“Why Do I Have to Make My Bed?” by Wade Bradford


Another Monday, another “to-do-list” for many of us. As grown-ups, we’ve learned not to question the obvious. Chores need to be done. Everyone has chores to do. But for a child,  every to-do comes with a naive attempt to veto. “Why do I have to always pick up my toys?” My almost-four-year-old asks routinely. I patiently respond that it’s the only fair, that those who make a mess, also clean it up. With more or less fussing,  sooner or later, he proceeds with putting his toys away.

I fully believe in the power of chores. I think that having responsibilities, even at a young age, helps a child to become a responsible adult. And don’t we need more of those! Responsibilities help a child to practice their self-discipline and feel a part of a family. But there are a few things worth remembering, if we want the chores to be effective.

1. Chores should be assigned to-measure.

You can’t expect a preschooler to do laundry and your teenager can surely do more than making their bed. I remember running errands, helping with my younger siblings or doing dishes, among others. My brothers helped a lot with the vegetable garden, which my parents year by year over-planted. Helping our parents seemed natural to us. (We did have our grudges, though, but for different reasons.) Now that I have my own child, I want him to view chores as a natural thing as well. Dad has chores, mom has chores and so does Victor. It’s his responsibility to pick up his toys, but he also helps me with groceries, watering plants and unloading the dishwasher. He is in charge of the silverware. Depending on his mood, he tries to voice his grudges about all the “hard work” he has to do, yet, the positive action follows.

2. Chores should be a part of routine and executed consistently. 

When me and my brothers were growing up, we never knew exactly what our chores were. We were supposed to be readily available to help our parents, in whatever they whimsically decided to do that day. Or that moment. It meant total disrespect for our own plans, and as a result, lots of grudges.  It felt like undeserved punishment. Now that I am a parent myself, I know better. A child needs to know what belongs to his chores and he should learn to perform them routinely.

3. Children need to know why they are asked to do their chores.

I had to do the chores to help my parents. It was almost enough to motivate me. I chose to give my son a more profound explanation-motivator. When we take our preschooler grocery shopping or shopping, we always tell him how we appreciate his input when buying things, for example.  Sorting out the silverware goes without saying, but in the beginning, I was telling my son that him helping me to do the job faster, gives us both more time to play together.

4. Chores should appeal to children’s strengths and interests. 

One of my brothers loves to cook. Since he was young, he’s been helping with preparing meals. His hobby was a valuable contribution. My son, as every child, enjoys playing with water. Why not to make watering plants his chore? It is not hard on him, but it does serve as a tool to practice self-discipline.

5. Children should be rewarded for their contribution.

Everyone needs to feel appreciated for their work. Children are graded at school, grown-ups get bonuses at work. Children need to know that their help is valuable. The rewards can vary, depending on the job, but I am talking just about a simple “thank you”,  “you’ve done a good job” or “I wouldn’t have done it without you” comment. It fires up enthusiasm.

 

Yesterday we made a weekly chore chart with my son. It is supposed to remind him of his chores and be a proud visual of his contribution to our family life. Every completed chore gets a star, of course. Somehow, a star always works.

 

6. Parents should accept errors and embrace imperfections.

In other words, children’s level of perfectionism might, and almost always will, differ from their parents’, but we can’t discourage them by showing our dissatisfaction with their performance. They will learn by mistakes and in the meantime, their good will is all that matters.

 

 

If you need a pretext to introduce a concept of chores to your children, I recommend a great book, “Why Do I Have to Make My Bed?”  This humorous story brings the reader on an exciting journey in time, in order to show how our chores have evolved over the centuries. Children have always had to help their parents, and they have always asked “why?” But if you think that making your bed is a hard job, you might be surprised what a little Viking, a child in the Roman Empire or a cave child had to do. 

A hilarious take on the history of chores and greatly amusing pictures by Johanna van der Sterre. I do have two less positive comments, though. The book is a bit too lengthy and as a result gets quite boring half way through. Secondly, the book offers an amusing, but, in my opinion, highly questionable answer to why children have to do their chores. The response boils down to “Because I said so!” In my world, it is good for laughs, indeed, but doesn’t fit into my parenting strategy.

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