You have gotten to the point where you can no longer take care of everything by yourself. Your family has grown. Life is more complicated than when you had only one or two toddlers around the house. It is now more of a necessity than a luxury for your children to help.
Moreover, even if you could afford full-time domestic help, you would still want your children to take care of some household chores. After all, pitching in to lend a hand at home builds character, promotes maturity and teaches children how to become responsible adults.
The only fly in the ointment is: How on earth can you manage to get them to cooperate?
WHAT GOES WRONG
You have tried before, many times. More often than you would care to admit, however, you failed to get your children to go along with the program. Sometimes your children balked at the mere suggestion of their helping out at home.
"I'm too tired." "Does it have to be now?" "Why do you always pick on me? Can't you ask someone else to help you?" "I have to study for a major test tomorrow. Would you rather I fail the test and help you or study for and pass the test?"
At other times, you gained your children's begrudging verbal consent ("Oh, all right.") and then they failed to follow through and complete the task. When confronted, they were loaded with excuses.
"I meant to do it. I just forgot." "The ball game took longer than I thought." "Why didn't you remind me?" "I didn't know you wanted me to start this week." "I was going to take care of it. But then I wasn't sure exactly how you wanted me to do it. And since I didn't want to upset you by doing it wrong, I figured I'd better wait until you get home so I could ask you."
In order to successfully gain your children's cooperation with household chores, you need to take as many of the following steps as possible.
Step #1: Make a list of all jobs that need to be done.
Some parents prefer to work more spontaneously. They like to take care of whatever comes up, without a plan and without any predetermined order. That is a completely valid approach to working on any project — as long as you are working alone. Once you need children to help, you must learn to plan ahead.
Step #2: Divide your list into two categories: those items that can be completed only by you and those items which could be delegated to one or more of your children.
Items on your list will be done "correctly" (i.e., completely according to your standards) only if you do them yourself. So you may need to sacrifice perfection in order to achieve a little more cooperation from your children.
Step #3: Decide which child is best suited for each task.
In making your decision, bear in mind that some chores require more responsibility than others. As a result, the age and maturity level of each child must be taken into account when assigning tasks. For example, you would not ask a 4-year-old to peel potatoes or polish silver. But you could ask him or her to pick up toys from the floor or place napkins on the table.
Step #4: Delegate each chore as clearly as possible.
Do not leave room for doubt, guessing or interpretation. In order to insure the highest possible level of compliance, be sure to communicate your assignments according to the following guidelines.
• Be concrete and specific. Do not use vague terms such as "soon," "more," "not too late," or "some." Be very clear about exactly what task you want performed, how you want it done and by when you want it completed.
For example, spell out exactly how many potatoes must be peeled, which silver items need to be polished and where you want the soda bottles stored. Do not assume that any child will understand your expectations without being told.
• Give as much advanced notice as possible and include a timetable for completion. Inevitably, some of the help you need at home takes the form of, "Please bring me the wipes right now." For that type of immediate assistance, you will not be able to give "advanced notice." But if all the help you need is the "without notice" variety, you will not get the maximum cooperation at home.
Everyone has a schedule of his or her own. And children are no exception. This one has a major test tomorrow. That one made a prior commitment to study with a friend, while still another child arranged to go shopping with a classmate today.
It is always easier to fit a task into your schedule when you know in advance what will be required of you. To get the most out of each household assistant, therefore, you must try to respect their schedules as much as possible by anticipating your needs and assigning tasks with a wide window of opportunity for completion.
Try to avoid situations that will require you to raise your voice and shout, "I need you to run to the cleaners right now and pick up our dry cleaning before they close in 15 minutes!" It would be much more effective if you plan ahead so that you can say it this way. "Please arrange your schedule so that you can pick up our dry cleaning by Tuesday afternoon, at the latest."
• Be firm and direct. "Could someone please bring up another box of eggs from the basement?" may be easier for you to say. That is, however, a very indirect command. Each child will invariably assume, "You probably did not mean me." It would be more effective, however, if you would name the child you would like to retrieve the eggs for you.
If you need it now, don't say, "when you get a chance." If you need your child to do something for you, don't make it sound as if you are giving him or her a choice. Assignments can always be negotiated. And they need not be imposed autocratically. But the language should, nevertheless, be unyielding and not wishy washy.
• Elicit a verbal commitment for all tasks to be completed in the future. If you need something done tomorrow or by next Thursday, be sure the person who has accepted the responsibility verbally acknowledges that (s)he will take care of it. "I heard you" is not sufficient. "O.K., I'll do it" is much better. "I'll pick up the clothing from the cleaners by Tuesday afternoon," is the best.
Step #5: Monitor compliance and follow up with appropriate reinforcements.
If you do not follow up on your helpers, you send them a very bad message. By failing to monitor the completion of assignments, you are communicating to your children that the work they were asked to do was not really that important. Or, you give them the impression that their contribution was insignificant and taken for granted. Either way, you will discourage them from helping in the future.
Upon supervising each assignment you will find that some were completed satisfactorily and on time, while others were not. Each and every satisfactory completion must be acknowledged. The verbal approval you express costs you nothing. The benefit you will receive, however, is priceless.
Anyone who helped you deserves a thank-you. It is common decency which, unfortunately, may be all too uncommon today. A bigger and better job, of course, warrants a bigger and better expression of appreciation. But regardless of the size of the task, all assistance should be properly acknowledged.
When assignments are not completed on time, or worse, not completed at all, you face a more difficult challenge. At such times you must walk a tightrope, avoiding abrasive displays of resentment, on the one hand, while steering clear of minimizing the transgression on the other.
You must let the children who failed to complete their jobs know that you are disappointed. They need to hear from you that your entire family -- not just you alone -- may be inconvenienced as a result of their dereliction. Sometimes the inconvenience will be minor. Other times it may be major. But at all times the dereliction will undermine the spirit of cooperation which is so vital to family harmony and togetherness.
Finally, you must review with the child how this failure occurred. Your purpose here is not simply to put him or her on a guilt trip. Rather, by walking through the steps which led to his/her failure to complete the chore, you can point out the underlying poor judgment that contributed to the negligence.
It does take patience, planning and more patience to gain your children's cooperation with household chores. The enormous benefits to you and your children, however, will make it all worthwhile.