Do you ever get frustrated when your kids just step over stuff and seemingly don’t notice the mess? It doesn’t matter how long something is on the floor or left undone, they’ll just leave it there. It’s as if they have a unique ability to ignore clutter. Even if you’ve taught them to do chores! Well, you’re not alone! In today’s episode, I want to share what I did, back in the day, when I decided something needed to be done about this. I reckon these strategies will work for you too…
Are your Kids Domestically Blind? Do they just not see the mess?
I don’t think kids change that much – so what I faced with my kids, I know you face with yours. This idea of kids just not seeing things that needed to be put away or cleaned up pushed me to take action one day. I coined the term “domestically blind” to describe those times when my kids simply didn’t seem to see the mess or respond to it. It was a frustrating realization, but I also discovered that there’s something we, as parents, can do about it.
Raising Responsible Kids
I started teaching my kids to do chores from around the age of 3. By the time they were 10 or so, they were fully able and responsible to do their daily chores and be responsible for the things on our chore roster. Despite this, there were still times when they didn’t take the initiative (or show responsibility) to address household tasks.
So, what did I do? To be honest, I had a bit of fun with it – I decided to start what I call “The School for the Domestic Blind.” In this initiative, I focused on teaching my kids to pay attention to detail, notice the little things, and develop a sense of initiative and responsibility.
Right from when I got married, I divided my house up into different zones and focused on the cleaning of those zones on different days. Once I started teaching my kids chores – the chore roster was in keeping with different zones of the house – by the time we had 4 kids over 10 years of each, each child was responsible for a specific area for a week – and our roster rotated weekly. Our zones included the kitchen, the bathroom, the laundry, and the great outdoors, which encompassed chores like handling trash and caring for our pets.
We had two chore times throughout the day (it used to be three when they were younger but as they got older, and had more happening in their day, we found twice a day worked well. Their responsibilities were to maintain cleanliness and order on a daily basis as well as to do the weekly deeper cleaning in their zone or area. They were also responsible for the weekly cleaning of their bedroom, as well as all the ironing of their own clothes (if that was necessary).
Yes, they did a lot and my reasoning was that I wanted them to know the workload of maintaining a home and their personal possessions. I wanted them to know the whole skill set, not just as a helper. I also wanted them to know how these tasks helped others so it wasn’t just about them looking after their own stuff – it was part of the family team and what was necessary for running our family.
Strategies for Tackling Domestic Blindness
So back to domestic blindness. One of the strategies I often implemented was to run a bootcamp – this was just a play on words really, but it helped me (and probably my kids) to know that this was our focus, that it was an intense focus on a specific skill because I felt they had dropped the bundle. Bootcamp was usually about upping the game, pulling up socks, that type of thing – it was to get things back on track, not so much initial teaching and training.
The School for the Domestically Blind – was a week of intense training because my kids already had the skills – they were just being slack.
As I did before all boot camp times I reflected on what was not happening, what was it we needed to work on – was it a heart issue, or was it a skill issue, or was there something practical in our day that was making this not happen in our family. These are the lessons I decided we needed to learn in the coming week:
1–Know your list – Our kids had got into the habit of not actually checking their list, so they were missing tasks that were important to do. (Our roster chart also includes the actual tasks that need to be done.)
2–Glance around the room – This was a strategy to help them double-check to make sure they had done everything. I taught them to stand at the doorway and start at the left and glance around to the right, cleaning or tidying anything they saw out of place.
3–Hotspots – Every room has a space that just gather’s clutter. So we worked on seeing those things, rather than ignoring the clutter building up. Hotspots were added to our chore list for each area of our home.
4–Thoroughness – We focused on the character trait of Thoroughness (which I define as): knowing your goal and working on every detail till it is completed. Since our kids were a little older I also challenged them to think about the things that stopped them from being thorough, what blocks them from doing the job to the standard they know is expected. It was a good time of self-reflection and taking ownership of attitudes and choices.
5- Leave a Room Better than you found it – This was actually a strategy for us to realise that we had to clean up after ourselves, regardless of who was responsible for that space that week, as well as the challenge to go the extra mile and simply helping someone else – being willing to do a small task regardless of the roster. This one is a big heart trigger.
6–See what Mum Sees – This was where I came in and we directly addressed domestic blindness – the choice (intentional or otherwise) to not see the tasks that need to be done around the home. At the end of chore time, I would make sure I checked each zone and called my kids back to fix the things they didn’t deal with. Just like when we were teaching them to do these chores, immediate feedback and time for a do-over, or re-do, is what taught them to do it right the first time.
When I called them back in to the room, it gave me an opportunity to reinforce the
- Knowing your list
- Glancing around the room
- Checking your hotspots, and
- Asking them if they had been thorough
Teaching Children Chores
The real point of dealing with domestic blindness is to teach our children to see what we see and understand that the things they conveniently ignore are actually a part of their responsibility. It’s about holding them accountable for the little things as well as the bigger or obvious tasks.
