David Stendl-Rast is a very wise man. He gave a TED talk all about happiness. It was a simple exploration of a question that dogs modern thinking. How can we become happier?
His answer was simple, “be grateful”.
We are often thankful, it is a core value of polite society. But is that the same as being grateful?
The Big Picture
One of the greatest gifts of responsibility, is the perspective it provides of life. For all of us, life will involve work of some description. In the home, ‘work’ as the tasks that must be done. It might be a employing the toilet brush in that manky loo, or folding all that washing. In every home there are a multitude of things that must be done. As a family, the tasks can be shared. It’s not only fair, it’s also necessary. If one person is doing it all, it can create resentment and relationship problems, a dreadful downward spiral for everyone. And what a wasted opportunity to provide the kids with perspective and responsibility!
Do you remember when you first became a parent? How keenly you noticed every detail about the tasks of parenting you hadn’t expected were part of the deal? How distressed you were the first time there was an explosive nappy accident that got all over you? Or when rotovirus hit the household, including you, but only you cleaned it all up? How desperate you were to tell someone, about all the horrors? For me, this was the era of protest, the feeling of ‘Oh No! Not me, Why me?!’. Doing the ‘work’ of parenting (the planning ahead, the preparing, the hard graft) was exhausting. Back then, it just seemed so unfair. Protesting, even within my own head, was my first reaction. The longer I do it, the quieter my protests about the work of parenting becomes. I am used to the ‘work’ I am engaged in, and sometimes, I even enjoy it!
It is like that with getting kids to do household jobs. At first, the protests will be long and loud. There might be tantrums, even mexican stand-offs. It is so important that these early battles don’t end with the wrong lesson. If you allow the emotional resistance to end with you, or your partner taking over, the lesson you have taught them is the opposite of your intention. The lesson there is “If I complain, I don’t have to work”. Life doesn’t play nice with people who have this attitude. It’s not sustainable. The kids of today often feel it is their ‘right’ to play, to please themselves. Our culture is one of the few who have enshrined childhood as a completely carefree era. Yet, doing jobs, completing work you don’t want to do is a phenomenally powerful life skill. I’m not suggesting there should be more work than play, but finding the right balance is good. For their character development at the very least.
According to Nancy Darling, PhD in Psychology and writer for Psychology Today, there are three positive side effects for kids who do chores.
- Doing chores generates genuine praise. Kids who are praised for work they actually achieved feel more positive, competent and confident.
- Others, including their teachers and coaches will notice how kind and helpful your kids are too, further reinforcing their self esteem and yours.
- Children who do chores have a pervasive sense of gratitude. Because they begin to understand what work is, and what it takes to keep a family functioning, they are more grateful for their down time and more grateful when others do things for them.
This only comes from gaining perspective.
The Happiness Side-effect
And what was it David Stendl-Rast said about gratitude? Gratitude makes us happy. If you would like to listen to his TED talk, I’d recommend it.
I even made it compulsory viewing for the teens in my care. The difference between being thankful and having gratitude is a small distinction, but a powerful one. Gratitude itself is the quality of being ready “to show appreciation for and to return kindness”. We can be grateful only by doing. We can teach gratitude by requiring our children to show willingness to pull together as a team. To complete chores at their level, and by expressing our thanks and praise for their efforts.
If household jobs are something you would like to introduce to your children, start small and stay positive. Hold the line and never complete the chore for them. Dont’ re-do what they have done (at least not in front of them!). It won’t be perfect at first, but as they get older, their efforts will improve. Helping is fine, but doing it for them will negate any efforts you have made. Asking them to complete age appropriate chores and getting them involved in the process of deciding who does what, works wonderfully. It is also really important that your partner or co-parent agrees with the changes and is committed to the lessons being learned.
And if you already require your kids to do household jobs, you are doing a great thing for their future adult selves!
The Starting Point
Here is a useful list of age-appropriate chores you might want to discuss as a family. And when they ask, as they will “But why do I have do it?” you can smile and say with great confidence “Because it will make you happier”!