‘How can I start getting my children to help out at home?’
Many parent ask me this question. My answer is simple – “It depends!”
Achieving a behavioural change in children is dependent on their age and stage of development, their temperament and attitude, and how set in their ways they are.
Let’s look further at the above helping at home scenario. If the children are four years of age or younger then encouraging them to contribute to their family’s well-being is relatively easy. Most children want to help at home in the early years so it is a matter of parents providing opportunities for them to help and also showing them how they can assist in positive ways. Helping out and independence are habit-forming so the message for parents is start early and hang in there. Young children can help set and clear away meal areas, clear away their toys and help make their beds. Don’t get too fussed about the quality of their endeavours. They wear L-plates in the early years and the prime lesson for them is that they help their family and contribute to their own well-being.
Older children who may have done very little to help can be tough nuts to crack. How do you get a ten year old to help out if he or she has barely lifted a finger to assist in the previous decade? Basically, there are two methods parents can use to get some change in children when habits are entrenched. Either you try to achieve major change straight away or you work away at the margins to affect change.
A parent trying to promote independence in a child can go ‘cold turkey’ and insist that they get themselves up in the morning, make their own lunch, empty the dishwasher and do forth. This is a major change. Parents who take this approach frequently offer rewards such as pocket money or provision of special treats in exchange for help, however rewarders and bribers should be wary. Any parent offering rewards in exchange for help will need deep pockets as today’s jellybeans soon becomes an electronic toy or something equally expensive. Besides they are teaching children to think ‘what’s in this for ME, rather than WE. ’ Such parents may be replacing one habit (dependence) with another (self-centredness). !!. I suggest that parental insistence that their children help backed up by sincere and genuine appreciation when they have done the right thing are strong motivators for most kids.
Alternatively, parents can work at the margins and get their children to help little by little. For instance, packing their own lunch may precede making it. Unpacking the cutlery may precede emptying the whole dishwasher. Cleaning ten toys away may precede cleaning the whole room if they have never done it before. Using this method the helping habits sneaks up on children and takes them by surprise.
Either approach is legitimate however sometimes when parents meet with resistance from children or change seems so overwhelming it is better to play around at the margins and go for small changes. We often use the same principle to put some order in our lives when everything seems chaotic. Sometimes just cleaning the clutter away in a bedroom or tidying a desk can help us feel in control and a little clearer when life seems totally disorganised.
Working away at the margins is a strategy many parents have used successfully when they want to get some behavioural change happening at home. Even if children seem totally out of control look for small areas where you achieve some change. Maybe start with them using better manners when they talk with you or insisting they sit at the meal table until everyone has finished. Often small successes bring monumental improvements. Positive change tends to have a snowball affect. Like a snowball rolling down a slope it gathers momentum and increases in size very rapidly.
So what is your usual change strategy? If you get overwhelmed and don’t know where to start then try starting small and working away at the margins. Start where you know you can experience some success and the change will accelerate.
Michael Grose is a popular parenting educator and parent coach. He is the director of Parent Coaching Australia, the author of six books for parents and a popular presenter who speaks to audiences in Australian Singapore and the USA. For free courses and resources to help you raise happy kids and resilient teenagers visit http://www.parentingideas.com.au