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Siblings learning how to work together on daily chores can create family bonds that will last a lifetime. (Not to mention what that will do for your sanity!) Dividing chores fairly is a start.
“Statistics suggest that over 50 percent of parents assign chores equally amongst their children, which also means that almost 50 percent do not, and so conflict about chores may be a critical issue in these families,” says Dr. Holly Parker, psychotherapist and associate professor of psychology at Harvard University.
With creative strategies to get those mops moving and siblings working together, your household will soon be sparkling.
Your younger child likely looks up to her older sibling. When it is time for chores, use that to your family’s advantage by encouraging them to teach each other. Research indicates that children ages two and three have a tendency to look to their older siblings, who are much cooler than parents, for guidance and help and watch and imitate them, according to Parker.
“In the negotiation of tasks such as chores between an older child and a toddler, it might be helpful if older siblings play a role in teaching their younger siblings to perform chores,” she says.
Older siblings can teach the chore in an ordered sequence, explain the steps with body language and vary their tone to enhance the meaning of the chore. Once the chore is complete, the older child can praise successful steps to promote a sense of self-efficacy in the chore, says Parker.
For any team to work well together, it’s important for everyone to see the task from another perspective. “Conflicts and difficulty working together can be lessened with activities that promote a sense of empathy and the ability to see things from another person’s perspective,” says Parker.
Allow your children to understand each other’s preferences with chores through role playing, a perfect activity for the drama queen or king. Allow them to choose a role as the chef, the trash hauler, the scrubber or even the duster. As they assume each role, encourage them to share their likes and dislikes of each one. This will help your children understand more about each other’s preferences with household tasks and even open up dialogue about how to make the chores more enjoyable.
Role playing may also teach your child to empathize. “Research suggests that children school aged through adolescence who participate in an acting program increase their ability to see another’s viewpoint and their empathy,” according to Parker.
Children often seek structure and routine when faced with tasks. Encourage your children to work together to create a chore chart, complete with rewards and consequences for the household tasks such as stickers or a loss of privileges.
The key is allowing your children the freedom to compile the rules and the chore chart together. “Try to stay out of the fray by allowing them to work things out for themselves,” says Stephanie Newman, New York-based licensed clinical psychologist. “Be patient and allow a little leeway for mistakes, but ultimately, it is important to stick to the rules so the kids get in the habit of working together and become accustomed to completing simple chores.”
As your children get older, the disagreements about chores may create conflict in the home. With older children, preteens and teens, building autonomy is the developmental task, said Newman. “Limits are still crucial, and it is often necessary for caregivers to take a hard and fast approach to chores,” she said. “Let both siblings know they are expected to complete the task and to work together.”
Newman recommends establishing a zero tolerance policy for arguments while completing chores. “Parents might actually say, ‘You need to get this done and work together – and you must be decent to each other and respectful of one another,’” says Newman. “If arguments or bullying behaviors between siblings ensue, first warn of the imposed consequences, such as cell phone time tied directly to participation and completion of chores.”
On the positive side, getting along will be in their mutual best interest, which will appeal to your egocentric tweens and teens.
It’s important to remember that at any age, encouraging cooperation when completing chores is essential. “Kids respond to rules and limits. Stress parameters and keep the task simple,” said Newman.