Kids and Chores

Dec 20, 2010

One of the most common struggles among parents is chores and helping out around the house. In this instance, I was asked for help regarding getting a child to do her chores. This parent lives in India and is struggling to get her daughter to finish her household tasks, although she used to complete her chores without incident. She was initially using a chore chart, which is no longer working. She is receiving an allowance for completion of her chores, and working toward buying something she wants. Here are my thoughts:

When children reach the age where they are capable of pitching in around the house and taking care of chores, it can be exciting for the parent to consider finally having a little help with the mundane housework like laundry, dishes and vacuuming. However, excitement can quickly turn into frustration when it becomes a battle between parent and child. There are things that you can do to help with the common issues surrounding chores. Here are my top six tips.

1. Make sure that the task is age appropriate.

It is easy to give children tasks that we don’t particularly like to do, like unloading the dishwasher. However, sometimes passing the buck can be detrimental to kids willingly helping. The task needs to be EASY for the child to do, without help. In other words, if glasses go into a cabinet that the child is not tall enough to reach, that is not an appropriate chore. You are the only person who can gauge if a chore is a good fit, but a good way to decide is to ask the child to help you do it before you assign it as a chore. If they do it without difficulty, you know that they are capable of handling that task on their own.

2. Remove barriers to compliance.

When you are picking chores for your children, consider the practicality of that chore for that specific child. If the table needs to be set, but the child capable of that job gets home from school right before dinner, they probably need a bit of a break before they want to jump into chores. They will likely fight the chore if it has a scheduling barrier. Likewise, if a child hates getting their clothes or hands dirty, choosing a chore that allows them to stay clean, such as folding laundry, would eliminate the personality barrier for them.

3. Include your child in the decision making process about their chores.

Don’t get in the habit of choosing everything for your kids. Even young children (two or three years old) can be given choices. Offer your children two or three options of tasks that you want completed and let them decide which they would rather do. Not only does their choice make them more likely to do the chore, it also teaches valuable decision making and consequence skills. You can read more about the importance of Choice Giving here.

4. Go with your child’s natural gifts or interests.

Don’t fight what you have been given in your children’s personalities. If you have one child who loves to be outside, their chores can be weeding and mowing the lawn (refer to number one for age appropriateness). If you have a very creative child, he might enjoy organizing closets or drawers in a new way. An athletic child might enjoy getting step ladders and dusting hard-to-reach fans and high windows. Make use of your children’s passions and you will likely get less resistance.

5. Use a child’s economy.

In other articles I have discussed punishment and that it is not nearly as effective as positive reinforcement. So, hopefully, it won’t get to a point where you have to punish them to get them to do their chores. In using reinforcement, you need to identify their economy. What is really important to your child? Sports, friends, video games, movies, special privileges like staying up late on the weekends? Whatever is the most important to them is how they get “paid”. We get salaries for doing our jobs well, they get paid with their economies. So, when you choose the positive reinforcement for finishing chores or the consequence for not doing so, use what matters most. Taking away TV from a child who would much rather listen to music will not have the same effect as a social butterfly being given extra time with friends for getting chores done during the week.

6. Set clear expectations and consequences.

You must be direct and to the point about what you expect from kids regarding chores. You must also establish what happens if they don’t comply. Keep in mind that you are not dictating the rules or demanding completion – you are setting the ground rules and letting them choose to obey or not. You can use Limit Setting tips and say, “John, chores are going to be a weekly task. If you choose to complete these chores (list, or read or post somewhere), you choose to get your allowance at the end of the week (use their economy, see number 5). If you choose not to do these chores, you choose to not play with your friends over the weekend.” You can change economy and consequence based on each child, and make sure it makes sense to the child. It is not feasible for them to know what you want and what will happen if they do or don’t comply if you don’t explain it well.