Just like any other team sport, household chores should be a team effort (and one that doesn’t leave you standing on the sidelines of a soggy soccer field, peering out through fat raindrops drops and hugging your Yeti.
But instilling and enforcing a team-based family approach to chores doesn’t just help us tired parents juggling careers and carpool schedules. It’s actually critical to core skill development, one of three key pillars identified by researchers at Harvard University’s Center for the Developing Child.
But … just how to balance household chores is a question families have wrestled with for decades. Most parents wear an invisible crown: The Queen or King of Nag (but if we’re being honest, it’s mostly moms, this writer included). After time, this crown weighs us down and, inevitably, we ease off the nagging and just do the darn chores ourselves.
That alternative, however, has two not-so-great outcomes. One: We, the adults with the main housekeeping role, experience burnout, live with frustration and build resentment towards the rest of the family.
And two: our children fail to learn how to manage their time and build up a strong base of core life skills. Luckily, it’s never too late to right this household ship.
Developing and strengthening core skills is one of three key pillars to healthy child development.
Image courtesy of The Center for the Developing Child at Harvard University
Build your child a scaffold for core skill-building
There is no exact right way to parent. All you can do is your best, with the best tools and knowledge you have at the time. It’s the hardest––and most rewarding–– job in the world.
Ask any parent what they ultimately hope for their kids and the answer will something like:
“I want them to be happy, healthy, productive individuals.”
If we want that, we have to teach our kids how to filter distractions, prioritize tasks, remember rules, and control impulses. These self-regulation skills and executive functions set our kids up to make better, healthier decisions as grown-ups.
That includes decisions and habits around household chores.
Scaffolding is “age- and context-appropriate support that gets people started and steps in as needed, enabling practice with gradually less support”, says researchers at Harvard. In normal-person terms, that means we have to establish routines and lead by example. At first, that means offering quite a bit of help to our kids and being an active partner in the tasks we want them to complete. Over time, we can gently pull back on the help to let our kids fly on their own and complete the tasks we want them to do-their own way.
Yup. The dishes might not be loaded into the dishwasher the way you would do it.
A cereal bowl might get loaded into the top “glassware” rack rather than the “bowls-and-plates” bottom rack. A large plate might be stacked in front of a smaller one, instead of keeping all the large plates and small plates together. But as long as bowls are placed upside-down so they won’t collect gross dishwasher-water and the two plates are crammed into a single slot, the dishwasher will manage.
Take a deep breath. You are making a significant sacrifice for the good of your kids and the benefits of their long-term core skills development.
Now is the time to turn household chores into a team sport
If there was any silver lining to the pandemic, it’s this: More families are actually sharing more of the load when it comes to household chores. According to a 2021 survey by SC Johnson, 44% per cent of respondents said their kids are now helping out more around the household, from general tidying up to making beds, taking out the garbage, and doing the dishes.
So how do you turn this helpful trend into the new norm around your house? It’s going to take commitment from all sides: Kids have to keep up the good work, and parents have to stand their ground and respectfully communicate the new expectations on the regular.
Like anything, balance is key.
How do you split household chores?
Don’t let gender dictate who does what. Divide the chores evenly based on age and skill level rather than. He/she/they pronouns have no bearing on the tasks you can expect your kids to take responsibility for.
What are some household chores you can incorporate into your new Team Clean chore plan? For families with kids ages 6 and older, your new-and-improved Project Family Clean might look something like this:
• Make bed
• Pick up clothes; throw dirty items in the laundry hamper
• Load their own dishes into the dishwasher after each meal
• Unload dishwasher
• Dry and put away pots and pans (or empty dry-rack)
PRO TIP: If you have more than one child, set an alternating schedule where one empties the dishwasher and the other puts away the pots and pans from the dry rack. Divide up the days in whatever makes sense and is easy to remember: For example, if one child is born on an even day of the month, they empty the dishwasher on even days and the dishrack on odd days, and vice-versa for the child born on an odd day of the month.
• Clean room, including desks and under the bed
• Make a simple dinner (with direct help for ages 8 and under, supervision for ages 9-13)
• Empty the garbage cans around the house into the big bin
• Clean out pet habitats
• Bring laundry hampers to the laundry room; separate lights and darks
For kids ages 5 and under, well, they can do all of the above as well … they’ll just need help with each task. But it’s worth the investment because they’ll soon be old enough to take them on themselves and that will make your daily task-list much more palatable in the long run.
Because we’re in the business of making your life easier, you can download and print off this daily and weekly routine and stick it to your fridge.
How do I get my kids to pick up their toys?
Notice picking up toys isn’t on those daily or weekly lists? That’s because having your kids pick up their toys regularly is always the goal. But sometimes, larger “projects” like that massive Lego creation just can’t be tampered with until it’s done. It’s time like this when you let go of the “hard rule” and let the toys stay put for a little longer.
Treat it as a clean-as-needed situation.
Sometimes you can show some flexibility, but sometimes, you can’t. Maybe you’re expecting company (or your Scrubbi Cleaning Specialist) and you just need the toys. Put. Away. Experts say it’s best to take an authoritative approach rather than an authoritarian one. You’ve heard the saying “you earn more bees with honey than vinegar”, right? Well, with little ones, that means making a game of it (“How fast do you think you can pick up these toys? Let’s see – ready, set, go!”) or offering to do it together (“I wonder: If we worked together, how fast could we put these toys away?”).
For older kids, it’s not so much the toys they leave lying around. It’s … the stuff. Try calling a “2-minute round-up” every night before they head off to bed, where they grab all their stuff from around the house and either throw it out or put it where it belongs. Lead by example on this, too, with the 2-minute round up applies to every member of the family, including us parents. It’s always easier to motivate yourself to do tedious household chores if everyone else is doing it, too.
PDF Download: Operation Family Clean Easy Guide
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