Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, my kids’ rooms resemble a frat house. But instead of empty beer cans and pizza boxes, they have 10 water bottles and half-eaten peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches scattered throughout their space.
Two of my three kids, ages 12 and 15 (twins), have always found it challenging to be organized, but spending more time at home has exacerbated their struggles.
I know that parents have complained about their kids’ messy rooms forever. But in this pandemic, with no sports, no events, no trips and no in-person schooling, shouldn’t easy household chores be — easier?
“When you are doing activities and going to school, your chores are time-limited. When you are at home, there is always something to do. It’s almost never-ending. It feels pointless,” says Sonya Belletti, a clinical social worker in Coral Springs, Fla.
The fear and lingering uncertainty brought on by the pandemic also could exacerbate an issue that keeps kids from doing their chores in the best of times, says Belletti.
So how do you help kids who are having a hard time? I asked Belletti and other experts for their advice.
Think about your messaging: “As adults, we grew up thinking chores were onerous. We feel oppressed by the amount of time we have to spend. And so we’re resentful as adults, as parents, of how much work it takes,” says Laura Markham, a clinical psychologist and author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting. And if we convey that resentment to our kids, she says, we can’t expect them to feel any better about chores.
Instead, explain why chores matter. Alyse Bone, clinical mental health counselor at Dandelion Family Counseling in Charlotte, N.C., suggests explaining that when you are organized you are better able to find things and feel less frustrated.
Markham suggests explaining to your kids that chores are important because that is how you show respect and contribute to your family.
Let kids have a say: Family meetings can be a time to discuss which household tasks need to be done, who will complete each one, why chores are important and what your expectations are. “When you allow your child to pick their chore, they feel more collaborative, it helps the child feel included, since they decided on this chore,” Bone says.
Focus on time, not tasks: Yuzu Sasaki Byrne, a professional organizer specializing in ADHD in Chicago, recommends the Pomodoro technique, making the chore time-limited instead of focusing on task completion. “Try spending five minutes cleaning your desk and see how much you can get done in that time-frame,” she says.
Do your chores together: When parents do chores with their children, they can create a sense of community while modeling responsible behaviors.
Make your expectations clear: Bone says one reason kids may struggle with chores is that parents may not have shown them exactly how to do the chore effectively. “Clean your room” may seem like an obvious task, but have you explained your definition of “clean”?