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A-Z Helplist for the Help-Less

Power comes from feeling capable, from believing we can contribute to our environment and society

Do your kids start muttering about Cinderella every time you ask them to clean up? Do you find yourself doing, well, everything? Here’s the lowdown on how to get your crew to pick up a broom and pitch in.




Set the tone in your home through your attitude toward jobs and tasks. The first step is to portray helping out as an enjoyable experience, something fun, even exciting.


Big-Kid Card

Pull it out and use it! Invite little ones into the big world of hanging up towels and putting socks into the hamper. Keep reminding them how “big” and “lucky” they are to have reached helping age.



Research reveals that children who have regular chores have higher self-esteem, are more responsible, and are better equipped to deal with frustration. And researcher Marty Rossman of the University of Minnesota found that the best predictor or success for people in their mid-twenties was participation in household chores at ages three or four. Use chore charts, contests, and routines, and remember: consistency is key.



Decide what’s really important to you and adjust your expectations accordingly. Kids can’t do it all, but if you narrow the list down to two or three vital chores, you can expect them to get done.



Make sure that your children know what you expect of them, and clearly show them how you want them to go about each task.


Fair Trade

We all have an innate sense of fairness, says parenting coach Dina Friedman. By encouraging children to help out, you’re helping them feel better about themselves. They benefit from living in a family home; subconsciously they want to give back. (Sometimes, it’s very subconsciously.)


Grin and Bear It

Teens have attitude, that’s a fact. Just smile, says renowned mechanech Rabbi Feigenbaum; let them know you appreciate the help, and convey that you expect them to do it, no matter how annoyed they are. Stick to your guns, and never do their chores for them just because they’re in a grumpy mood.



Teens don’t appreciate yet more changes in their turbulent lives, so make helping out habitual from a young age. Tasks should be age-appropriate, increasing in amount and complexity as they get older.



Children are more cooperative when they have a say in what they need to do. Whenever possible, let them choose their chores and brainstorm together with them for ideas on how to overcome obstacles you’ve faced in the past, such as them not listening, arguing, or not doing a thorough job.



Some kids need to be assigned just one job they take pride in, while others need three or four small ones to keep things manageable. Do what works for your kids’ personalities.



Understand how important helping is in developing your children’s character. If you firmly believe in its value, you’ll communicate your enthusiasm to your children, and you’ll be less likely to cave under their delay tactics or resistance.



Show appreciation for the help. Give positive feedback: a hug, a kiss, or just a warm word. Even if your child grumbles in response or stomps away, he or she appreciates the appreciation.



When you figure it’s easier and more efficient to just do things yourself, think of these responsibilities as a chance for your child to master a skill. Look how she set the Shabbos table! How’d he get so fast at emptying the dishwasher? Over time, your kids will enjoy the satisfaction of a job well done and take pride in being a capable cook or cleaner.



Author Tanya Altmann, MD, says that compromising on your desired outcome is better than getting no help at all. “Come up with a cleaning plan that both parent and teen are comfortable with.” As long as the conversation is respectful and warm, it’s fine to negotiate to meet both parties’ needs.



It’s the difference between obedience and responsibility. By instilling in young children the desire to help out, they’ll take ownership of tasks or chores — and they’ll eventually do jobs on their own initiative, not because they’re told to do it. Endgame!



Another feeling we hope to instill in our children. Power comes from feeling capable, from believing we can contribute to our environment and society. One more reason to draw up those chore charts.


Quiet the Qualms

Some mothers feel bad asking their children to help out, perhaps because they were expected to help a lot when they were young. But you can’t heal your childhood by going to the opposite extreme. Regular chores are healthy; extreme positions on the matter are not.


Role Modeling

In her book Kids Are Worth It!, Barbara Coloroso suggests that if parents “do chores with a sense of commitment, patience, and humor, our children will have a model to do likewise.” So quit the grumbling and start singing as you roll up your sleeves, stack the dishes, and sweep.



We all want to instill healthy self-esteem in our children. Teaching them skills in a healthy, positive way will make them feel capable and loved, empowered and confident.



Get creative. Whatever works is a win. From reward charts and small prizes, do what you need to. There’s one exception, though; Ron Lieber, author of Opposite of Spoiled, says one should never give an allowance in exchange for chores, because one day the kids will decide they don’t need the money and refuse to do the job.



Birthdays serve as natural reminders to institute or revisit age-appropriate chore plans. Other opportunities include the beginning or end of the school year, vacations, Yamim Tovim, moving, or a new baby in the family. New privileges, like learning to drive and sleepaway camp, can serve as markers as well.



When the going gets tough, remember that helping out at home encourages responsibility, prioritizing, resilience, perseverance, time management, and more. The more help you get from your kids, the more they’re learning to be their best selves.



Keep in mind that your kids may not exactly thank you in the short term for making them help out. It’s an eye-on-the-prize endeavor, one that may feel like an uphill battle right now, but that will, b’ezras Hashem, have beautiful results in the long run.



As with everything in life, you’ll rarely hit upon the perfect formula the first time around. Play around with rewards, ages, responsibility level. Eventually you’ll hit a groove that works for everyone.


You and Me

If a kid finds a job intimidating, do it with them, at least at first. “You find the matches, I’ll ball the socks.” Eventually your team of two will learn how to operate individually.


Zero pain, zero gain

Kol haschalos kashos, all beginnings are hard. But implementing these steps will not only relieve your tired and overworked self, it will also benefit the people you love most. It’s a win-win!


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 626)

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