A mini-you: your children are supposed to be that, right? Or at least hopefully the best parts of you. Not necessarily. At least not immediately. Looking back at some of the good qualities of your own parents though, you probably have some of those in yourself. Until that someday for your kids, it is easy to get frustrated that their household duties are not done with more enthusiasm or with the attention to details that you would like. Children may act like they do not hear much of what you say, but it sinks in and stays there.
A mom posted a comment on my first blog on chores: “I think I’ve got this mastered for myself, but how can I teach my 7-yr old? No matter how many times I try to explain that if we “do as we go” it won’t be so overwhelming, he just doesn’t seem to catch on!! :(” My mom teased me about this, commenting that I was not much different as a kid myself, yet look at me now. She also shared a memory of her own life: there was a chair in her room which would collect piles of clothes over the week and each week her mom had her clean it off. She cannot imagine doing this now and cannot remember quite when or how it changed. The habits and behaviors that we had as children and adolescents do not always last. Life seems to happen along the way and we change. It is common for kids to explore and test limits, even completely rejecting the way a parent wants it done. I don’t remember caring whether my room was clean or tidy. It started to matter to me much later in life.
I hear how kids need limits, and how they secretly want and need rules. This is just one reason that it is a good idea to set up those expectations. My mom knew that once a week she was expected to pick up her room and clear off the chair. These house rules also help teach what it takes to maintain a welcoming house as well as return your home to that state you want it in. The key in setting these guidelines for your children is to accentuate the positive, think of Baloo talking to Mowgli in the Disney version of The Jungle Book, compliment the efforts you see. The last thing you want is for the task to become so dreaded that they avoid it.
Demonstrating skills consistently is an effective way of passing on the know-how to your children. This can also apply to showing them how to not do something. If you fall behind on doing your dishes, be real, let them see how if affects you. Do you get more frazzled? Are you more likely to drop something? Or miss some food particles and therefore create more work for yourself? If you are comfortable and the kids are old enough, talk to them about it and share the consequences. When you have not kept up with doing laundry, does someone need to where dirty clothes for a day? How much time do you lose catching up on the one thing while other things have to put on hold? Does it negatively affect your energy level? Do you get more snappy and short-tempered? Some of these things may be obvious anyway, and the point is that by doing, just doing, you are teaching your kids.
There are so many different approaches to organizing and the ways for it to be effective. It all depends on the individual. This includes kids and adolescents. If you are determined to try to find a way that they will be more orderly, think about different ways and what will work for their temperament. Maybe having some neat containers will inspire them to put everything away. This is not likely a long term solution as nifty new things lose there appeal after a while. There are pros and cons to the different approaches and so finding a way that accentuates the strengths already present means it is that much more likely to be successful. We are frequently changing and adapting, so what works for any of us at one moment may not work down the road, so knowing the other options just benefits us in the long run.
The most important thing though is simply sharing and passing along the knowledge. Even if the behavior does not change right now, the knowledge is there for them, and when they are ready for it they have it on hand. This is not unlike passing along the skills of cooking. Most people I know after they moved away from home, resorted to eating ramen and any boxes or cans of food. Yet down the road, when they became motivated, they started cooking meals. Even if they are not used, skills and knowledge remain with us.
I hope that you are not frustrated or sad that your child is not obviously picking up the skills you are trying to impart. Just remember that they are still absorbing the information and will have it available when they are ready for it. I would wager there are examples from your own life where you had habits that would make you cringe now, yet you changed and created habits that you appreciate. Providing the knowledge is what matters most. In the meantime, the rules of your home set the limits and give the opportunity to practice the skills. There is hope!