Q: As Yom Tov approaches, I have some concerns about whether and how my children will help me around the house. This includes preparations before Yom Tov and chores on Yom Tov itself. My married children are coming for Sukkos, but they have to watch their own children and really can’t help cook, clean up or serve. I can forget about people cleaning up after meals; they either want to go to sleep or attend a Simchas Beis Hasho’eivah at a local shul. My older daughter works hard all week, and doesn’t want to be the “slave.” My younger children could really do more, but they would rather “babysit” (let’s be realistic — play with) their nieces and nephews. Getting children to go to sleep is also impossible on these nights.
How can I get my family to help out so the entire burden of Yom Tov-related chores doesn’t fall on me?
A: Unfortunately, we live in a society where children can easily say, “In my friend’s house, the cleaning lady does this,” or “None of my friends work this hard.” Some children are more cooperative and helpful by nature, but the general culture does not value selflessness as a virtue.
There are various methods you can employ to create adherence to rules and positive reinforcement. Counting down from 20 to 0 is a helpful technique (especially for bedtime issues). With young children, you can try a game using a timer (or, on Yom Tov, look at the clock) to time the job being accomplished; when the timer rings, the job has to be complete.
Use these methods without anger and apparent irritation to avoid entering into a power struggle with your children. In a power struggle, both sides desire to win. You must attempt to role model negotiation and calm to avoid such situations. The challenge of an outside monitor — such as a timer — motivates children — especially because it is non-human — and removes the human power struggle usually encountered with an authority figure.
With a bit of creativity, you can make less desirable jobs more palatable. Before Sukkos, doing a “less desirable” job can be sweetened by the goal of later putting up sukkah decorations together with a parent. Reframe chores as a family project and, when complete, all members can participate in an outing to the neighborhood ice cream store.
You can also break down seemingly “gigantic jobs” into smaller components. (This is also of help to adults!) Sometimes a 15-minute work period followed by a short break can make a long job more bearable. It is also important to remember that a child needs to feel successful in the task she does. Let your child make her bed (even if it is not done to your standards), to help build her sense of competency. You can touch it up after the child leaves, but at least she feels her work was acceptable. The appreciation you express both by your words and behavior is positive reinforcement on its own.
It is helpful to print out an agreed-upon list of jobs beforehand (including serving and cleaning up toys in the living room). As certain children may be too tired at night to help out, you need to work with each family member’s limitations. Rewards can include Yom Tov excursions, if these are a workable possibility for your family.
Hatzlachah, and have a good Yom Tov!