If I had a pound – or a Euro, or a dollar – every time one of my friends complained about their kids never helping around the house, I’d be a reasonably wealthy woman. “What do we do?” they ask. “How can we get kids to do chores?”
As one of my children recently returned to live at home, I can identify with them once more. Does she really not notice the dishwasher needs emptying unless I point it out? Or that, thanks to our German Shepherd, there’s enough dog hair on the cushions to knit a small litter of puppies?
So I was interested to read a piece by Michaeleen Doucleff on how Maya families in the Yucatan raise their kids. It was part of a series by National Public Radio in the US, called #HowToRaiseAHuman.
Doucleff visited the Maya community as part of her research. She was stunned to see children washing dishes and performing other household tasks without being asked – or nagged – to do so.
“She is old enough to understand what needs to be done around the house,” explained one mother about her 12-year-old daughter. “Sometimes I go away from the house, and when I come back I find it cleaned and everything picked up.”
Wow. Imagine that. Doucleff was intrigued enough to look further at the Maya method of raising kids and has tested it out on her own daughter with some success. She says changing how she interacts with her child has been key. These are her tips for getting kids to help with the chores.
Make chores a fun activity
Many parents try to get jobs done while their young children are asleep. The idea is that it leaves them free to make the most of playtime when they’re awake. But all this does is teach children that chores are for grown-ups and play is for kids.
So, swap it around. Relax while your child is napping and save the chores to do together.
“I get to teach her how to cook real food in a real kitchen instead of watching her pretend to cook fake food on a fake stove in the living room,” says Doucleff.
Welcome your child’s help when it’s offered
How many times have you shooed your child away when they interrupt while you’re doing the chores? Instead, embrace their interest – or even invite them to help. (Don’t worry if they don’t want to – a key Maya attitude is to encourage but never force.)
Let your child join you, even if it means they only watch what you’re doing. It will make them feel part of a team, and they’ll still learn some key skills.
Take your time
We’re conditioned to rush through dull or unpleasant tasks. Who wants to fold sheets for any longer than necessary? But that means your child can’t participate – they’ll find it too difficult or won’t grasp what to do.
Ok, there will be times when there’s a deadline and you’ll need to crack on. But otherwise, take it at a more relaxed pace. Just enjoy that you’re doing something meaningful with your child.
Give them child-sized tasks
Toddlers in the Maya community take pride in even the smallest contributions they make to household chores. Doucleff says her daughter can’t take care of all the laundry, but she loves to pour washing powder into the machine and press the ‘start’ button. She can’t take the rubbish (trash) bag outside, but she can carry any stray cartons that won’t fit inside it.
Doucleff also warns against being a perfectionist when it comes to the standards we demand. Does it really matter how the dishwasher is loaded or if every speck of dust is swept from the floor? If your child takes care and pride in folding a t-shirt and does it without asking, surely that’s more important?