This week I tackle the issue of introducing chores and allowance. A parent writes…
How do I begin to engage my kids in helping out around the house. I don’t want to do a reward system or have any tasks linked to money. I want to be able to lead by example (which I am trying) however I would like to start encouraging some responsibility (helping put their dish in the sink, take some responsibility of their toys and specific items. I have read a lot on different postings on the FB respectful parenting group and some people have a view that it is not their responsibility- the adults bring these items into the environment etc. I definitely understand that perspective however I am still trying to honor my feelings of helping my kids understand the value and power of being responsible and ultimately organization and efficiency as an adult. I myself am working on these tasks and verbally have expressed that to my boys. For example: “Rhys and Colin if you see that I haven’t put my books/papers/shoes in their spot they belong, let me know. We are working together to keep our home nice and comfortable”. What are your thoughts?
So…this is such a great question and I have several points I’d like to make. First, I’d like to just acknowledge your desire to keep any external and monetary incentives out of the whole approach to housework, and keep the focus on a shared, collaborative effort to make your home comfortable for everyone! This is the perfect way to frame things for young children because it is based on logical consequences (toys all over the floor=tripping hazards etc.), and gives them ample opportunities to develop a sense of belonging and ownership in your shared space. It should be that a family works together to help make the home not just habitable, but comfortable and uniquely yours. It also promotes intrinsic motivation, which creates a deeper sense of meaning for children regarding things like chores and encourages self-driven discovery and mastery as they grow. For more on that look here.
Sometimes what sparks the idea of an allowance is when children this age start to become aware of, and interested in money. It’s important to note that this concept is still very abstract for them. If they have expressed an interest in saving for a toy etc. it’s best to offer a small allowance without any strings attached.
(I can hear some people now “but HOW will they learn about the value of it if we don’t teach them?” or “I want them to learn to be responsible with money now!” or even “I don’t want to give them money for nothing.”)
This is the argument that I could understand if we were talking about teenagers, but not young children. I think at this stage in their development it’s important to follow their interest if they have brought it up, and answer their questions in age appropriate ways. And the truth is, they are still dependent on us and will be for quite some time. They don’t need any lessons on how to manage money now…it’s a skill they will grow into as they get older. I think it’s wonderful to give them small amounts of money freely, because everything in a young child’s world revolves around PLAY…even having and spending money.
I think you hit the nail on the head by saying you want to “lead by example.” Modeling being organized and efficient (or any other quality or behavior we’d like to impart) for children is crucial to their ability to internalize and embody those skills. I believe in a balanced approach to cleaning up and don’t swing too far on either the authoritarian (“clean up now or else!”) or permissive (“I’ll take care of everything”) side. I think it’s important to involve young children in the conversations and solutions that happen around what it takes to keep up a household.
Where it gets extra tricky are those times when they flat out REFUSE to clean up.
This is where trust comes in. And even more modeling. It also provides an opportunity to assess what all the factors at play are, and try to see things from their perspective.
Here is what I mean.
Sometimes children get genuinely overwhelmed by the sheer amount of toys to put away…do they maybe have too many and it’s time to put some in storage or donate them? Or perhaps they are tired, or hungry or simply don’t want to…is that okay with you? That’s an important thing to explore and get grounded in.
Do you think they need more time, or better systems in place (i.e. baskets to throw toys into etc.), or would they maybe benefit from making a plan to do the task at later time? The question arises…can you let it go in the moment and rely on faith that they will eventually grow up to be responsible? Or do you want to set a firm boundary and make this a non-negotiable in your house?
Whichever you choose, proceed with conviction and acknowledge and empathize with them if and when they grumble about it.
Mostly I would just be lighthearted about it, and offer to pitch in if they seem overwhelmed. Having it be a connected, family-centered activity where there is laughter, playfulness and cooperation (on your part) can often help alleviate any battles or tension that arise. Best of luck!
For a great article on introducing chores in a positive way look here.