Building a Sense of "Can Do"

Delaney Ruston, MD
July 21, 2020
2 girls cooking

First, I want to take a minute to thank everyone for subscribing and all the emails and support regarding the launch of the Screenagers Podcast last week. We hit the #1 spot in Apple Podcasts’ “Parenting” category, a subset of their “Kids & Family” section. I am busily editing many more episodes. Here is the link to subscribe. As intended, many of you listened with your kids and said the episodes were a great launching point for discussions.

Today I want to talk about how we can help our kids — off screens — build a sense of "Can Do" and "Can Help." I am talking about helping in the home — otherwise known as chores.

There is no denying that kids often gripe about doing chores. A person I very much respect gave me a helpful way to think about this fact. Tammy Fisher Huson, Ph.D., one of my favorite parent coaches and author of "Fearless Parenting" once told me, "I do the dishes, and I don't have a smile on my face — we can't expect that from our kids. It is key that we give them positive recognition when they complete the task because you get more of what you name. Even though they had to do it, we can still express gratitude."

Tammy is all about ensuring that we point out the positive actions our kids do. This can be challenging. Think how easy it is to say things such as, “Why do I have to ask so many times?” or “This floor is not swept well enough.”

As a parent, I realized that I was conflicted about how much I should be thanking my child for doing chores when, after all, it was their responsibility. Tammy helped me to see that taking the time to thank them is really important. Validating our kids and teens for the help they provide goes a long way in motivating them to want to be lifelong contributors.  

Here are some examples of the type of things Tammy suggests that parents say to their children. It is all about positive recognition.

  • "I know you really weren't excited to mop the kitchen, but the floor looks amazing, and I am so appreciative."
  • "I know it is a pain to clean windows, but now they sparkle, thank you so much. I know you really didn’t want to do it. It shows a lot of respect for the family that you plowed through and did it anyway."
  • "It is wonderful to have clean cabinet doors finally, You really stuck through that — that takes a lot of tenacity."
  • “Thank you for cleaning the bathroom.”

By the way, we are currently finishing a new episode of the Screenagers Podcast about screen time rules with Dr. Fisher Huson as my guest. Tammy is someone I often have gone to for parenting insights, and I can’t wait to share the episode with you.    

Here is a list of ways kids can help around the home to build a sense of “Can Do” and “Can Help”:

  1. Suggest they make a homemade wall hanging calendar that the whole family can use.
  2. Have them organize a bookshelf, and at the same time, talk about your favorite books. Are there any books that would be fun to share with friends? Or donate?  
  3. Have them pick a night to cook dinner for the family.
  4. Suggest a cooking challenge where they have to come up with a dinner using what's in the refrigerator and cabinets only.
  5. How about some home beautification? If your kid(s) like to do art, maybe they will paint or draw new artwork for the walls.
  6. Suggest washing windows. It takes skill, so watching a YouTube video can help. This is also something you can do with them, or siblings can be a tag team, where one person soaps the window and the other squeegees it.
  7. Have them make homemade granola. Here's a recipe I made up, and make often. (Oats have many health benefits, and homemade is healthier than store-bought with less sugar and less saturated fat): mix together several cups of regular oats, add some apple (or orange) juice until just moist, add a quarter cup of canola or olive oil (or leave out the oil if you prefer), add a little brown sugar or honey, and some cinnamon. Mix it all and spread it out on two cookie sheets lined with tin foil sprayed with cooking oil. Bake at 325 degrees for about 20 minutes. Once it is out, add raisins and nuts if desired.
  8. Find a small sewing project they can do. I remember my mother-in-law having all her grandkids sit in a circle while she taught them how to sew on a button. She lovingly told them that sewing is an essential skill, and she wanted to make sure they knew the basics.
  9. Find a small painting project such as a door in a bathroom. Learning how to do all the prep work for painting is key, as well as the actual painting.
  10. Have them check all the lightbulbs in the house to see if they are energy efficient. They could then swap out ones that could help save energy and money. Some counties have rebate programs that offer low-cost and even free energy-efficient light bulbs.
  11. If you have a yard that has a sprinkler system, have them look for leaks.
  12. Watering or pruning plants in the yard are great activities to do with them. You can talk about what plants do in the winter vs. summer. You can talk about which plants will hibernate and which will be evergreen.
  13. Have them wipe out the inside of the refrigerator. I can tell you that when they get into communal living— think college and beyond— and they voluntarily tackle the refrigerator, they will be so appreciated (as well as if they clean the inside of a microwave).
  14. How about an outside home project such as building a small birdhouse? There are kits for this, but starting from scratch is that much more satisfying.
  15. Consider going over the steps of how one would change a flat tire. My nephew told me last night that he had to show he could do this before he was allowed to get his driver's license, and he really appreciated that his parents made him learn this skill.
  16. Now is a great time to show them how to check the oil and to discuss how to change it.
  17. Have them organize any cooking tools you have. This might even spark an idea for a cooking project.
  18. Have everyone find their unmatched socks and have a child work to pair up all unmatched socks. (And perhaps have a philosophical discussion about where the heck all unmatched socks disappear to.)
  19. Have them do the grocery shopping. If you want to make sure they get and spend what you expect, you might have them grocery shop online, and then you can check out the purchases before you actually buy them.
  20. Have your child plan a meal for someone else in the family to cook. Your child can look at the grocery store specials and be challenged to make something with a budget you give them.

There are so many tasks, but I will stop here. If you have other suggestions, please go to the Screenagers Facebook page and share your ideas!

Ideas for conversation starters:

  • Consider sharing with your kids the types of home help tasks you did growing up. Even if you have discussed this in the past, maybe there are some new and funny details that you could add this time around.
  • Discuss with your kids the common mental obstacles humans have to start different home tasks and yet how so often there is a sense of pleasure at the end of it. What kind of good feelings are there? A sense of self-efficacy? Feeling some pride in the work? Feeling good about helping others?
  • What are home help activities that now, with COVID-19, might make sense to take on? There are many suggestions above and, of course, many people are cleaning out closets these days.

We NOW have a way for people to host online events during this time. We still strongly believe in the coming together as a group model for showing both movies, so these temporary online events will be here only while the social distancing is in place.

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