Wire The Brain to Love Chores and Improve Family Connection

As a marriage and family therapist, the families I work with are busy. The last thing they want to hear from me is that I think they need more one-on-one time, because most of them are already trying their hardest to get in as much quality time as they can. But, the fact remains that parent/child relationships thrive when they include undivided parental attention and time.


With this kind of attuned attention, kids build their sense of self and have their attachment needs met. It’s how they learn to self-regulate, and it actually improves executive function as well. Without it, kids are prone to acting out, which stresses out parents and causes them to react in anger or  to distance themselves, causing more acting out. So, the cycle continues. The developing mind is designed to grow in connection with others.


Multitasking for Love

It can seem nearly impossible to wring even a few extra minutes out of our busy days, and yet a few extra minutes is all it takes. Ideally, connection time would be spent doing an activity of your child’s choosing, where they get to direct the play. For older kids and teens it’s just about being present with them during time together, and letting them decide how to spend it. Again, that’s ideal. The fact is, we are a society of multi-taskers, and while I would never suggest foregoing the kind of interaction just described, since we often have so much to do, why not make more of it about connection and not just the rigamarole?


Housework needs to happen. A lot of parents either struggle with their kids around getting them to do it; or they do it themselves because it’s faster and easier than teaching kids how, or fighting. A lot of what kids dislike about doing chores is that it is tedious and lonely. Often kids don’t really think they know how to do the job. Many feel overwhelmed by the task of doing a chore without company.


Without a reward system, it’s hard for kids to see the benefits of housework. But, looking at it from a connection point of view, doing housework together can be time-in time, while also getting stuff done. When done with the goal of connection in mind, and not just a clean house, teaching a skill or working in tandem puts more joy into it.


Wiring the Brain to Like Chores?


Doing housework with children communicates care for them, and confidence in them. It builds important skills like resilience, perseverance, and wires the brain against loneliness and overwhelm. Neuroscientists say, “if it wires together; it fires together.” If kids have a positive emotional experience with parents as they learn to do housework, they will ultimately associate positive feelings with the job so that future work, even when done alone, is more rewarding and more likely to get done.


This might sound a little rosy. But, take a moment to take stock of family life as it is today. How is the housework situation? Smooth sailing? How’s everyone getting along? Could the kids use a little more one-on-one time with you? Want to leap two hurdles in one jump?


Among the most common concerns family therapists and parent coaches encounter are issues around the lack of connection between parents and kids. Families are really that busy. If you don’t believe your child’s quick frustration or fighting with her younger sibling is a parent/child relationship issue, just try the experiment of spending twenty minutes of quality time together, everyday, for one week. During this time, let your child choose the activity as you support her play. Don’t lead the way, follow. Ask open ended questions, make simple observations, communicate your delight in him. Then read the temperament barometer.


Housework Done Together is Good for Parents and Kids


Done intentionally, with presence and patience, let yourselves sink into the work. Housework is an opportunity for both parents and kids to settle nerves (provided the goal is together time and not perfection!) through the sensory experience of physical work done with someone you love. It is an opportunity for kids to learn valuable lessons about responsibility at the same time important work is getting done on a household level and an emotional one.


Enjoy being together as you use your bodies to create more harmony in your environment.

Jenny Kepler, is a marriage and family therapist and writer who has been helping families navigate parenthood for over 10 years. Her office is in downtown Portland, OR where she does in-person therapy with adults, couples, and families. She also offers parent-coaching over the phone for people who can’t see her in Portland.


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