim, Co Meath, Poppy has learned to put away her toys, and can load the washing machine or put clothes on the clothes-horse.
“I grew up in a family of four children. Both our parents worked, so chores were part of our lives,” Sarah says.
“We helped out with the dinners, did the hoovering, and kept our bedrooms tidy.”
As the youngest of four children, chef Megan Ahern, 23, grew up in a busy household, where it was all hands on deck — and it paid off handsomely for the children.
“I started doing chores around the age of eight or nine,” she says.
“We had a rota of who did what, You’d do everything, from emptying the dishwasher to sweeping the floor, tidying your bedroom, cleaning out the fridge, and, later on, helping to make the dinner.
“I think it stood to me — it gives you a sense of responsibility and it meant we kids worked together and helped each other out.
“I think my love of cooking came from helping my mother get the dinner. My mother always worked outside the home, so it was case of everyone pitching in and helping out. I think all children should do chores, because, otherwise, the mother has to do it all, and she’ll get exhausted.
“It’s good for your self-confidence to be able to do things for yourself. Cooking is a big thing and it’s important to be able to clean a place! There’s pride involved in doing the job right.”
TIPS FOR GETTING THE KIDS TO HELP:
- Tap into a child’s urge to be part of things, and present chores as being part of a team, advises Stella, who suggests parents distribute chores and build in a group treat as reward.
“We are all working together and then we can go swimming or sit down and watch a DVD together,” she says.
- Have a structure to chores, she advises — for example, beds to be made each morning before school, or the hoovering to be done every Saturday morning.
“Structure is very important — it makes it a lot more easy to manage and it instils a sense of discipline.”
- Create a sense of pride in a job well done. This is very important, says Stella, who suggests cooking together.
“Let the children cook something that they like to eat. Don’t be too rigid about how it’s done. Let them experiment a bit, because there needs to be some joy around it,” Stella says.
Don’t kill their natural desire to help by criticising their efforts or finishing a job for them.
“If there’s something that is not well-finished, be subtle and gentle about it and know when to let it go,” she advises.
CONSIDER CAREFULLY ANY LINKING OF CHORES WITH POCKET MONEY
“Some people think it’s appropriate to link chores with allowance or pocket money; some do not. If you are in favour of linking chores and money, think out the parameters,” Stella says.
If not, think about how you give your children pocket money and in what circumstances.
Ensure you and your partner are on the same page about the need for children to do chores, says Harriet — and, remember, she counsels, boys need to do tasks which may have traditionally been seen as “women’s work.”