As a child, I grew up in a joint family in a household with seven family members, three constant house-guests and visitors all the time. I used to have Thursdays and Sundays off from school, besides a half day on Saturdays. Each Thursday, from the time I was four, I would rearrange my little cupboard of clothes. I didn’t have much, but what I had, I kept neatly. I used to love watering the plants in our garden. I would enjoy helping with things in the kitchen, shelling peas, cleaning rice and other grains, rolling out the dough in weird shapes to make rotis, put away washed dishes, hang out little clothes to dry and help my aunt fetch things from the store room. I loved washing clothes and playing in the water.
During the weekends, my uncles would wash the floors with soap and I would enjoy helping them sponge down the doors and windows. Not sure how much I helped, but I certainly enjoyed participating, imitating and being complimented on a job well done. They encouraged me along, ever so gently.
Today, I believe everything is possible. Or put another way, nothing is impossible. I am confident.
Why children need chores
Children need chores to build their confidence and their sense of responsibility to make them independent. It helps them develop compassion, teaching them valuable life-skills. It is all too easy to let them off the hook and do it all ourselves, but easing children into taking ownership for household chores – gently, lovingly pays off huge dividends. For one thing, it is great fun to have the whole family laughing and enjoying doing things together. For another, it is such a relief to know that they can fend for themselves, because no one is indispensable.
I was actually going to write about developing immunity in children, but decided to write about developing responsibility, thanks to a conversation at a parents’ meeting the other day. I love these gatherings because there’s so much to learn and share – and give our guilt glands a rest. Even if we know that there is no such thing as a perfect parent, we can’t help trying. We don’t want anyone to point a finger at our children or find fault, even if we know there’s no such thing as a perfect child!
So the next best thing is to do our best – and one of the ways is making them responsible. The good news is, most children naturally want to be independent as toddlers as their natural curiosity motivates them to try things on their own. When they feel respected and competent, they become emotionally strong. As parents, it is not unnatural for us to coddle our kids, but we also have a duty to make them independent.
Chores can be fun
Allocate age-appropriate duties and add to them as they grow. Just like the school syllabus. The good news is – stuff that seem like housework to us can be fun for kids. So when my son was three years old, he would happily put away the dishes after I washed them. That he transferred them to the floor in the next ten minutes is a different story, but one we were able to take to a happy ending.
As he grew up my son showed an enthusiasm for various things and I found that when he was told sweetly, and given a list, things worked. Around the time he was five, he could clear up after play, wash his plate, fold his clothes, bring things from the fridge, collect and put clothes in the hamper, wear a pair of socks on his hands and dust, water the plants and segregate vegetables and put them in fridge bags.
By the time he was 8, he could help with other things around the house. Life went on happily.
But as he grew older, and as school homework, projects, programs and music classes grew, life became more hectic and his chores took a backseat. I used to get mad at him and complain that I had to do everything. It was also a tough time for me at home, with my Mom’s health turning critical. Then during a short vacation around the time he was 12, I decided there was no point getting mad and decided to do something constructive.
So I made a list of all that went into running our house and told him to pick the chores he could do, just to see what he would do. I also wanted him to set times, so that I didn’t have to remind him. Oh yes, I fell back on my list fetish. And guess what? I was pleasantly surprised at all that he took responsibility for. If there’s one thing I am grateful for, it is my husband’s support. Together, we’ve gently encouraged our son to ease back into doing things. So now, at 15, here are just some of the things he does:
- Makes the beds
- Gets breakfast for himself
- Starts the washing machine thrice a week (I hang out the clothes to dry, unless it is a holiday)
- Washes his socks and undies after school
- Helps plan meals for the week and shop for ingredients
- Cleans bathrooms once a week
- Ensures sheets and curtains are changed once a week
- Takes care that his bookshelves (there are many) and clothes cupboard are in order
- Takes care of his schoolwork and projects
- Helps with shopping and even if I forget the list at home, remembers what is on it
- Helps with keeping the house clean
I’ve started him off on keeping track of what we spend each month so he gets a sense of budgeting. And he has a year-planner – it is his job to make a note of bill due dates. Overall, he’s in sync with what is happening around the house and is eager to know more.
What I learned along the way:
- It is important to be specific with instructions
- Introduce each chore one by one
- Be patient
- Be tolerant
- Know it is okay not to be perfect – sometimes the intention matters just as much
- Make sure things are done regularly. One off doesn’t count
- Praise, praise, praise
- For extra-ordinary initiative, reward.
- Allocate age-appropriate chores
Recently, when Sury and I fell sick with food-poisoning, he looked after us lovingly and knew what to give us to eat, etc.
We often underestimate what our kids can do. We just have to use the right language, be kind in action and reaction. Sometimes it is okay to stage a situation so they can take action and feel confident. It can be a slow process, and there will be challenging phases. But it is all worth it. It is a collaborative effort and with practice, all is well.
How do you tackle this in your family?