Catch the Wave: Helping Kids Help Around the House

On Sunday evening I was doing some chores in the house, getting things ready for the upcoming week.

I came downstairs to find my 7 year-old mopping the kitchen floor.  He had our bucket, our mop and was hard at work.

I am not telling you this to brag about how helpful my son is around the house.

Really it is the opposite.  He does not like to clean his room.  If you look in it right now you would find a mix of Lego pieces, torn up paper, markers and dirty clothes littering the floor.  He tends to create mess and not clean it up.  He tends to lose his library books and the small pieces from his board games.  I spend a fair amount of time reminding him to clean his room.  It does not really help matters.

But I made a decision when I saw him mopping.

This was my chance to catch the wave and help him help around the house.  I have been looking for this opportunity.

Let me explain…

Truthfully my first reaction (which I kept to myself) was to imagine disaster because, well, let us just say that I have reason to imagine that my kitchen might be flooded despite the best intentions of my son.

But he has always liked to play with water and soap.  And well, I calculated, why not support putting this interest to good use.

He was not necessarily doing the job the way I would do the job.  He had dumped dish soap in the bucket.  He had not swept first. There were, ah, maybe more bubbles than I would have liked.

But I bit my tongue and kept it to myself.

I made a big deal about how helpful he was being and how much I appreciated it. And then I got out of the way.

My son beamed and got right back to work.  He actually ended up doing a pretty good job. Not perfect but pretty good.

The next day we talked about it.  I asked him if he wanted mopping to be a way he helped out in the house.  I praised him up and down.  He beamed again.  I told him, if he wanted, I could teach a few ways to do it even better.  The next day, without prompting, he mopped the floor again.

Now, his room is still a mess.  But I am consciously ignoring this for now because it is just a way to get trapped in the nag cycle with my son.

I am catching the wave.  And I have clean floors!

How to catch the wave and help your child help around the house in your family:

1)   Figure out what your child really likes to do and support that as a way to contribute to the household.  Sometimes it will be very obvious (see above) and sometime it will take a little creative digging.

2)   Let them do the preferred chore imperfectly.  Let them do it how they do it. At least at first.  Let go of perfection.

3)   Praise them.  Be specific about how this is helping out the family and the household.  Remember, even beyond the value of the chore in the short-term is the long-term value of idea that everyone contributes and helps out in a family.

4)   Let go of other chores that are more of a struggle (for now).  I am doing this with my son’s room.  Of course we will need to clean it up.  But it is unlikely that he will do that on his own.  At least temporarily I will make the things that are hard let’s do it together chores.  This is especially important for children with executive functioning issues.  They need to learn how to clean their rooms.  It does not actually come naturally.  They can only learn if you do it together.

5)   Let go of the nagging.  It is probably not getting you anywhere.  Change the conversation.  So that the focus is on what they are doing right.

Remember, for the most part children and teens want to be helpful.   Let’s help them be contributing family members in their own way.