One thing that often makes it difficult for children to work effectively is parents and teachers expecting them to interact with the job like an adult. The truth is that adults have learned to work at a task whether they are enjoying themselves or not. We have learned to break things down into smaller chunks in order to accomplish them, and we have learned how to work efficiently and effectively. Children don’t know these things unless we teach them, and they often don’t know how to implement our explanations without guidance.
Think about this: You say “Johnny, go clean up your room.” Johnny goes upstairs and comes down two minutes later crying and whining, “I can’t”. You say, ” That’s ridiculous. Go clean up your room or ___” (I know that happens around here.)
Stop a minute though. Is Johnny really saying he doesn’t want to clean up his room? Or is he saying he doesn’t know where to start?
Try these techniques to help him figure out how to accomplish the task.
- Tell him to go to his room and pick up a specific number of a specific thing. “Johnny, go pick up five books and put them on the shelf. Then come tell me that you did it.”
- Explain the object of the picking up. ” I want to vacuum your room, so go put everything on the floor onto your bed.”
- Set a time limit. Use the timer and assign a specific number of minutes for a specific part of the task. I use this for Su every morning. She clears the dishwasher and gets distracted from the task easily. I give her five minutes segments to do a particular thing (put away the silverware, put away the bowls etc.) This helps keep the job from seeming too big.
- Work with the children, they do their part and you do a complimentary part of the same task. This is especially good for cleaning up things that have parts like puzzles and building kits. It also works well for sorting out toys into the correct bins. I have them put everything into one pile while I sort from the pile into the proper bins.
- Clean by categories. This can be a good race. One child picks up everything with wheels, another everything made of wood and so on.
- Give interesting commands – “Su, I want you to hop from the bench to the bins and put away the wash cloths.”
- Clean-up Your Age and its variant Clean-up Math. “F, put away 4 blocks, how many more do you have to put away to get to six?” etc.
- General Tidy: Everybody together looks at a room and races to collect and replace things out of place. We try to do this a couple of times a day and it really helps decrease the total mess.
- Write a list for each child and have them do the same jobs every day at the same time. Children thrive on routine and knowing that they have two regular jobs and a couple of others assigned as needed helps them to work more quickly and cheerfully. They know they won’t be working forever and if they can erase or mark the completed jobs they can see the end of the work period.
- Have several short (20-30 minute) chore times per day. Young children have short attention spans so be sure to not ask them to work beyond their developmental capabilities. We do chores after breakfast, at lunchtime and at the end of the day. Quite a bit gets done but no one gets “chored out”.
Finally, watch your own attitude. If you hate housework, they will too. If you complain about it, so will the children. If you want willing, cheerful workers you must be a cheerful, willing worker yourself. I know I often fail at this, especially when I am under a time constraint of some kind. Mothers, let’s remember that we teach our children more by example than we ever do with our words….