Contributed by Jody McVittie
Quite a few of the families I consult with struggle with the notion of children doing some of the family work. Sometimes it is because it’s just plain hard to get your child to set the table or load the dishwasher and we get tired of reminding. Sometimes it is because of a belief that it’s the adult’s job to do all of the family work and to let the children play. I think it is better to share both work and play.
What do family jobs teach?
• Skills. When children are expected to set the table, load the dishwasher, help with laundry, take care of pets and or cook they learn important basic life skills. As they get older, think about the kinds of skills you’d like your children to have before they leave home. What kinds of jobs could they have to practice those skills? Paying bills? Cooking dinner once a week? Doing the grocery shopping?
• A sense of contribution – and that every contribution matters. When we rely on our children to contribute to the family they develop a sense that what their contribution is valuable. I still remember one evening when, in an attempt to “help” my young daughter, I set the table for her. I remember my surprise when she got angry at me for doing “her job” and it took me a little while to realize that I had taken away one of the ways she gave back to the family.
• A sense of competence. As children get better and better at the job they have learned they develop the sense of competence.
• A sense of responsibility. When we rely on children to do their part they develop an internal sense of responsibility. This is something that isn’t taught through lecturing or telling, but simply by the routine of doing family work on a regular basis. Sharing family work immunizes children against entitlement.
How can adults make this easier?
• It isn’t easy. Face it, it takes time, consistency, patience and many reminders to develop the routine of shared family work. (And more patience.)
• Start small and take time for training. Start with one regular (daily) job per child and making sure that they have practiced it before they are on their own. You can add more as you go along.
• Use visual reminders. Having a job chart or job list is helpful for both parents and children. The more your child(ren) can be involved in the chart the more helpful it will be.
• Be careful with language. “It is six o’clock, what was our agreement?” or “It is time to set the table” both convey the understanding that of course, your child knows his/her job and will do it. “Will you please set the table?” may give the implication that nothing needs to be done until you ask.
• Work together. When everyone is doing their jobs at the same time while singing or dancing it is a whole lot more fun.
Remember to share play too. It is important to play together too. Cards, games, outside, inside. Away from technology so that you have face to face time to share joy with your children.
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