This is how I trick my kids into doing the housework

Look, to be honest, I'm not exactly known for being house-proud. My partner and I do clean, but most of the time we do the bare minimum. This gives our house a distinctly "lived in" feel - and we're fine with that.

With our laissez-faire approach to housework it's not surprising that our children have picked up a few bad habits. They leave their belongings strewn from one end of the house to the other, leave toothpaste around the sink and don't think twice about muddy footprints down the corridor.

It was different when they were younger. In the toddler days they would shadow me everywhere and happily "help" me fold laundry or push the vacuum around. But as they grew into kids they shunned the "booooring" stuff and made themselves scarce when it was time to wash up.

I embraced the "messy house means my children are playing" philosophy and apart from the odd strop, I let it go. But when, one day, as I folded laundry, my six-year-old referred to me as "mummy servant" I knew things had to change.

I don't want my children to grow up spoilt and entitled and I don't want them to think that it's the mothers' job to run the house. Instead, I want to raise independent children who recognise the value in contribution.

Of course, having let them off the hook for so long, my partner and I had our work cut out in turning things around. We made a list of jobs that we felt the kids could take sole responsibility for (like the ironing??? jokes) and other things that we could all do together.

Some of the new jobs were easy to implement. Washing up, for example, was something they enjoyed. With one washing and the other drying it was time to chat (and throw soap suds at each other??? and me??? and the floor) and before they knew it, the job was done.

But some jobs (such as keeping their rooms tidy) were met with resistance. We told them that it was important for them to pitch in, and that being part of a family means you need to look after each other (which includes changing the toilet roll holder damn it!) We also "rewarded" their work with $2 pocket money.

But is a "reward" (or bribe?) the best way forward? Family therapist Giuliett Moran of Empowering Parents thinks it's a step in the right direction. "Offering a reward at the end of the week for chores can teach children about delayed gratification, which is an important skill for children to learn."

Moran also notes that the "reward" doesn't have to be money, it could also be a trip to the beach or the park. "This then becomes a bigger picture lesson for the child, it isn't necessarily that they are being 'paid' for their help and time, instead it is their positive behaviour and assistance that is being recognised and rewarded," she says.

It's not just about the reward though. I constantly remind my children that it's good for them to help out. Moran agrees that explaining what they're getting out of it is another way to encourage children to pitch in. "Involving children with housework teaches them some really important life skills, such as responsibility, how to work well with others and self-discipline," she says.

"Chores also provide children with a sense of purpose and help them to feel that like they are contributing to the household, which builds confidence and self-esteem."

Since introducing new rules about housework, things have changed for the better. Sure, the house still looks a bit "lived in" most of the time, but at least now my children know how to throw the vacuum around if my in-laws are coming over.

Tips for getting your children to help out:

  • Implement chores from a young age so that it becomes part of their routine. Moran says that it's simply a matter of finding age-appropriate chores. "For example, at the age of two or three, children are capable of packing away toys, helping to water the garden and dusting with socks on their hands," she says.
  • Take a collaborative approach - talk to your child about the importance of having them help with housework and try to work together to identify what jobs they can assist with, to help them take ownership.
  • Make a list of weekly chores and put it somewhere your kids can see it. A visual reminder of what needs to be done can help make chores a habit rather than a struggle.

This story This is how I trick my kids into doing the housework first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.