Don't just tell child to do chores show her how

Child Life

March 30, 1997|By Beverly Mills | Beverly Mills,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

We are having a difficult time teaching our 10-year-old daughter about chores. She'll agree to jobs, then she forgets or she does a poor job. We'd love to have some suggestions.

F. Howard

Eden Prairie, Minn.

It's not enough to say, "Go clean your room."

To end up with children who cheerfully march off to do their chores, parents and experts agree that you'll need to be willing to invest some effort yourself.

Start by explaining why it's important to do chores, teach your children what to do by breaking it down into steps and include them in deciding what their chores will be.

Without this direction, children are likely to shove their toys and clothes under the bed and call it quits.

"The parents need to walk with her to her room, look around and ask, 'What would make this room look better?' " says Elva Anson, author of "How to Get Your Kids to Help at Home," (Ballantine $3.99; Canada $4.99).

"The more children are involved, the more responsibility they'll take."

Ask your daughter to select two to three tasks she will do during the week, suggests Joan Brown, a mother from Brooklyn, N.Y.

"If you get her involved in the selection, it might change things," Brown says.

Children aren't born knowing how to do household jobs.

"If we have to physically show our 10-year-old how to bend at the waist and grasp and release objects and put them in the proper location, we'll do this however many times we need to do to carry out the task," says John Nelson, a father from El Paso, Texas. "It works."

What clean means

One parent from Gilbert, Texas, finds it necessary to define what a clean room is. It's also helpful to break down the chores into small, manageable steps, she says.

A child who thinks the best place for toys and clothes is under the bed isn't necessarily trying to do a poor job.

"A child's perception of a clean room is different than a parent's," says Anson, a counselor practicing in Fair Oaks, Calif.

Give the child the benefit of the doubt. Avoid a power struggle by offering encouragement by saying something like, "I can see the room does look better, but it will be difficult to retrieve what's under the bed," Anson says.

With any luck, children will begin to realize that organizing toys and clothes makes them easier to find. On the other hand, a room that hasn't been cleaned in six months is overwhelming.

"Once there's a certain amount of mess in a kid's bedroom, the task is too big," says Anthony E. Wolf, author of "It's not fair: Jeremy Spencer's Parents Let Him Stay Up All Night" (Noonday Press $10, Canada $14).

"You have to help them," says Wolf, who is in private practice in BTC Longmeadow, Mass. "The only way to keep the job from being too big is to build in the habit of picking up every day."

To get children to be that self-disciplined, parents need to decide what's reasonable for them to do, make it clear, then follow up, Wolf says. The amount of effort parents are willing to invest makes a big difference.

Don't give up

"Without threats or rewards, parents have to keep after the child until the task is done," he says. "It must be now, because later only gets into endless postponing."

If the child doesn't respond right away, keep at it, Wolf says. Parents often give up before the task becomes a routine.

Fussing about chores is part of being a kid, but don't get sidetracked by the inevitable fits. "It gets away from what you want them to do," Wolf says.

Persistence paid off for one parent from Rhode Island. Eileen Caramiciu, herself one of eight children who shared chores, began teaching her two kids the basics of laundry when they were about 7. Now as teen-agers, they wash and fold all of their own clothes.

Many families have good luck with job charts. Linking the results to an allowance is popular, but Wolf and Anson say praise is better in the long run. Keeping allowance as a separate issue fosters the idea that everyone needs to make contributions to the family.

How do you set limits for a fifth-grader? I think this is very much an issue right around puberty.

Shelly Luke

San Francisco

Parents of preteens must set clear rules for behavior, but they must also be willing to negotiate with their youngsters a little. It's kind of like being the lawyer and the judge all at once.

"It's a period of power struggle," says C. Wayne Jones, a psychologist on staff at the Child Guidance Center of the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

At this age children begin to think in more critical and complex ways, Jones says. While this provides children with the tools to begin thinking for themselves -- an important adult skill -- it also gives them the ability to make family life turbulent.

"It means they're better able to argue with parents because they can see the gray areas now," Jones says. "It'll be a little more difficult to say, 'This is it. Do it!' "

When you toss in the physical and hormonal changes of puberty, a child may seem to test every rule and limit of the household.

Problem solving

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