British Columbia·Point of View

How getting your kids to do chores does so much more than keeping the house clean

Helping out around the house can give kids faith in their abilities, as well as a sense of belonging, control and usefulness.

Doing housework can give kids a sense of belonging, control and usefulness

It doesn't matter if they like it or not — kids should help out more around the house. (Getty Images)

This story is part of Amy Bell's Parental Guidance column, which airs on CBC Radio One's The Early Edition.

When you first look into your child's eyes, you make an unspoken promise to take care of them forever. 

But does that promise at times feel more like servitude?

It's fair to say that I am just as much my children's servant as I am their parent. I'm not blaming them entirely; kids are naturally quite self centred, and I've been fetching their snacks and cleaning up their messes since Day 1.

But as much as I do enjoy taking care of the people I love, I worry that not only have I created little monsters who will always stare incomprehensibly at an unloaded dishwasher, but I've also taken away their chance to be self-sufficient. (I also worry my head may actually explode if I have to pick up one more discarded face mask off the floor.)

But how does a parent reset that dynamic? And is the middle of the pandemic the time to try? 

Helping out is important for growth

I've always struggled with the fact that I can afford my kids this little luxury.

Being an adult is kind of a drag, so I sometimes I want to shelter them from it for a bit longer. Throw in a pandemic where they've made so many changes without much complaint, and have had so much taken from them, and I suppose I want to soften that blow in any way I can.

But there are long-term consequences I don't always consider. Jennifer Vadeboncoeur, a UBC professor of human development, learning and culture, made me re-evaluate my decisions to give my kids a pass in the hopes of making life easier for them. 

"Participating in family practices provides a sense of belonging and a sense of control … a sense of how they can be useful," explained Vadeboncoeur. "It also provides opportunities for the development of agency and creativity." 

Kids can clean, whether they like it or not

Still, so many parents find themselves in a never-ending cycle of kids not helping out around the house, which leads to frustration, which then leads to a fight when the parents explode.

How can everyone get on the same page? 

After I spoke with parenting coach Julie Romanowsky, I realized it was a matter of clearly defining expectations and firmly letting my children know what needs to be done. 

"This is what's happening. It's going to happen in these key areas. Whatever it takes," suggests Romanowsky.

"In infancy and toddler-hood you get a free pass, but at school age it's time to participate. How are you doing that?" 

And if your kids don't like the new system? Romanowsky is pretty clear that liking a task isn't mandatory for getting the job done. 

"If they are huffing and puffing, let them. They are allowed to not like it. But that does not alter the expectations. So [they] vacuum happy with music or vacuum pissed off, moaning and groaning." 

While we should in no way minimize how awesome it would be to have more helping hands at home, what helping out really does is give kids faith in their abilities. They may not be doing something perfectly, but they get a chance to learn and improve and gain skills. 

And so, not only do they have the practical knowledge of being self-sufficient, they also have the confidence to accept all the challenges they face in life — whether it's a pandemic or not. 

"The lessons that we want to share with our kids … I don't think they've changed so much," says Vadeboncoeur. 

"We just need to design new ways of learning with our children: what it is they need; how they can contribute."

We know that kids are watching everything we do — especially right now. So, if they see us delegating chores and reducing our stress to better weather the COVID-19 storm, they'll know to carry that forward into adulthood.

They'll know that they aren't required to care for everyone at all times and are allowed to set rules and boundaries — and that even in the toughest of times, we can all lean on each other and work as a team to negotiate whatever comes up. 

I may not be providing free maid service any longer, but maybe I'm providing them with a role model. Here's hoping they pick up a few tips along with their dirty dishes and underwear. 


Amy Bell is a digital contributor to CBC. She can be heard weekdays on The Early Edition as the traffic and weather reporter and parenting columnist.


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