Now, it turns out there's a fairly simple way to get them to cooperate. This new technique (well, new to a lot of us, anyway) makes so much sense, you'll wonder why we all haven't been doing it already.
Here's the specific, two-part strategy, according to Michaeleen Doucleff, author of Hunt, Gather, Parent, along with why it's so beneficial both for you and for their later success in life.
Part 1: Welcome and encourage their help
Let's start with a scenario that Doucleff suggests in an article on NPR. Imagine that your 4-year-old child is eager to help make breakfast, so she "hops up on a stool and grabs the spatula from your hands."
How do you react? A busy parent might understandably correct her -- taking the spatula back, telling her that during a busy morning routine, Mommy or Daddy has to be the one to make breakfast.
But, over time, that can have an obvious and predictable effect, Doucleff writes, wearing down or discouraging your child from wanting to help again in the future. And isn't that the exact opposite of what we're trying to get them to do here?
Instead, as a parent, it's your job to ask for their help and even expect their help.
Especially, don't do things like send them to watch television while you clean the kitchen, or wait until they're out of the house and at school to straighten up and do chores. Those kinds of actions suggest that they'd be infringing on your job if they helped out. Instead, welcome them, involve them, and encourage them.
Part 2: Break down the tasks you ask them to do
That's great and all, you might say, but there's a big caveat. We all know a 4-year-old probably can't really cook breakfast, start to finish. Maybe it's not reasonable even to expect a 7-year-old to go and vacuum the floors.
So, the trick here is to break chores down into manageable, age-appropriate "subtasks."
You want them to be legitimately helpful, but the goal when your kids are young isn't so much to get them to complete the chores on your behalf, but instead to teach them to want to be helpful.
For example, you might conclude that it would be too much to ask a 5-year-old to go through the house and empty the trashcans. But you could break it down into subtasks -- maybe asking him or her to get the garbage bags from the closet, or to hold a door for you while you're carrying.
Or else, hand him or her a few plates on your way to set the table. Tell him or her you need them to go to the basement or your kitchen junk drawer to get tools or supplies for a project you're working on.
The overall goal: Offer smaller, manageable subtasks, and do it at a consistent pace. Some of the studies Doucleff reported on around the world suggest as many as three subtasks per hour, for younger children.
Yes, it might actually take longer, and require more work than if you just did the job on your own. But you're really doing two jobs: accomplishing the chore at hand and raising the kid.
Raise to be successful
It's great that you're going to get some help around the house out of this. Maybe eventually you'll be handing off real tasks. But the long-term payoff is real, and it's based on the findings of one of the longest and most famous longitudinal studies in history.
- Work ethic
Love is for another article, but work ethic is the one that's most appropriate here. And how do kids develop work ethic? They do chores.
[The Harvard Grant Study] found that professional success in life, which is what we want for our kids ... comes from having done chores as a kid. ... The earlier you started, the better. [A] roll-up-your-sleeves-and-pitch-in mindset, a mindset that says, there's some unpleasant work, someone's got to do it, it might as well be me ... that that's what gets you ahead in the workplace.
Get help around the house, make your life simpler in the long run, and prepare your kids for greater success. Not a bad outcome, backed by science.
Don't forget the free e-book How to Raise Successful Kids.