For instance, think about the kitchen. If your child didn’t do the dishes one night, you would have no trouble expecting them to do it. They know it’s their responsibility and you call them on it. But do they rinse out the sink, do they wipe down the benches, and do they put away the leftovers? It’s these types of tasks that we see automatically, that we maybe don’t list on the chore chart, and yet we expect them to do it. And when they don’t, we either get cross or ignore it which means our frustration only grows. The answer is – to teach them to see these extra things and to complete the full task of managing and maintaining the area in the home that is their responsibility for that week.
A friend said to me once, that we need to tell our kids what our brain is thinking as we do a task. If I remember correctly she was talking about the writing process, but it is true for anything we want to teach our kids. We do things automatically, and somehow we have to teach that to our kids. By slowing down and articulating the sequence of thoughts that your brain goes through as you get things done around the house, our kids can learn the same processes.
Domestic blindness is simply not exercising the muscles to see what needs to be done. If we follow up behind our kids and do it for them – or tell them what to do again and again – we are not training their muscles to see it for themselves – we are robbing them of the opportunity to show responsibility and even initiative.
Do you have any little things that get overlooked, ignored, or conveniently forgotten? It is up to you to help everyone see the things that need to be done, teach them how to deal with those things, and then let them do it – and hold them accountable for doing it. If it is their responsibility it is their responsibility.
Heart-focused Action Step
Now, here’s a heart-focused question: Is domestic blindness a matter of your child being naughty, or are they simply unaware of their responsibilities?
Reflect on that – how often are you micromanaging or correcting or being frustrated with them and their chores – what’s going on?
It could go either way – they could be unaware, they could be slack, or they could be choosing not to be responsible, they could be overwhelmed and not finding time to do their chores like they used to. Heart issues are never a blanket thing – it is where you as the parent have to be careful in not jumping on your kids thinking the worst, and yet neither should you ignore addressing the situation at all.
So ask yourself are chores being done how we would like them to be done? Are our kids leaving areas in our house done like we’d like them to left? If so – have I thanked and praised our kids for their efforts? If not – what do I need to do to help them learn to do better? Maybe you need a School for the Domestically Blind!
parenting takes heart-work
Teach your Child Anything
These 5 steps will help you teach your child anything.
But there is no timeline or standard for how quickly it will take to go through each step.
Learning to do something takes time – and we have to be supportive during that learning process, not demanding. So check that you are giving your child time to practice.
The biggest change parents have to make is to stop telling and expecting and actually put in the work to help our children understand the importance of what we are teaching, and the how to do it.
What is one skill or response you are focusing on at the moment in your home?
Leaving the Room better than when you Walked in
I always found it helpful to coin catchy phrases that I could remind the kids with – and they knew what I meant. Stop & Check is one such phrase. They knew that when I said “Have you Stopped & Checked?” that they had more than likely stepped over something, ignored something, or were being slack!
Another thing I did was created a little graphic, and laminated it, and put it at the doorway as a visual reminder for them to ‘stop & check’ as they walked out the room. This didn’t stay up on the wall for long – because we stop seeing reminders after a while, but it was a good tool to use to get people back in the habit.
So here are the steps I’d take to introduce this idea into your family
- Talk about this idea – one way we can all help to make our home a nice place to be is to always remember to do something to leave a room better than when we walked in. It may not be on your chore list, but it is still a part of being responsible around the house to do the little things we can do to help us all enjoy living here.
- Introduce the phrase – stop & check. Introduce your visual prompt. Make it light and fun – this is just one of those funny things our family does!
- When you see a child leaving a room, at random times say – “Did you ‘stop & check’?” They’ll either go back or you can ask them what little thing they did. It’s not a rule, they’re not in trouble – you are just teaching them a habit to go the extra mile.
- We learn by doing. So help your child practice “stop & check”.
- When you notice them doing it, then praise them for taking notice of their surroundings and doing something to make it pleasant for others.
Leaving a room nicer than when we find it isn’t about doing a deep clean in that room. There is a time, place, and person to do that. Leaving the room nicer than when we find it is about the little things – something in the wrong place, replacing something that is missing, a quick swipe and so forth. It should only take a moment. If we all do a little bit as we walk out of a room, the house stays much tidier.
Take a copy of this last image – print it out and use it to get your family started with ‘stop & check’.
Let me know if you are going to do that!
We do Chores for a Reason:
Chores teach responsiblity, diligence, thoroughness, self-control, punctuality, orderliness.
If these are values you want your child to live by then talk about these values as the reason why you want them to do their chores well.
Help your child understand the values behind the instructions and expectations you have in your family.
Do you talk about character traits when you talk about chores? Or is this a new idea for you?
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