Set realisitic expectations about chores
Some parents might be tempted to make sure the chores their child is doing are enjoyable or even fun. But Dr Locke says nobody really thinks chores are fun so it’s best to just tell your child that chores are a “job”.
“If you try to tell your child that chores are fun, you’ll be setting up an unrealistic expectation of how ‘fun’ it is. Of course, it’s easier to get a child in the bath if the bath is fun but if you’re only getting them to comply with you based on the amusement of the activity, you’re setting yourself up for a challenge when you’re asking them to do things that aren’t fun,” Dr Locke says.
“In the early years, children want to be independent; their favourite phrase is ‘I do it myself’ and ‘I do that! Don’t help me.’ They’re so keen to be independent. So the best way to tap into that is by giving them chores to do and encourage them by telling them it’s a ‘big boy or big girl’ activity.
“By giving them jobs to do you’re simply tapping into what they want to do. Just remember that whatever job you decide to give them, it doesn’t have to be fun, it just needs to make them feel like they’re more in control and independent and also contributing to the family.”
Rewards don't have to be materialistic
It might be tempting to give your child a special treat or a reward for helping you. Dr Locke believes this could be a good idea, depending on the child. However, the reward doesn’t necessarily have to be materialistic.
“At some stage, as the child is older, you could give them an allowance for helping around the house but in the early years it’s a good idea to link rights to responsibility. For example, you could say, ‘Okay, now you’ve done your jobs, you can watch TV’.”
“And there’s no need to actually call it a ‘chore’ in the early years. Depending on what age your child starts doing jobs around the house, ideally around the age of three, it’s best if you just talk about helping. Tell them, ‘We all help each other’.
“The word chores is fine, but it’s a good idea to tell them that it’s ‘team work’ and helping the family. You could say, ‘I’m cooking dinner so you could help by setting the table'.”
Introduce chores early
Dr Locke believes if parents don’t give a child little jobs to do when they are young, by the time their child is aged ten they might find it difficult to convince them to do any chore, unless they get a reward or payment.
“If you suddenly make their life tougher with no benefits, they might be reluctant to do the job you’ve asked them to do. I think it takes a triple somersault of parenting to introduce chores at a later stage without involving payment!
“But regardless of what age you ask your child to help around the house, it’s best to just call it ‘helping out.”
And what about the quality of the work that the child carries out? Is there any reason to expect a job well done? Dr Locke says it’s important to let them know you’re thankful that they are helping.
“It’s also important for parents to remember that they need to drop their standards for this to work. Don’t expect that your child is going to be setting the table as though it were a restaurant! Or that if they help make the bed, that the pillows look perfect. Just the fact that they’re helping you is a good thing.”