From January to March this year, I was a mother of 3 children aged 4 and under. This month, Puppy turned 5. With tandem nursing and homeschooling thrown in, I’ve found that keeping a house organised and running smoothly without any hired help can be a challenge. But it’s possible. It is! My secret: train the kids.
If we want our children to be self-disciplined and have an attitude of serving others, we must train them.
That’s true, you might say, but how do I motivate my children to do housework? Below are some lessons I’ve learned:
(NOTE words: “motivate” and “enjoy” – I don’t know yet if these will lead to “HABIT”. I sure hope they will!)
1) Be an example. Oh yes, there are no shortcuts. It’s tremendous work, but I embrace the role of Maid because I know our Bunnies find it SO COOL to imitate whatever I do. Today, I missed an afternoon nap and told Puppy how tired I was. As I gave Piglet his evening bath, I let Puppy and Lamb splash a little in the big tub. I dreaded the thought of having to bathe them next. As it turned out, I didn’t have to. Puppy not only bathed herself, she bathed Lamb too. She thought she did a super job “just like Mama”, and when I checked, I must say she did.
2) Train from birth. Learning begins from birth. From the time she was an infant, I’d prop up Puppy in her infant seat and she’d watch me do everything. As I wielded my broom, I’d sing happy songs like “This is the way we sweep the porch” (to the tune of “Here we go round the mulberry bush”). When I cooked, I’d put her infant seat nearby and dished out a running commentary, “Now I’m cracking the eggs into the pan. See me crack the eggs!” We seldom used our playpen. It wasn’t just because our Munchkins didn’t like staying in there for more than 2 minutes (who would?). I wanted them to watch me as much as possible, and they did.
3) Have a positive attitude towards housework. Oh boy, I am still working on this! I’d much rather curl up on the couch and read for 3 hours. But I know my attitude towards chores (and towards anything or anyone else for that matter) passes on to the kids. It’s taken me some time, but I’ve come to appreciate the value of menial work. No work can be too menial if we approach it with an attitude of thanksgiving.
Attitude is everything – if I have a bad attitude, I will procrastinate. If I allow myself to wallow in self-pity (“if only I had hired help!”), I will never complete the jobs I must do in time. If I have a good, cheerful attitude towards housework, doing it will feel easier and my kids will be intrinsically motivated to work, too. Of course, there are mornings when I crawl out of bed wishing I’d never have to lift a finger. On such days, I draw upon my superb acting skills. “Puppy, don’t our beds look so wonderful after we straighten the sheets?” And she starts straightening the sheets immediately. Sneaky, huh?
4) Let them work. There is nothing wrong in allowing children to work. The problem is sometimes with us. We coddle them, pamper them, get all over-protective about them, and then we wonder why they find it so hard to learn something or are so resistant towards chores. Maria Montessori says that all children learn through play/work. All children learn through active participation, by being involved in a practical way, and by attempting to do something themselves, especially by using their hands. They will make mistakes, but they will go on making mistakes considerably longer if we never give them the opportunity to attempt and perfect their skills.
It’s way easier and faster for me to fry the eggs myself, rather than let Puppy do it. Lamb will spill some water when he’s learning to move cups between the kitchen countertop and the dining table. But by age 4, Puppy’s learned how to fry eggs (with me still supervising the flame). Before his 2nd birthday, Lamb’s learned to carry cups full of water without spilling any most of the time. He can even carry them down stairs. He’s also learned how to wipe any spills, and where he can get the dishcloth from.
5) Don’t force it at the beginning. All children learn at their own pace and in their own time. Whenever any of our kids showed interest in folding the clothes, I taught them. It was ok if they didn’t do it perfectly. The fun part was that they tried. Occasionally, I ask them if they want to “help Mama” – wash their stainless steel plate, scrub the toilet floor (I use baking soda and vinegar), etc. They accept my offers with gusto, almost every time. (A plus point: If they’re helping me, I don’t have to worry about what tricks they’re up to when I’m cleaning!)
6) Make the job do-able. I keep my cutlery, dishes and cups at munchkin level. Then they can lay the table with minimal frustration. And I make sure the activity is something within their ability.
7) Build their self-confidence. Every time they do a chore or help out, I praise them sincerely. “Good job.” “Thanks for getting your sister some water, Lamb.” “Well done, baby.” “Oh, I couldn’t have done it better myself.” The kids just love positive affirmation. (Don’t we all?) The result: They’re always coming forward very quickly to try something new. Let’s see, maybe I can teach Puppy how to mop the floors this week since she already loves wiping surfaces!
8 ) Don’t get irritated with mistakes and repeats. Children need to do things over and over again to perfect the actions. I try to remember that learning is a process. When I’m tired, I get easily irritated with their mistakes. If I feel I can’t contain my feelings after having a rough night, I tell them, “Not today, sweetheart. You can help me tomorrow. Go get your playdough instead.”
9) Talk to them. Montessori says that when children repeat their actions, they build up automatic patterns which eventually become fixed as mental images. These mental images then become represented by language. I talk to our Bunnies as much as possible about what they’re doing, when they’re doing it. “Yes, keep your hand away from the edge of the hot pan.” “Squeeze the wet cloth harder before you wipe the table.” “You can get the butter from the dairy section of the refridgerator.” Not only do they learn the task at hand, they build up a tremendous vocabulary. I don’t know which they love more: being talked to, or doing the work!
10) Put housework in perspective. This applies especially to preschoolers. Sometimes, Puppy has trouble starting her chores. I tell her the larger picture: “The sooner we finish cleaning up, the sooner we’ll get to read that book you wanted.” She speeds up when she knows she might miss her favourite story. It’s helped her develop a sense of time, and learn to use time wisely. I also tell her that as a family, we’re a team. Team-mates support one another. She shouldn’t have to do everything, and Mama shouldn’t have to do everything either.
Housework, like personal hygiene, is a necessary part of life. We needn’t and shouldn’t have to give our children money to do housework. That blinds them to the intrinsic value of work, and of serving others. I hope that in using creative ways to encourage my kids to work and to take pride in accomplishing a task, this will build a positive attitude towards work that will last a lifetime.
Since this is a list of 10-something, I’m linking it up with Stasha of The Good Life.