You probably know the situation. It is time to clean your house for Passover or spring and all you can do is sit, look at the house and feel overwhelmed. If you are anything like me, someone who doesn't like cleaning at the best of times, you know how hard it is to get yourself going. Let alone having your children help you out in the process. And yet, help out they should, no matter the age.
Before you dive back into scrolling your phone for distractions, let me tell you that I am not going to give you advice or tips that I have not tried and lived up to myself. I promise you that I too have lost my patience, thrown up my hands in despair and thought “I will just do it myself”. However, there are a number of reasons why letting your children help in the end does not just help yourself, it also helps your children. Your children doing chores is not just good for you, since you do not have to do everything yourself, it also helps them!
When children are involved in the upkeep of the house, they are involved in the making of a home. A home is not just the place you live in, rather the sense of family, of being part of a team that gives security. Having to act and being a responsible member of that team adds to that security. It creates a sense of cohesiveness.
There are a number of skills children develop by helping out in the home. That is, if we set up the circumstances in such a way that that can take place.
One of the most important skills for success in life, be it school or business, is planning skills. In addition to not being focused only on details, we need the ability to see the larger picture. It is easy and very seductive to simply tell your children what they have to do. “Clean your room”, “Organize your cupboard”, “Empty out your bag”, we have all heard ourselves say these things. But where is the planning aspect in this? Right, there is none and the bigger picture is hidden for sure.
Start with having a sit down with all the members of your family. It works with all ages, though the input will of course depend on the age. Brainstorm what everyone thinks needs to be done. Which is something that can be done both for big cleaning jobs like Passover cleaning and daily chores. Once you have the big list, your family will have the big picture, the overall idea.
To work on planning skills, have each person choose the job that they want to do. Discuss with each other what needs to be done for this specific task. What do you need, where do you start? It sounds like a time investment, but it will pay off in more than one way in the end. Many children when faced with a big job do not know where to start, be it a big job in school like a test, homework or an activity in the class. By discussing where to start you help your child choose beginning points. When we feel overwhelmed it is the ability to know where to begin that often trips us up.
It may happen that your little one wants to do a chore that is above their skill level. Let them! Pair them up with an older, helpful sibling or have them do it together with you. Celebrate their willingness.
Doing chores in the house and helping with big cleanings is an excellent way to learn to be alright with mistakes and develop problem solving skills. So, so many kids are afraid to make mistakes and think that only the perfect answer or product is what counts. We can say “in order to learn you need to make mistakes” but this is easier said than done. Cleaning time will most likely not happen without mistakes or perfectly all the time. When that bucket spills over because someone is not looking where they are going, don’t get upset but ask what would have been a better solution (probably putting the bucket in a different spot), or when the window is washed with stripes all over the place, ask what they could have done differently (they likely did not check their work, which may be a habit in schoolwork too). The more you repeat that mistakes are made to be learned from, the better the message sticks. Plus, by looking at “what” the mistake was problem solving skills are developed. Problem solving skills are hard to develop if you do not learn to look at exactly what the problem is or if problems are quickly taken care of for you. As frustrating as the incidents can be, if you can hold back on jumping in and quickly doing something yourself, you will reap the benefits later.
In our home we set timers for the amount of time we will clean in a focused way. The music is turned on with golden oldies and we sing loud while we clean. When the timers go off, we dance, have a snack or set a timer to just relax and do nothing for a while. We also reward our children when we are doing a big cleaning. Not with money (though they would have loved that). but with time together and doing things that they love. Could be as simple as ordering pizza. Having a picnic at the end of the day. Watching a movie together, or whatever else they come up with. In the end, together time where you do not do anything else but truly are with them, without your phones, computers, work or other distraction is what they want the most. And in our case, it is still like this even though they are teenagers by now. And the funny part? Now they are the ones that come with lists the moment bigger cleanings need to happen. We are the ones that get assigned jobs by them.
Like I said before, cleaning is my least favorite activity. The reason I had and have the kids always help was because I kept my eyes on the prize: skills, a sense of responsibility and accomplishment, and preparing them to be independent people that know how to take care of themselves.