Should Children Have Chores?
Parents are different. Some accept the unstructured and spontaneous life that children bring, while others try to structure things and give them chores. If you belong to the latter it is a good idea to ask yourself whether it is a child you want or a helper.
When we talk about children and chores, we need to consider three things:
1) For whose sake do the children have chores?
2) Are we talking about chores or tasks?
3) Nobody will thrive as part of a community when they only receive. "But... I am just in the middle of something!"
Work and family has become more and more separated, and many parents feel that it is important for their children to assume some chores at home. They say: "It is good for the children!"
If we look at everything we know about child development from the ages between 3 and 14 as well as the children's ability and willingness to co-operate, there is no evidence that this is actually true - on the contrary! We know that the best thing children can do to thrive and develop is to play as much as possible. Not only does playing promote later learning abilities, it also equips the child to better cope with life's challenges.
The fact that children need opportunities to play does not mean they should not contribute at home. However, it is our experience that, the fewer responsibilities children have, the more helpful they become...! If you believe that it is important that your children have certain chores your need to look at how many conflicts follow - and if it is really worth it.
If the chores do not lead to conflicts then there is no reason to change things. If however, as is often the case, there are conflicts about these chores you would be wise to reconsider your approach. Too many chores often lead to too many conflicts. "We made a deal!"
Many conflicts happen simply because parents forget to consider the children's developmental stages and their capabilities. We often forget that children around the age of 11 and younger do not yet have a particularly well developed future perspective. When children say: "Yes!" to doing the dishes three times a week they will not take into consideration that they commit themselves for a very long period of time.
The children's willingness to co-operate and the lack of future perspective will collide. Parents see an annual calendar where life is divided into months, weeks and hours. Children only see the "right here and right now."
"We had a deal and you were part of making that deal!" many parents say. However, this "deal" was not made between equal partners. Children say: "Yes!" for the same reason as we adults in the middle of our love ecstasy might whisper: "I will always love you!" A statement which should not be regarded as a promise or a contract. It is a spontaneous declaration of love which expresses how intensely love feels at that very moment.
If you believe that chores are important to your children's development you must be prepared to review these "deals" frequently - at least three or four times a year. "Can I help you?"
When a parent becomes a single parent, he or she will often experience that the problems surrounding children's helpfulness very quickly change. They will become helpful simply because it is more meaningful to help when the adult has a real need for help.
When Grandpa says: "When I was young there was no discussion, we just did what we were asked!" he is right. Back then there was a real need for everyone's help with the daily household chores. This is not often the case today. Children will certainly meet their parents' needs for help but they hold a healthy sense of scepticism for things that are supposed to be "good for children"."Don't you understand...?"
When your children are between 14-20 years old a different set of rules apply. It will be a good idea to define the situation something like this: "We are four crew members on this ship. The ship needs four people to sail and we are not willing to accept stowaways."
Young people who live at home must know exactly what is expected of them. And this requires that their parents know exactly how they need to take on the leadership role.
Perhaps you have said something like this to your 16 year old daughter: "It's not good enough! I get home from work, I'm really tired and the dishes from this morning are still in the sink. Can't you look after even the most simple things?" If that is the case then you will not have define her chores accurately.
There are some other signals telling you that the chores are not defined properly. Some girls and boys in Years 10, 11 or 12 might go through prolonged periods of lethargy and fatigue - they can barely cope with anything but the absolute essentials in terms of school attendance and homework. This exhaustion is often due to the fact that it is not exactly clear what is expected of them at home.
Another signal is when they demand to know: "Why is it always me!", "I also did it yesterday!" or claim: "If I have to do it all the time then I don't want to live here anymore!" It is a good idea to sit down with a 15-17 year old and go through your expectations as clearly as possible. You might write up a list covering the things which he or she needs to take care of.
Your child must be able to have some impact on the list but this does not mean that the chores are simply distributed according to what he or she feels like doing. Young people who have been treated with dignity during the first years of their lives will understand this.
They are smart enough to try to avoid the chores they do not like.
- I want you to vacuum your room and the living room twice a week.
- I don't want to!
- Is there anything else you'd rather do?
In this situation you simply have to say:
- Right, if you find a similar chore you prefer to swap with, let me know. Until then you vacuum!
