Sunday 21 July 2019

Why helping at home isn't a chore

Do you have a chores rota in your house? Research shows children who help around the home are more independent

Everybody do their share: Ann Murphy with her children, Abby, 9, and Sean, 7, who help out with chores in the family home. Photo: Damien Eagers.
Everybody do their share: Ann Murphy with her children, Abby, 9, and Sean, 7, who help out with chores in the family home. Photo: Damien Eagers.

Carmel Harrington

Who recognises this scenario? You've devoted hours of your day doing the laundry, cleaning and straightening up the house. But before you get the chance to bask in the glow of your shiny floors, the kids run amok and create a fresh new mess.

In an effort to regain some control at home, we've recently introduced chores to Amelia, six, and Nate, four. While they have always had little jobs, we felt it was time to formalise things. And the rewards for their efforts are given in the form of praise, high fives and a lot of hugs.

Segregating the recycling waste is their favourite task, and watching them wheel the bin up our drive once a week, is surprisingly cute.

I don't remember a time in my childhood that didn't include chores. It was just part and parcel of being in a busy, loving and sometimes chaotic family.

For the record, I also don't remember a time when my brother, sisters and I didn't complain - noisily - about the hardship we were being put through. But looking back now, I know that the chores we did back then, in part helped instil a strong work ethic into each of us. We all left home, at least somewhat prepared for independent living.

Research shows that giving children household chores at an early age helps to build a lasting sense of mastery, responsibility and self-reliance.

Marty Rossmann, professor emeritus at the University of Minnesota, analysed data from a longitudinal study that followed 84 children across four periods in their lives - in preschool, around ages 10 and 15, and in their mid-20s.

The research showed that young adults who began chores at ages three and four were more likely to have good relationships with family and friends, to achieve academic and early career success and to be self-sufficient, as compared with those who didn't have chores or who started them as teens.

Adrian McKenna, a frontline social care professional who has worked for many years with young people and adults in residential care, detention services, mental health services and post-adoption services, agrees with this research and his son Dave, who is now 31 and a sub lieutenant in the Irish Navy, certainly bears witness to this research.

"I always had him tagging along and learning from what he saw, heard and experienced, says Adrian.

"I would give him something to carry so he felt involved. A salt cellar to the table, a sock to the washing line. The older he got the more he wanted to do, the more he got to experience, the more he wanted to do. It was a cyclical experience which acts in a self-motivating way."

Dave impressed his parents by starting his own car valeting service when he was 15, and by the time he left home he was self-sufficient. And as Adrian says: "Watching your child turning into a confident teen and able adult is all the benefit you need."

In my experience children are natural helpers, they enjoy pitching in. Over-indulgence will not do them any favours in early adulthood. There are times as I mop up suds, following an over enthusiastic washing-up session by Nate, or scrub away streaks from my polisher extraordinaire Amelia, I could argue that I'd be quicker doing it all myself.

But watching the children blossom under the encouragement and praise we lavish on them for a job well done, is worth any extra effort on my behalf.

Lorraine McCormack has two young children aged five and seven, and strongly feels that positive reinforcement is key to successfully implementing chores to children's routine.

"They love being praised so I always make a big deal of how well they have done. Sure you would think I handed them the moon. Sometimes they might get a sneaky biscuit.

"I had chores as a child and I believe strongly in kids not taking anyone or anything for granted. It's their home as well and they need to take care of it and respect it."

Something that works for me is to make chore time fun, by playing loud music. Oonagh Latchford shares some of the games she created at chore time, with her now grown-up children.

"Sock-matching is always described as a great chore for kids whenever you read about it but my kids always hated it. We used to turn it into a version of the card-matching game and a two cent piece would be up for grabs for each pair found.

"Sometimes we would make sock puppets from the left over ones as an added incentive and have impromptu puppet shows."

I've also started to write chores on small pieces of paper, then fold them up into a jar. Amelia and Nate can then pick from the jar and see which chore they randomly get.

Oonagh remembers a fun and slightly cruel chores game she played with her teenagers in a post-Christmas clean up.

"I wrote down the jobs that needed to be done - from polishing to cleaning the toilet. We all had to choose two. A bit like Russian roulette but for cleaning.

"We did get the jobs done though and all had a laugh in the process, usually at the expense of whoever picked out a horrible job," recalls Oonagh.

I love that idea.

A home does not need to be show-house perfect, but it has to be a good thing to teach children to be responsible for their own surroundings.

'My kids realise things don't get done by elves, chores will make them more independent'

The Murphy-Furlong family in Donabate, Co Dublin have always included chores in their family routine. Mum-of-three Ann admits that as a child she was spoilt rotten at home and didn't have to lift a finger to help. She acknowledges that while it was great not having to do any chores, it didn't prepare her for the realities of running her own home.

Ann says: "I want the children to realise that things don't get done by the elves - everyone has a responsibility for the home they live in, and I believe it will help them as they get older to be more independent, and appreciative of what's been done for them."

Ben, the eldest at 15, is quite self-sufficient already, responsible for his own room. He also cuts the grass, cleans the fish tank, puts the bins out, lights the fire, is the resident babysitter and brings his siblings to their activities/parties on occasion.

Abby, nine, and Sean, seven, are also responsible for their own bedrooms. They load and unload the dishwasher, and manage the recyclables. In the summer they help with weeding the garden, and they clean the inside of the car. Every couple of months they do a big clear out of the play room and bedrooms.

Ann admits that while the younger children often need a helping hand to get the jobs done, as long as they at least make an effort, she's happy.

"They get pocket money for helping out at home, but if for instance there were additional jobs to be done, say a tidy up in advance of a party, then the pocket money doesn't go up proportionately. The pocket money is more of an acknowledgement that they help rather than being linked to productivity."

Now, the chores are just part of the normal routine for the family, with the odd gentle reminder to get the jobs done.

"On the tidying up the toys issue a couple of years ago, I was getting no where with them. So I gave them a last chance and said whatever they left on the floor would be put into a bag and put into the attic. I followed through and the bag went to the attic for three weeks," says Ann.

"I think it took them a week to get over the shock. So now, they know I mean business."

- Carmel Harrington

Irish Independent

Editors Choice

Also in Life