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Kids At Work – Get Started At Home!

Posted: January 14, 2011

Teaching kids simple household chores, keeps them busy, teaches them skills, helps you out and makes life easier for all. 

Nayantara Mallya

Have you made all your New Year resolutions? Make one for your kids -put them to work! Many Indian moms think of chores only as work done towards the running of a household. Some believe that teaching kids simple household chores is not essential. But other parents feel differently.

Teaching kids responsibility is important to many Indian moms. Smriti Lamech, 32, a Delhi-based journalist, has taught her 5 and 3 year old children to tidy up and be accountable for their toys and clothes. Increasingly, Indian moms are assigning general household chores to each member of the family, even the littlest ones, as an effective way of teaching children social responsibility.

This increased responsibility and a reduced sense of entitlement in children are clear benefits. There are additional benefits that are not obvious at first thought. Working together as a family improves collaboration, communication and connection. Chores create a sense of involvement and belonging, and are a healthy way of teaching children skills and enabling independence.

Kids at work: Surprising gains

Sangitha Krishnamurthi, 38, Bangalore-based finance professional and mother to a 6 and a 7 year old states, “Things get less messy, we have more time to spend that is not about the necessities, the kids feel they’re contributing to the household and eat much better when they make their own food!”

Maybe we need to stop joking about forcing child labor on our kids. Sangitha agrees, “We need not feel guilty about having kids help out substantially around the house; it contributes to their sense of empowerment and self-esteem.”

Several Indian moms, inspired by the Montessori exercises of practical living, chores, further reinforce the skills taught in school. Arundhati Venkatesh, 31, homemaker, avoids buying certain skill-building toys for her 3 year old. “He participates in laundry, shopping, cooking, and trash disposal. These employ skills like stacking, sorting and pouring, and also understanding of money, variety, weights, textures, smells, consistency and hygiene.”

Working mothers, hard pressed for time, use the opportunity to connect with and listen to their kids, while doing chores.

Chores for kids = Channelised energy

Chores effectively channel kids’ high energy and restlessness. “My son stays out of my hair!” agrees Arundhati.

Chores can also help reduce sibling squabbles at home, and make for calmer parents! I insist on our children’s assistance in the kitchen. They cheerfully focus on their age-specific tasks and stop complaining about each other.

Catch ‘em young

2 year olds can do little chores – ones that help them feel useful and important. Initially, parents must start small, split chores into doable tasks, and spend time repetitively training the child. Shruthi Rao, 32, a Bangalore-based freelance writer, admits, of her 3 year old, “Sometimes it is more of a hindrance than help. But I don’t dissuade her from helping just because it slows me down.”

Shruthi avoids criticism, “She doesn’t really fold her difficult clothes well. But I praise her effort. The next time, I demonstrate how a similar garment is folded. Sometimes I leave it until her motor skills improve for her to fold it better. If it is still not neat, I finish the job when her back is turned!”

It’s reasonable to expect more responsibility from primary school children. Parents must also progressively withdraw from helping children with tasks. After all, nagging and reminding sap your energy. Tips to avoid irritation and arguments include wordlessly pointing at the unfinished task or writing a note.

Roadblocks to teaching kids household chores 

Three issues in most Indian homes make it difficult to train children to pitch in:

Grandparents. They grew up in a different time and parented differently. Many believe “children must be taken care of” (read babied), and that housework is for women and servants.

Still, not all have a hindering attitude. Some appreciate the child’s contribution, and even add to their chores! Children respect and learn easily from their adoring grandparents. They feel nurtured when involved in the older generation’s different housework methods.

Domestic help. In India, they’re affordable and available for housework. Children may resist chores, because they know you can always get the maid to do it. Some helpers protest when they see children working. Abha Jain, 31, a Bangalore-based sales professional, is very clear, “What has to be done by us or our 3 year old, we do not let the help do.”

Luckily, children love to imitate. My 5 year old loves watching Auntie wash vessels, and wipes floors and sweeps during pretend play, ‘just like Auntie’. With a little subtle management on your part, days when the maid takes leave will not be disasters, with the family already used to pitching in with work.

Patriarchy. Most Indian men do not do housework. Our sons especially and daughters also absorb the stereotyped divisions in home responsibilities. Chores become unpaid drudgery for the woman or poorly paid work by the household help.

New age dads assume their share of the housework; they are role models and fun company for their kids in the kitchen or while doing laundry.

How to motivate kids at work

Preschoolers crave parental attention and thrive on praise. They’re discovering the world; everything has a novelty factor. The magic words “Will you help me?” bring them eagerly running.

Arthi Anand, 34, a Bangalore-based marketing professional makes it fun for her 5 year old, “Do it with them, make it interesting and exciting, add a story or a song whilst at it.” Sangitha has provided each child with colorful oven mitts and aprons. Arundhati finds that role-play helps overcome resistance from her son. It’s wiser to let it go occasionally, when the child is tired or sleepy.

Among primary and high school children, disinterest may increase with more independence, commitments outside the home and comparisons with friends who don’t have such responsibilities in the home.

The solution? Sangitha makes her expectations clear to her children. “When they saw we were inflexible and that we did a lot more, it just sank in.” Another tactic is to link chores to fun, such as TV or computer time. Sangitha is firm about this, “They can’t go to play until the daily chores are done, so they get done pretty fast!” Some parents establish a set routine e.g. the garden must be watered or the dog walked before breakfast or after school.

In our home, we discuss complaints and ideas about chores, and consequences for not doing them, during the weekly family meeting. Decisions are put up on the refrigerator, and referred to during a conflict. When we follow through on suspending a privilege, our 8 and 5 year old quickly realize it’s better to just complete the task.

Should chores come with rewards?

Should children be paid for chores? Arthi replies, “Chores are a part of life and you don’t get rewards for doing your bit later.” For children, the pleasure they get from seeing the results, and compliments while showing these off are reward enough. Cold cash or material rewards can’t replace the warmth of a parent’s appreciation and love.

They say a little hard work never hurt anyone. Indian moms gain much more than just extra hands with the housework. So, what are you waiting for? Get your kids on the job!

Nayantara Mallya is, in no particular order, mom to two children, feminist, former college lecturer,

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