It is important to be clear and personal. When you are with young people it is especially important to avoid moralising criticism. You are digging a deep hole if you say: "Don't you understand...!" or "We are working so hard for you to be able to...!" "I'll just move out!"
When we are not clear about our expectations it is because we always think ahead and are considering a range of consequences. What if he or she does move out? We are afraid of the ultimate conflict.
When children or teenagers demand to have everything served on a silver platter you can do two things. One option is to consider where and how you have not been clear and/or unreasonable with your expectations. Work out what has lead to this situation. Such investigations can be extremely fruitful for further progress, especially if the young person is involved in the conversation and you are willing to listen to what they say - even listen to what is said between the lines.
If the situation becomes untenable, and you are not willing to put up with it in the long run, an option is to communicate this. Do it lovingly - but firmly: "Listen, if you think you can find somewhere in the world where you do not have to put in an effort, you are welcome to go and find it. In this house everyone has to chip in. Good luck!"
It is important to emphasise that the ultimate divorce will not happen if your expectations have been reasonably clear and fair. Helpfulness of a different kind
For those parents who have the opportunity to start afresh, perhaps you could try an experiment: do not make your children do chores at all. Within a few years you will be amply rewarded in the form of a helpfulness which is significantly more energetic and constructive than if your children were forced to do their chores.
If you are already bogged down in endless disputes about chores, duties and tasks, there is only one effective cure: sit down with the children and say: "For a number of years we have firmly believed that it was healthy for you and good for our family that you had responsibilities at home. But we have learned that it doesn't lead to greater happiness - it leads to more conflicts. Therefore, we would like to let you know that we were wrong. As of today, you are relieved of all your chores. Not because we don't want you to help out but we've realised that the family develops best if this happens at a pace we are all comfortable with."
Now, you will hear them cheer: "Fantastic!" ...and then comes the real test for you.
In the next few months the children will, in response to several years of being forced to do chores, completely stop helping. If you can survive two or three months without criticising them or each other, they will slowly begin to help again. This time it will be their initiative and completely differently. Chores and pocket money
Parents often link chores and pocket money. They do this because they think their children must learn to earn the money.
Another view is that children are entitled to pocket money simply because they are children (-and have pockets!) The amount must obviously suit the parents' financial situation.
Sometimes, parents feel pressured into giving their children more pocket money than they are financially able to. Then they might say: "All right then, but now I also expect that you help out at home." This is, in fact, a juxtaposition of two very different phenomena: business and family life.
Many different chores both large and small are part of creating an atmosphere in the home. It is not unreasonable to expect that children gradually take responsibility for some of these. To expect and demand that everybody is part of creating this atmosphere has nothing to do with paid employment.
If you want your children to perform contract work, you could do the following: Give them a certain amount of pocket money and then allow them to earn extra money for doing various extra chores which you define. This provides clarity for your children and for you. The scheme relieves the children of the sense of guilt they feel when everything is provided for. The scope of the chores will be clearly defined and you will avoid the otherwise inevitable conflicts related to the idea of "helping" at home.
-By Jesper Juul (English adaptation by Hayes van der Meer, FamilyLab ANZ)Raising Competent Children: A new way of developing relationships with Children
International parenting authority Jesper Juul believes that today's families are at an exciting crossroad. The traditional authoritarian parenting style based on obedience and conformity that governs families is being transformed. In his internationally best-selling book Raising Competent Children (released in Australia in July), Jesper shows readers how to embrace a new set of values, based on the assumption that families must instead be built on dignity and reciprocity between the parent and child. Jesper believes that children are competent to express their feelings from birth, and are eager to co-operate as well as assume responsibility for their personal and social behaviour. Jesper says that as parents we must work on listening to and learning from our children. Raising Competent Children challenges parents to see the years with their children as an exciting time of growth and development for the whole family. Filled with examples from everyday life, this is a must-read for all parents and parents to be. Jesper Juul
is a family therapist and the founder of FamilyLab International. He is a renowned author and sought-after international speaker. Jesper Juul's international best-seller and must-have book for parents and educators is now available in an Australian/New Zealand edition: "Raising competent children".
For more information about Jesper Juul and FamilyLab please visit www.familylab.com.au
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