Whenever I've tasked my two children with a new chore, it never fails that within a week, they've gone from willing, if not eager, helper to aggreived, mutinous laborer.
At first, whatever new chore I present to them is novel and exciting. They are downright giddy to complete it, but somehow – no matter what the activity – they quickly recognise that it's meant to be helpful and thus no fun at all.
This realisation is particularly frustrating, considering these are kids who spend 15 minutes belaboring between two identical sidewalk rocks and who find endless joy in watching the same 30-second GoNoodle video on a loop for hours straight – so it's not as if they have more pressing things to do or too cultivated taste.
Finally, after my 6-year-old complained about a task – which was to put the clean, folded clothes I laid out atop her dresser into the drawers – that she'd been stalling to complete for three days in a row, I decided to try a new tactic.
I said: "So, I know you think it's a lot of work to put your clothes into the drawers. It's boring to you. I understand. But, do you know how those clothes got there?"
To drive my point home, I ended with this: "All I ask of you is to do the very last step ... Do you see why I get frustrated when you say it's too much work or takes too long?"
I explained to her the full scope of how her clean clothes appeared there: "So, I take everything that's in your and your sister's hamper, and I even walk around your room and round up undies and T-shirts that are on the floor, and then I put that all in the washing machine. I turn it on, it washes your clothes, and then, when it's done, I stop what I'm doing, and I go and take everything out, and I move it to the drawer. But first, I remember to check your favourite dress with the chocolate ice cream stain to make sure it's clean. If it's not, I'll wash it again. So, then, everything gets dried, and when that is done. I stop what I am doing, and I take everything out, and I fold all of the clothes. I match up socks, and I sort PJ tops and bottoms. I separate your clothes from your sister's. Then I take all those folded clothes, and I put them right on top of the dresser."
To drive my point home, I ended with this: "All I ask of you is to do the very last step. What I have to do takes hours, but your step should only take you a few minutes. Do you see why I get frustrated when you say it's too much work or takes too long?"
She certainly wasn't thrilled to hear about the life cycle of laundry, but she did nod in agreement and put her clothes away diligently.
The next day, my youngest fussed about setting the table for dinner. I tried the same explanation, outlining the many tasks that her parents check off when getting ready for dinner.
"We have to decide what food we are going to want to eat, and then we write down a list of all the ingredients we need that we don't have at home. Then Dad goes to the grocery store and finds all those things from the list, puts them in a shopping cart, and pays for them. Then, when it's time to cook a meal, he gets all those ingredients out. He measures them, and he cuts all the vegetables and cooks the food. All we ask you to do is to set the table with a placemat, napkin, and silverware, and to clear your plate when you are done eating. Then, Dad goes and washes all the pots and pans and runs the dishwasher, and then stops what he is doing to put the clean dishes away."
Even my 4-year-old understood that even if she didn't like her chore, she didn't really have much of a counter-argument.
Of course, my kids have since balked at putting away their clothes or clearing their plates, but I usually only have to get one sentence in to my comprehensive look at the chore before they give a resigned "OK" and do their part.
This technique has worked to get my kiddos to make their beds, to put away their toys, and to help clean up after arts-and-crafts projects. I usually only have to give the to-do list rundown once before they hop to it.
And, although at first, it feels like a whole big conversation, it sure beats repeating the short-and-snappy version ("clean your room!") 37 times to no avail.
The goal of this method isn't to magically get my children to find joy in chores or to take on these tasks with a smile plastered on their faces. I get it – it's no fun to stop whatever you enjoy doing to tackle some tedious obligation. That's the reason why I'm avoiding dealing with the dirty dishes cluttering the sink as we speak. I don't want to do them, either. But I'm willing to do them to keep our home running smoothly.
To that end, it is my goal to teach my children that they have a role to play in the things that make our family function – that we're a team and that we parents do our parts. We just need them to do theirs, too.