Can you believe the kids today? Whining and complaining about chores, I just don’t get it. When we were kids, we did all our chores to perfection with a smile on our face and begged our parents to nag just a little bit more, right? I think not. Why then do we expect our kids to be so different from us?
Warning, this next sentence may hurt. You actually have no control over how your child feels. I know we love to see our kids happy, but we can’t make our kids love chores any more than we love coming home from a long day at work to three loads of laundry and a sink full of dishes. What we can do is set the stage for chores to be a regular part of family life, free from nagging, and full of teaching and learning valuable life skills. Here's some tips to show you how:
Understand the purpose of chores. Sometimes we get so stuck in power struggles around chores, that we forget the larger purpose. Chores are about being a contributing member of the family, and about learning the skills necessary for functioning as adults. So, step out of the power struggle, and think about how you learned these things and just how long it took to do so.
Don’t tie chores to allowance. While it’s tempting to dangle allowance over their heads when kids resist doing chores, allowance and chores are actually two separate things. Receiving an allowance is about learning how to responsibly spend and save money. Chores are about being part of a family that takes quite a bit of work to run. While allowance and rewards may motivate in the short term, they lose their appeal quite quickly and then you lose out on both teaching life skills and teaching about money.
Involve them in choosing chores. This may shock you, but each year on their birthday, my children get to pick a new chore. They talk about it for weeks before hand, excitedly thinking about what they will choose. How did we achieve this magic? We started when they were very young and made the kids a part of the discussion. We asked what they wanted to learn first and we started with that one. Again, it’s easy to have an idea of what you want them to do, but if you want them to whine just a little less, be sure and involve them in the process of choosing.
When we needed a mid-year boost in responsibilities, we made a list with the kids of all the things it takes to run our family, from work to chores to errands. We then asked the kids to go through and circle the item they were solely responsible for. As you can imagine, it was a small percentage of the list. Their reaction was priceless, “Wow, no wonder you need some help!”
We let them know that beyond help, what was really important to us was that they felt comfortable with many of these skills before they left for college. We then asked which things they were interested in learning first. Periodically, we check in and see all the things they have learned and see what might be next on their list. Notice this is not our list, but theirs, which goes a long way towards them taking ownership of learning these skills.
Make a plan. A good plan can make all the difference when it comes to our children following through. Have a discussion, and work through the logistics of chore completion. Your plan should include specifics as to when the chore will be completed, how they will remember to do the chore, and how they will communicate that it is complete. This is also the time to add in any parts that are important to you. If your rule is that chores need to be done before screen time, you will want to make sure this is part of your agreement from the beginning.
Creating a plan creates clear expectations, helps us avoid nagging and helps kids learn to be responsible and really own their job. Let your child really be a part of the decision-making and yield where you can. Think recipes instead of rules.
Take time for training. Children often resist tasks when they are overwhelmed with what is being asked of them. It does not matter if you know your child can do it, what matters is that they believe they can do it. Try these four steps when teaching your child a new chore: 1) Have your child watch you do it, 2) Have them help you do it, 3) Help your child do it, 4) Watch your child do it. This is more likely to help your child feel capable in doing the task and help them move through being overwhelmed.
Don’t expect perfection. If you are expecting Martha Stewart like precision, your child might not be the only one miserable. When we started cleaning up after dinner together as a family, we knew that it would be a while before it felt like help. And boy did it! It took almost a full year before they were proficient at it. At six and nine years old, they do pretty well. In fact, they were so proud of mastering these skills that they recently kicked us out of the kitchen after dinner to clean up by themselves.
Express appreciation, even if it wasn’t perfect. So often we discourage kids by criticizing their imperfections and focusing on what they didn’t do right. Imagine if your boss was standing over you and every time you made a typo, they were right there to point it out. Sound like fun? Most of us can relate to that feeling of being micromanaged. It makes us want to say, “Why don’t you just do it yourself!”
When your child completes a chore, say thank you. Let them know how much you appreciate them pitching in to help the family run smoothly. If you need to take more time for training, pick another time to bring that up.
Follow through with kindness and firmness. This helps you and your children learn to trust each other. Here are some tips for helping both you and your child keep your agreements:
1) If you have agreed that chores happens at a certain time, make sure that time is kept clear so they can follow through. If you need to schedule something during that time, ask them.
2) Give your child the benefit of the doubt and assume they will keep their agreement. It never feels good to have people second guess or micromanage us, and our children feel the same. This means giving a grace period before checking in on their plan.
3) If the agreed upon chore time has past and your child is still not getting started, check in calmly. You might say, “I notice its past 4pm, what’s our agreement about what happens at this time?”
4) If they still are not jumping on board, avoid lecturing and nagging. The less words the better. Simply sit next to them and calmly wait for them to get to it, or put a gentle hand on them and point in the direction of the chore. You may be surprised at how well this works, but don’t expect them to be full of joy. They will likely groan and stomp off. This is when we really need to keep our mouths shut and let them have their emotions. All that’s needed is a “thank you for keeping our agreement" when they complete the chore.
While you can’t make your child love chores, you can share control, teach important life skills and help them feel capable along the way. Not only does this increase their willingness to do chores, it often shifts their behavior in general as they begin to learn that they have a role and that matter in the family.