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Getting Kids to Help Around the House: What Are We Doing Wrong?
I have three easy things you can do that will get your kids contributing around the house. But first I want to clue you in on killing Pythons in the Amazon.
I’ll get to the three easy things in a minute. I promise.
But first the Amazon Python…
Elizabeth Kolbert, a writer for the New Yorker, took a liking to Carolina Izqueirdo. In 2004 Carolina spent time with the Matsigenka tribe in the Peruvian Amazon learning their ways and apparently checking out what the kids did with their spare time.
According to Elizabeth’s article on the subject Carolina found that Matsigenka kids have relatively little spare time.
This is because they help the tribe with living in the jungle things like hunt monkeys, grow yucca and bananas, build houses and I presume kill Pythons if the need arises.
Of course, that need would arise if the python was about to eat their little brother or another tribal member for that matter.
This would be bad for the tribe. Kids learn these things from birth and it is reinforced through their upbringing.
In our own home, it feels like a jungle sometimes. This very philosophy has been the inspiration behind creating a website (ForMyCrib.com) that helps parents turn their home into a living space where children and adults alike, can truly flourish.
The Jungle way of living
The Matsigenka’s live in the jungle. Jungle knowledge is a prerequisite to survival. So, parents teach jungle living skills from an early age. With some regularity I’m sure.
This works very well for the Matsigenkas. If Carolina asked the adult members of the tribe if they expected the kids to kick in with the adult stuff, I’m sure the yes responses would be high.
We’re getting to the three things. I promise. But back to Elizabeth.
Elizabeth concludes in her article that Western kids are spoiled rotten. So, she thought whipping out some Matsigenka work ethic on her own thirteen-year-old son would wrap her him in an urbanized version of the jungle living mindset.
Unfortunately for her, the experiment failed quickly, and she decided “… I didn’t have time to let my kids help out around the house.” Basically, Elizabeth threw in the towel.
Okay, here we are. The tree things.
First, unlike a Mastigenka family, Elizabeth decided that thirteen years of age would be a good time to start enforcing jungle living rules.
My personal experience says that waiting till puberty show them a new household regime is akin to a bucket of ice water on the back. It’s shocking, it only lasts a moment, and any effects are short lived.
So, here’s thing one…
Set your expectations of what your children should do around the house early. Like, as soon as they become remotely cognitive aware.
If you want your kids to be responsible for cleaning their room, begin as a toddler by enforcing they put their toys away properly. You could do the same for teaching them to walk the dogs.
By the way, they won’t do it.
Here’s thing two…
After a short, shocking introduction to some of the responsibilities expected of her son, and his inability to do it, Elizabeth decided “…I didn’t have time to let my kids help out around the house.”
This a completely legitimate issue. After all, you don’t kill pythons your first day out, you maybe pick a banana or two. And hopefully, someone is there to mentor you and no pythons show up.
If you want your kids to build the habits you expect them to have, be prepared to consistently and constantly enforce the rules. Expect that they will not do it very well at first, if at all.
It takes time to learn a skill.
That gets us to thing three…
You may never know if your child raising abilities have hit the target. Life’s like that. And there is not a guarantee with children, it was lost with the manual.
Like many people, I was amazed at how smart my father was when I turned 30. Especially considering how stupid he was when I was 16.
Patience is the salve that heals botched attempts and the mortar between the bricks of growing up. Expect that things will not go as planned at first. And when your kids fail and fall, help pick up the pieces and encourage.
I have found this the best way to teach my children the things I find most important.
I guess there’s a fourth thing too, but it’s not something you really do with and for your kid. It’s something you do with and for you.
The secret fourth thing
Figure out what you want, or need, your kids to do.
If you live in the Peruvian Amazon and live off the land, then your kids need to know how to do that.
If you live in New York and your kids need to have a good education to make a living, they need to know how to do that.
I’m not saying that you should ignore your responsibilities to teach your kid responsibilities. I’m saying have a clear idea of what responsibilities are important to you.
What kind of adult do you want your child’s responsibilities to be? I’m certain it is a different list than what parents expected a kid’s responsibility to be generations ago.
Society evolves, and cultural adaptations in the family unit have evolved over time everywhere on the planet.
If we’re all farmers scraping an existence out of the earth, or the jungle like the Matsigenkas, the probability of really, truly, needing help is high.
Chances are you would be justifiably more likely to expect the kids to work around the farm or the hut. Or kill hungry pythons.
It’s That Simple
But if we’re living rather comfortable urban, suburban, or modern rural existences? What kind of help are we in need of?
What kind of chores do we expect from our kids?
I wonder about this often.
My expectations for what my kids do around the house are getting good grades, being polite and understanding, and having meaningful discussions about the problems they face.
I mow the lawn, my wife does the laundry, we both work on dinner, and we both work jobs. My kids do none of this.
Am I wrong? I don’t think so. You might.
I can only point to results as an indication of the success or failure of my methods.
Neither of my children are ax murderers or otherwise unsavory.
On the other hand, neither of them can change a tire, do a load of laundry, or figure out how to weed-whack the lawn let alone kill a python.
But I also know life has an uncanny way of teaching certain life skills, and those skills depend on their environment.
Maybe I should let loose a python in their bedroom and see what happens.
About the Author:
My name is Al Stander. I am a passionate father of two rambunctious boys who love life. We love to explore various learning tools to improve living, from educational to motivational.
I’m of the firm belief that learning is best done through play and love finding new ways to take advantage of this way of thinking.
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