Why Kids Don’t Help Out at Home and What You Can Do About It
Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson
Responsibilities & Values
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If you’re like most parents, you’re frustrated because your child just sits there while you clear the dishes, feed the dog, straighten up the family room, and make the beds. No matter how old or young your children are, they seem to feel entitled to a life of leisure while you do all the work. Why is this? What are you doing wrong? And, more importantly, how can you fix this situation?
How can you get your kids to pitch in and help?
Let’s start with the children themselves. The first big problem is that kids don’t see what needs to be done. Kids just don’t notice that things are messy or that you need a hand opening the door or that the baby is fussing because he can’t reach a toy. Children are naturally self-absorbed. If what we want is for children to see their opportunity to help without be asked, then we’ve got to train them in what to look for.
Second, helpfulness is a learned skill. Becoming aware of others’ needs and being helpful doesn’t just happen. Children need to be taught how to be helpful. But we often don’t do this. It takes time to teach someone how to make a bed and we don’t have any extra time. It’s messy to let our kids feed the dog or gather up the trash. It’s quicker and neater to just do it ourselves. But when we do it all, our kids don’t learn how to do things on their own.
And, third, we make excuses for our children. We think they’re too young. We think they need more free time. We think they should do their homework instead. When we make excuses, we send the message that housework is reserved only for people (us) who have nothing better to do. Or we send the message that our children are incompetent and cannot do housework well enough to suit us. Neither of these messages is true and neither enhances children’s development of responsibility.
Part of being an adult is being able to manage one’s own affairs, make decisions, and anticipate the needs of others. When children are allowed to do chores and are taught how to do them well, they learn important skills. They feel good about themselves. If your kids hate doing chores and can’t see when they could be helpful, then you’ve made doing chores and being helpful a negative experience. It’s time to turn that around.
Ask nicely. Say what you want your child to do, when you want her to do it, and make it a request, not an order. Say, “Before you watch any TV, can you please take the recycling out to the bin?” Make sure you have her attention before you start. Make sure you get a “yes” or even a “yeah, sure” when you finish. If you don’t, get her attention and ask her again.
Don’t micromanage. Making a bed isn’t all that difficult to do and, really, so long as it’s done, it doesn’t matter how well it’s done. So when you ask your child to make his bed, avoid giving him detailed instructions on how to do it. Just ask him to make the bed. If you think he makes the bed badly and if this matters today – maybe your mother is coming to visit – then say, “Grandma is coming over so try to make your bed really neatly this time, okay?” Make sure you get a “yes” or a “yeah, sure” and you’re done.
Say “thank you.” Look your child in the eye, smile warmly and just say it. Say “thanks for feeding the cat.” This is not the time to add, “but next time don’t leave a trail of cat food between the bag and his dish.” Don’t criticize, just say “thanks.” Tomorrow, ask your child to feed the cat and suggest that she try not to drop kibble on the floor or that she pick it up if she does. Another day, another attempt. Today, just be grateful it was done at all.
Children will do just about anything for your sincere thanks. Children love being helpful and important and they want you to be happy. So make helping out a happy experience. Give them the skills and tools for doing a task, ask them to do one, and then thank them when they’re done. This isn’t all that difficult. You can do this.
Remember that the main reason for kids to do chores is not so much the chores themselves, those it’s nice to have some of those done. The main reason is to teach children responsibility and initiative and to learn some task-related skills. What you are doing here is developing attitudes and character. It’s worth the time it takes you.
Make helping out a habit at your house. Make it a friendly, cooperative thing, not a controlling, ordering-people-around thing. Let your kids contribute and be recognized for it. They’ll be eager to do more.
© 2015, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Look for free downloads on Dr. Anderson’s website at www.patricianananderson.com.