Give that kid a mop
Smart Parenting: Helping out at home
APR 19, 2021
Experts say getting kids to do housework can help foster independence and build family cohesiveness
When pre-schooler Nur Humairah Romi Nazri asked her mother if she could wash the dishes, she was not tall enough to reach the kitchen sink.
It was in April during the circuit breaker last year and Ms Noryatti Sharil was initially reluctant as Humairah was only four then.
But the 42-year-old figured that her plates were made of unbreakable plastic, so she bought a stool for her daughter to clamber up on.
Besides, doing household chores together was another way to keep them occupied during the stay-home period last year, when Ms Noryatti, a delivery rider for Deliveroo, had less work.
Ms Noryatti says: “She always wants to lend a helping hand and I don’t want to stop her from pursuing her interests. I also want her to learn to be independent.”
A year on, doing housework has become a daily habit for Humairah, now five and in her second year of kindergarten.
Ms Noryatti will make the bed while Humairah fluffs up the pillows. The girl sometimes dusts the coffee table on her own and gets put out when her mother finishes all the chores without her.
The divorcee says she never forces her daughter to help out in their two-person household. “She feels happy and says she wants to see the house clean so she can get even more hugs from me. She spreads kindness to me.”
Some parents got their children to do housework in earnest last year, when Covid-19 confinement meant spending more time indoors as a family and spending more energy keeping the children occupied beyond their toys, screens and home-based learning.
Parents and experts say starting children on chores young imparts values and life skills, and can even boost the quality of family life.
Mastering a household chore can be a quick way of boosting a child’s confidence, says Ms Josephine Loh, senior manager for training in the family wellness division of Morning Star Community Services.
She says: “Completing a chore gives the child a sense of achievement and increases his confidence when he sees immediately that he can manoeuvre the vacuum cleaner on his own.”
When parents affirm and praise the child for a job well done, he is more likely to want to feel helpful again.
“Children are more likely to cooperate when they’re being appreciated,” says Ms Poh Ee-Lyn, a senior social worker at Fei Yue Community Services.
Doing housework as a family has wider effects.
“Learning to work as a team makes for more cohesiveness as a family. The children feel competent and responsible, and parents feel supported,” says Ms Poh.
Many hands make light work and doing chores together also frees up more time for family outings, she says. While some parents may have to nag their offspring into tidying their rooms, it helps, especially for the little ones, to make housework fun.
Make chores gender equal
Ms Alexandra Vogler got her sons, aged four and six, to do more housework during the circuit breaker, which lasted from April to June last year.
She is the e-commerce senior director for Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa at Procter & Gamble (P&G), the consumer goods multinational corporation.
When it rained, soaking the balcony of their apartment, she and her husband poured cleaning agent and the four of them washed the balcony floor with the soapy rainwater.
Behind this lightness of touch lay a seriousness of purpose.
“I want to make sure my sons are brought up such that they see chores as gender-neutral. I think gender equality starts at home,” she says.
Gender equality has been a hallmark of her parenting style for years.
Her space-mad sons do not only know who the first man and first dog in space were (Yuri Gagarin and space dog Laika from the former Soviet Union).
She also made it a point to tell them about the first woman in space, Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova.
P&G last month collaborated with e-commerce platform Shopee in a campaign in Singapore and other South-east Asian countries.
The campaign, #ChallengeTheChores, encouraged families to do housework together and challenge gender stereotypes.
Studies have shown that women bear a disproportionate burden of caregiving and housework under Covid-19.
During the circuit breaker, Ms Vogler and her husband used the extra time at home to teach their boys to help with the cooking and to water the plants.
The couple did alternate shifts caring for the kids as they worked from home, she says.
Another parent, Mr Norman Ng, 40, notes that spending more time at close quarters under Covid-19 meant that children observed their parents more closely than before.
“We were at home and frequently cleaning the place. The kids were modelling what we were doing,” says the tech firm executive.
He is married to financial adviser Alice Wong, 38, and they have two children – 10-year-old Lincoln and seven-year-old Paige.
Besides, Ms Wong was determined to bring the rising tide of Nerf guns, Monopoly and other toys under control.
Tidying up and using the mop and vacuum cleaner were some chores Lincoln and Paige learnt to do with their parents last year.
Mr Ng says the added responsibilities have taught the children to take more initiative.
“They take things for granted less. They realise that, in order to have food on the table, we need to buy, prepare and cook it and wash and dry the dishes afterwards,” he says.
Learning to do housework takes time and a perfectionist attitude does not help.
Ms Wong says: “We need to give the kids the opportunity to help out. Don’t discourage them by telling them they’re not folding the clothes right.
“As parents, we tend to be particular about how things are done, but it’s enough that they try their best.”
A little sibling rivalry does not hurt when both kids are competing to mop the floor, Ms Wong adds.
“I do more housework than my brother,” Paige declares.
How to get the kids to help out
1. KEEP YOUR EYE ON THE PRIZE
Ms Josephine Loh, senior manager in Morning Star Community Services, says packed schedules and employing domestic help can deter children from taking on chores.
Teenagers may get home from school at 6pm and families may prefer their domestic helper to do the housework. But Ms Loh urges parents to consider the long-term benefits of making time for chores, which help kids learn life skills and team work.
2. OBTAIN BUY-IN
Ms Poh Ee-Lyn, a senior social worker at Fei Yue Community Services, says other caregivers besides the parents, like grandparents and domestic helpers, need to agree to support the children doing chores.
Consider having a family meeting to negotiate who does what and draw up a roster, she says. Involving the kids in discussions, such as what they wish for their home environment, boosts communication and lets everyone contribute.
3. BREAK IT DOWN
Ms Poh says parents should set “doable and specific” tasks before asking the child to move on to more complex chores.
Do not just tell the child to clean his room, for example. Be specific: Ask him to hang his clean clothes in the cupboard; organise his notes in files; and empty the wastepaper basket at night.
4. ASSIGN AGE-APPROPRIATE CHORES
Even toddlers can be involved in chores like packing away the toys when playtime is over, says Ms Poh.
Pre-schoolers can wipe the table or help put away the groceries. Primary school pupils can sweep the floor, hang the clothes and help with meal preparation.
Teens can cook simple meals and wash toilets.
5. OPT FOR TARGETED PRAISE
Rather than issuing a generic “well done”, consider encouraging the child with praise that focuses on the value he demonstrated, says Ms Poh.
For instance, tell him he showed a sense of responsibility when he picked his dirty clothes off the floor and placed it in the laundry basket.
Targeted praise shows the child that his parents are paying attention to his efforts.