The Dirty Little Secret about Children and Chores

Do your children make enormous messes?

Are you feeling overwhelmed with those creative messes?

Does it feel like the mess will never end?

You are not alone. Many moms today feel the same way.

I had children that were imaginative and they mobilized anything they could find to build vast cities across the family room floor. Eventually, every game had missing parts, puzzles had missing pieces, and remote controls lost their backs.

Popular parenting trends did nothing to help me here.

Yes, we did the chores, chore charts, the rewards, and the whole shebang! I believed in it! I bought into the promises, hook, line, and sinker! I had a four step getting started strategy:
1. I trained my children how to do the task.
2. Then did the task with them.
3. I observed them doing the task.
4. Then I assigned them to do the task alone. Yes, four days and I was done, they were on their own! They were girl age 3, boy age 5, and boy age 7 when we began. Yes, it trained them to work. Yes, the charts, which later dissolved into chore wars,  got compliance, sort of…

We did chores for well over a decade and a half! We tried weekly, monthly, quarterly, semi-annually, annual chores, and daily chores. We did check offs, at one point we paid, we gave privileges, and revoked privileges. We had entered the Chore Wars.

As more children were born to our family and I needed to train them. I observed my children working and tried to make adjustments. I tried using my "trained" older children to be mentors. But rather than mentoring and showing the way, they just told the younger ones what to do. That was not working as I planned…

I came to realize that this factory model (where adults with a adult brain get trained and do their job) was not appropriate for training little children. Adults have an adult brain, they apply for the position at a company or choose to create a business. If their job is not something they want to do, or it is not working, they can walk away and find something they want to do that can provide for their needs. Children have child brains. They are still developing. They still need training in good habits, organization, diligence, and regularity. The truth is, many adults missed this training and could use some training in habits too!

Children are not born organized. Their Executive Function takes years to develop. Usually children need to be trained in good habits to become organized. It is not something that happens automatically with their development. So, just because a child can make sense talking and is physically able, does not translate into independent quality work or that your child has the brain development and executive function to follow through. Basically, even if your child can talk, walk, read, and may "know how" or "know what" to do, he still may need the training in good habits to follow through and become regular at keeping systems going.

Task training does not = system training. Just ask most moms who "know how" and "what to clean," but struggle to keep the system of running a home going and consistent. Many moms had chores growing up.  Few had training in running the whole system. And they are adults!

Assigning chores, without habit training can lead to chore wars for many children and to compliance with others. It usually takes in the trenches shared work to develop the work ethic to regularly do what needs to be done and to develop the executive function to do so.

There is a dirty little secret that chore enthusiast on Pinterest often neglect to tell parents who are struggling with children to get them to work independently.

SECRET: Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh children need habit training and lots of it!

My youngest daughter pointed out it is much like potty training. Training children to work, takes more effort than showing them how. Children are not born that way. It takes time to teach and help them develop good habits!

Along with habit training, children also need supervision according to the Proverbs 29:15 "… but a child left [to himself] bringeth his mother to shame."(the first half of the verse is a topic for another post). I am not talking about helicopter parenting. I am not talking about adults over structuring every moment of children's lives. Children do need opportunity for unstructured creative imaginative play. I am not talking about a over structured childhood, though home structure is important! Younger children, especially need our presence. They need us to play with them and keep an eye on them. They need us to work with them!

When children are learning to play with an item, we can encourage, train, and assist them to put it away when they are finished, to find all the pieces, before pulling out the next toy or activity. We need to help them pick up and put away when they decide to mobilize everything for creative play. Thus training them how to clean and helping them develop the habits of picking up. Sometimes we just need ask ourselves if we want to be care takers of all of those toys.

What should we do with the preschool aged child while we prepare meals and clean?

  • Resist the urge to have them entertained with screens or too many toys.
  • Resist the urge to show them how to do a task and then expect that they will do it alone.
  • Resist the urge to let them have free latitude of when to do tasks. They will slide into having to decide each time when to do a task and if it will happen. This devalues the task and elevates in priority all they want to do. They start to do things when they are in the mood. Another word for mood is motivation. Chore charts and complex systems of reward may seem to motivate initially, but soon lose their pull.

    A friend calls chore charts: "new brooms." She says new brooms always seem to work well."

A lot of people feel their problem is lack of motivation, when it is often simply a lack of self-discipline, which is a choice.

We need to train our children by working with them! They need us to take the time to patiently and lovingly guide their hands in work, walking them through the routines, working along side them, until they have the habits. If we do this, our children will not only learn to work, but learn to work as effectively, efficiently, at the quality level, and timeliness that we do. Most children who grow up doing family work, do more work with less than many of those who are just assigned chores. They also learn initiative from our example.

Where do you start?

1. Begin now with your personal routines to Ditch the Stress.

2. Then help your family Ditch the Stress by training them in general cleaning systems of the home, one at a time.  Train Up A Child in family work is the next step. Help them learn to get meals on the table, clean up afterwords, fold laundry, work in the garden, preserve the harvest and cleaning the car.

3. Once you have ditched your stress for about 90 days, you can work on establishing deep cleaning routines of Zones. The 90 days of cleaning what "bugs you the most," will make an incredible difference in your home. In fact, in as little as two weeks you will notice a big difference. When you begin the zones, try to limit deep cleaning to quiet time, early mornings (when other will not interrupt you), or in the evenings when your husband can spend time with his children.

4. As children begin to have good habits and are over eight years old their habits should be strong. Most children (but not all) are developmentally ready by the end of third grade to move to the next level of training. Then start taking one child at a time to apprentice you in your daily zone deep cleaning routine. By now they should have sound work habits and knows the general cleaning systems of the home.

5. After four to six years working along side you in the zone deep cleaning systems of your home they should be able to run the home, or any system in the home. They would be ready for the stewardship of one system.

6. At this point they would also be ready for entrepreneurship and working for others.

Even if you were never trained in habits, you can develop habits now. Take baby steps. Be patient with yourself. Then help your children develop good habits. When you get frustrated with your child, think about how organization and habits are difficult for you. There just is no silver bullet. Be patient with your children as they develop.

Remember the dirty little secret- children need lots of training (and so do a lot of adults).

You can do this. Focus on each victory!

Here is a link to an article "Training Up A Child: How to Have a Clean Homeschool." It talks about how to train children to work in a way that dovetails with their development.

These are my discoveries over 38 years of parenting.  

What have you discovered  about "training children in the way they should go" that is NOT a "new broom" and has seen you through the years?

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below

Leave a Reply: