Let’s be honest. Being a parent is hard enough when everything is going right. Most of us could use a bit more help at home, and, at the same time, many parents would like their kids to get off the screens and participate in life just a bit more.
You can have it all, at least when it comes to getting help around the house. You just might have to take on a teensy bit more work at the start to make this work for you.
Pick from a list
My own kids are both around ten years old, and they are willing to do chores to get screen time … just maybe not the chores I want them to do in the moment. So we’ve posted a list of chores that they can pick from. It’s not a checkoff chart; it’s just a list. They feel a little more in control because they get to pick their poison. The list is posted at their height. I get chores done. Everyone is at least a little bit happy. You can print off your own chore list, and even customize it for your family at the link here.
Chores are not things they are expected to do, like make their bed and feed the cat. We talk about how those are their responsibilities and theirs alone. Chores in our house are things that help the entire household, like taking out the trash, emptying the dishwasher, and running the vacuum.
Because they are doing the choosing, sometimes the same chore gets done three days in a row, while other chores are left undone (or done by me), but the kids are still learning that everyone in the house helps to keep the house nice.
Sometimes the kids fight over who wants to do the “easy” chore. “I want to sweep under the table… No, I want to do it!” is music to a mom’s ears.
Control the screens
The last part of this formula doesn’t work in all homes: none of our screens are readily available for the kiddos. They have to ask to turn on the TV, Kindle or computer, and they should only do that after they have done everything on our “Screen Time Rules” list.
That just doesn’t work in a house where the TV or computer is on 24/7. Think about how this works in your house when trying to limit screen time, or it’s going to be another battle.
I didn’t have to buy another gadget, and I am not doing check-marks or stars or any other tracking chart for them. When they ask if they can have their Kindle or can they watch a movie, I simply ask, “Have you done everything on the list?” Sometimes I have to ask the question multiple times in order to direct them back to what they need to do to earn their screen time. It’s not all drudgery, since “doing something creative” and “play outside for 30 minutes or more” are required. You can even make some of the chores fun.
We’ve been doing all of this since the kids were small, starting when my oldest was about 6. They both got their own Kindle years ago, and there are days when I’m super grateful to have these electronic babysitters, like on snow days and long summer days. But even in those cases, my husband and I are getting help around the house, one chore at a time. It’s gratifying when one of my girls decides to write in a new chore or asks if I’d be willing to pay them for doing extra chores. I am not making this up! On a regular basis they will usually come to me and say:
"I've made my bed, cleaned my room, scooped the kitty litter, played outside, and swept under the table. Can I have my Kindle?”
Is this approach perfect? Nope. If you find a parenting approach that is perfect, will you please contact me ASAP? But with one posted list and one simple question, you can completely change your relationship with your kids and their chores.
Darla DeMorrow is owner of HeartWork Organizing LLC in Wayne, PA and author of several books, including Organizing Your Home With Sort and Succeed: Five Simple Steps to Stop Clutter Before it Starts, Save Money and Simplify Your Life. She is also a contributor to MetroKids’ MomSpeak.