How to delegate at home (and get your children involved)

How many times have you thrown your hands up in the air and asked yourself why you’re the only one doing anything around the house? Find out how delegation can help ease your workload – and resentment. 

Sometimes housework can feel like a losing battle, and as your children start to grow, so does the resentment that you’re doing everything – especially if you’re working as well as looking after your home. 

However, it doesn’t have to be like that. As Kristen Harding from My Family Care explains, with some thoughtful delegation you can teach your kids responsibility and share the workload by learning to delegate – just as you delegate tasks in a work situation.

Why delegating tasks is a good idea

We’re not saying your child should replace you or the cleaner, but giving children small tasks to do around the house not only allows them to feel a like they are a part of the household, but to learn to respect what you do to keep your house running.

It’s also an opportunity to learn the tools they will need as young adults. We know it’s hard to think about this when your child is only three, but it’s never too soon to start!

It may seem a long way off but eventually you’ll be teaching your child things that will carry them well into adulthood – whether it’s doing their own laundry at university or cleaning toilets for a summer job.

Young children may be more enthusiastic

You may find introducing shared household tasks goes down better with smaller children – young children often like to help. If your child is a little older, don’t be surprised if they resent having to help out.

All good reason, if you can, to get your children on board from an early age, so they’re used to mucking in by the time the teenage moods come around!

So what IS the best way to delegate tasks to your children? Here are some tips that I have learned over the years.

Make chores part of your routine

Making chores a routine helps everyone start to realise that these are things that need to be done on a regular basis, rather than one offs.

Whether it is simple tasks that are done daily or a family chore session on Saturday morning, if children know that tasks need to be done before anything else happens, the battles diminish greatly!

We recommend having a set time that you carry out chores, as it is predictable, but mix them up – don’t make the same person do the same thing every week. We know monotony gets boring so why inflict it on others?

Get everyone involved at the same time if you can, too. Child one is less likely to complain if child two and mum and dad are all participating – this way they don’t feel like they are missing out on something else.

As a side note – don’t use chores as threats, otherwise your child will associate them with something negative.

Don’t ask – give them a task

You are the parent and what you say goes – well in this case at least. So don’t ask your children if they’ll help with something, give them a task.

Without asking a question, the wiggle room disappears and you don’t end up standing there with a pile of plates in your hand wondering how you got stuck setting the table again.

You can give them choices, however make sure you will be happy with either outcome. Instead of saying “Will you help with the dishes?”, ask, “Are you clearing the table tonight or washing the dishes?” This allows them to feel like they are in control of what they do, however you know that one of the two tasks that needs doing will be done.

Choose appropriate tasks

Asking a three year old to set the table when they can’t reach the top will make them frustrated and end in tear. But getting them to help you match socks gets a job done and they practice matching patterns and colours.

Every child is different and it’s important to listen to them when they say something is too hard. See if you can adapt it or swap things around – this will help you build a sense of trust and your child will believe that you are actually listening! You know your child better than anyone so pick chores that you think suit them and that they’ll be comfortable doing.

Here are some suggestions of chores your kids can help with:

  • 3 year olds love to help, whether it’s putting away one thing at a time or lathering up the dishes in the sink (maybe only the plastic plates and glasses through…), they are big on mimicking what you are doing, even if you need to go along behind them and give something a proper scrub! Ask them to deliver laundry to  rooms or even pretend to dust with socks on their hands is a good way to involve them in the tasks you’re completing.
  • 4 and 5 year olds should be expected to put away all their toys, keep their rooms clean, set and clear parts of the table and even help dust on cleaning day. Helping with whatever you’re preparing for dinner is a good way get them comfortable with tasks in the kitchen.
  • 6 and 7 year olds can start to help with bigger tasks. If you have a pet, they can help take them for a walk or empty the dishwasher, make lunches, and make their beds. They are also big enough to help fold laundry and help sort the recycling.
  • 8 and 9 year olds are big enough to set the table by themselves and start taking on some of the bigger tasks like hoovering or sweeping the kitchen floor. Nothing should stand in the way of these kids helping when you’re washing the car or raking leaves in the garden.
  • 10 and 11 year olds should be helping with most tasks – from folding laundry, putting away groceries, taking out the rubbish and learning how to start the machines that help lighten the load.
  • Once they hit their teenage years, you should be able to have a helper on all tasks, from cutting grass to changing sheets and preparing simple meals. By this stage they should be quite autonomous in their tasks and able to complete them to your standards.

Make tasks personal

When you delegate a task, make it personal so that your child understands why they are doing it. If they have to pick up their sister’s toys, or make their brother’s bed, they are unlikely to complete the task without argument, and you can see why!

By making the task relate to them, you add an onus of personal responsibility to the task. Cleaning up after themselves should be second nature, unless you want to be picking up after them until they leave home for good!

Give them feedback

It’s important to give kids feedback on the job they are doing BUT remember not to criticise – they are trying and it’s a learning process. If you shout or make them feel they can’t do the job they won’t want to try again.

Offering praise and showing them how to do it differently will provide you with a more positive result. Remember you will need to have patience as you may find their standards are different than yours!

At times, it may seem simpler to throw your hands up in the air and do it yourself. But this will just result in you doing all the chores, and your child learning that if they don’t do something well the first time around, they won’t have to do it again.

Make chores fun

We all remember how chores can seem to take forever if they’re dull, so the more fun you can inject the better.

Mary Poppins infused her chores with song and dance. Not everyone is that musical, but if you have a chore morning, why not crank up the volume on the stereo and take turns listening to music you all like? It’s amazing how much faster time flies when you’re singing along to your favourite tunes!

Knowing there is something fun planned for after a chore morning is another way to keep a smile on their faces. Whether it’s a trip to the park on a sunny day or a movie afternoon with friends in the rain, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Make it a race, depending on your child, competition can make things fun, but rather than pit siblings against each other, seeing if they can beat their own times can encourage them. Make sure to keep an eye on quality though as speed can sometimes change the quality of their work.

Offer your children an incentive

Not everyone believes in giving children an allowance for helping with chores, but if you do there are different ways to go about it.

It’s a good idea to get kids helping without thinking they will get paid for everything they do, but having a list of chores that they are expected to do and a list of chores that they can do if they want to earn extra pocket money bridges that gap.

The extra chores should have different values associated with them depending on what they are expected to do. This can include things that don’t have to be done all the time like washing the car or cutting the grass or weeding the garden.

Incentives don’t have to be financial. Family outings, treat nights and play-dates are a good way to reward the efforts of the kids.

Don’t expect miracles immediately

In the long term, delegating tasks to your children will ease the burden on you and give you more time to spend with them. But in the short term, putting new systems in place will take patience, as not everyone will be up to par immediately.

So don’t feel disheartened if delegating doesn’t work out perfectly from day one – if your children are unenthusiastic and tasks poorly completed. Persevere and eventually your children will realise what is expected of them and learn to do their jobs well. And you can all look forward to more quality time to spend together.

Kristen Harding was a nanny for eight years, taking care of five different families. Today she uses her experiences to help raise awareness of childcare choices through her role with My Family Care and their sister companies.