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A button's a button: Smartphone-savvy kids also can run the washing machine

Your child may be more ready for responsibility than you think, and it's good for them.
by Amy McCready / / Source: TODAY

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Pssst! Here’s a secret your kids don’t want you to know: the buttons on the washing machine work virtually the same way as the buttons on their favorite devices.

If you’re thinking what I’m thinking, it’s clearly time to get your kids helping around the house.

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To all the frustrated, overworked parents out there, let’s save our summer, and rescue our kids from the possible path of the stereotypical 30-year-old still living in Mom and Dad's basement.

It stands to reason that kids who can expertly wield a hockey stick or tennis racket should be able to handle a mop or a vacuum cleaner. And if your child frequently has to tutor you in how to change the settings on your phone? Most likely, he or she can help younger siblings with homework, organize closets or set up the new printer.

Helping kids step up to the plate with household chores is a process that any parent can tackle this summer. The Positive Parenting Solutions Tech-to-Task Guide will help you identify which new skill-appropriate responsibilities your child may be able to tackle next.

Sure, we don’t expect your kids to spend their summer days digging ditches. But it's important they learn that everyone has to contribute for a family to function. As a bonus, they'll develop the real-world skills and habits that they’ll use in their own home one day.

I know what you’re probably thinking: It’s so much easier just to do the work myself.

Trust me, we’ve all been there. The good news is that once you train your children in age-appropriate responsibilities, trust them to get the job done, and ignore their complaints, there’s nothing stopping you — or them.

Use the four-step process below (with plenty of patience) and by mid-summer, your kids will be making some real contributions:

Step 1: Tracking

In addition to their age, your child’s technology habits and other activities can be a tell-tale indicator of the responsibilities for which your kids are ready.

Toddlers who can sort blocks can also sort socks.

If your fourth grader can conceptualize and build entire worlds on Minecraft, he can also learn to construct his own healthful lunch every day.

Kids who regularly play games on the family iPad can certainly work the dishwasher and washing machine.

And teens who make playlists with ease can manage the family’s online grocery list.

The key is to find the right, age-appropriate tasks for each child so you’re not frustrating them with jobs that are too hard, or expecting too little. Then, track with them as they grow, so you’re continually adding in new responsibilities.

Step 2: Training

Once you’ve identified which jobs your kids can probably handle, it’s time for some training. This is best done one-on-one with no siblings around to distract. Break the task into smaller steps and be sure to keep expectations reasonable and crystal clear.

For instance, if your child can clear and wipe down a table at camp, implement the practice at home with the same expectations: an empty table, free of crumbs or spills. You could also add in the expectation that the floor around the table will also be thoroughly swept. Then, help them practice, and answer their questions. When they’ve developed the new skills and know exactly what’s expected, you can proceed to the next step.

Step 3: Trusting

This step can be the hardest to those of us who want things done a certain way (so, most parents). If we’ve trained our kids in tasks they can handle, we can expect those tasks to be done well.

That means that as much as it pains us, we don’t re-scour the sink if our child missed a spot, or give the garden a second weeding to just get a couple more tiny sprouts. Re-doing kids’ work is incredibly discouraging. It undermines their confidence and is guaranteed to make them less enthusiastic about helping in the future.

When, however, we sit on our hands and trust that our child completed the responsibility to the best of her ability, we build his or her confidence. Also, recognize we may need to accept our child’s different methods or less-than-perfect job performance. Of course, if the sink never gets completely clean, it might be time for a little more training.

Step 4: Tasking

Here’s every parent’s big question: how do I get my children to actually do the job?

One of the most effective tools for this is a When-Then, which lays it out like this:

When the garage is organized and swept, then we can leave for baseball practice.

When you’ve matched the socks, then we’ll have a snack.

Set a time limit if need be, and make sure the “then” is a regularly occurring event (like going to practice, having a snack, etc.), and not an extra reward, or your kids will expect a “gimme” every time. Then, stick to it — after all, you know for a fact they’re capable.

Yes, they’ll whine, especially at first. Your best bet is to just ignore the griping and walk away. Don’t try to argue, because you’ll only get into a power struggle.

Once your kids get used to the idea of pitching in, and the fact that work needs to get done before certain privileges, the whining will fade. Plus, as kids pick up more confidence and capabilities, the jobs themselves will get quicker and easier.

If you’re thinking your kids could probably be doing more to help out than they currently are, chances are, you’re right.

With these four steps, you can use this summer — and skills your kids may already possess — to train them to pitch in. Download the Tech-To-Task Guide to get started.

Parenting coach Amy McCready is the Founder of Positive Parenting Solutions and the author of The “Me, Me, Me” Epidemic - A Step-by-Step Guide to Raising Capable, Grateful Kids in an Over-Entitled World and If I Have to Tell You One More Time…The Revolutionary Program That Gets Your Kids to Listen Without Nagging, Reminding or Yelling. Learn more about free parenting training with Amy.

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