One of the gifts of working with kids and families is that I get to learn from other parents’ experiences. A common refrain I hear from parents is “I can’t get my kid to clean their room!”
Parents try all manner of things to coerce their kids into doing chores from withholding Martial Arts lessons (not my favorite) to taking away video games/phones.
I sympathize with the struggle.
And, I am speaking from the cheap seats of toddlerhood and early elementary grades. You will have to visit another blog to find out how to get teenagers to do chores, and in the meantime I wish you all good things.
However, here are a few observations and field notes from my experience of getting my kids to do their chores.
- Don’t give up on chores
Just because it’s hard to get your kids to do chores, does not mean that you should just do it yourself.
I know that, at this time, it is probably easier to just do the stuff yourself because letting your kids “help” feels like more trouble than it’s worth.
I know they have homework, practice, and responsibilities of their own.
DO NOT GIVE UP ON CHORES.
Your kids need to contribute to your home. If you as mom or dad always do these things for them, it will not get easier for them to learn later.
- Break it down
Just because we aren’t giving up on chores doesn’t mean that we start with a complete and complex task like “clean your room.”
If your child is used to you doing all the things (no matter how hold they are), going straight from “Dad cleans my room” to “I clean my room” is going to be a big leap. It will be frustrating for all of you. So, you need to start with a specific task that they can learn: “Put your laundry in the basket.” “Spend 5 minutes putting away toys.” “Learn to fold t-shirts.”
From there you can build into more complicated tasks until you can say “Clean your room” and they know what you want and are able to do it.
- Do it with them
Since we’re breaking down our chores and perhaps thinking of this as “training to be a self-sufficient human in the future” rather than “group torture” it is helpful to recognize that maybe you need to do chores with your kids for awhile.
This is hard because doing chores “with” is actually different than doing chores “for” your kids.
I know that today it is faster for me to wash dishes than to watch and wait while my six year old scrubs the plates. I know some food might find it’s way into my dishwasher. I also know that some of my plates might break. These things are all okay with me (if they’re not okay with you, I get it, you can pick a different chore for your six year old).
I’m learning and practicing waiting for my daughter to do these things. Because letting her do it helps her build her confidence, it helps her know she’s contributing to our home, and, some day, she’ll be able to do these things by herself.
- Make it fun
Stay with me.
Yes, doing chores with your kids CAN be fun. You can set a timer (I recommend about 15 minutes) to clean up. Turn on some music they like. Dress up as the cleaning fairy. Make it a race. Create a basketball game of tossing clothes into the hamper. Use your imagination (or your child’s imagination).
When your kids are playing, they are learning. They are also not complaining, and your house will be cleaner without you feeling like your nagging everyone.
- Be specific about your expectations
In my family, we have a weekly family meeting when my daughters get to choose their chores. They can choose feeding the dog, helping with laundry, clearing the table, or a few other things. That job is theirs for the week, and if they don’t like it, they can choose a new chore next week. This variety and choice seems to limit resistance in my house (something else might work better in your family), and I feel like we’re able to focus on one skills at a time.
I like to think I’m playing a long game here, and that by the time my six year old is 8 or 9, she’ll be able to handle her own laundry with some support from me. It might not work that way, but that’s what we’re going for.
Whatever your expectations for your kids about chores, it helps to have a way to track or check in to see if your kids is doing it, and a rational consequence that happens if they don’t.
I don’t like paying my kids for chores right now, because I think chores are just a part of being in our family (I’m not totally committed to this philosophy and would love to hear other thoughts on this).
When you’re thinking about consequences, a cursory thought here is to think about who you’re punishing. Occasionally, I hear about teachers taking recess away from kids who are hyper and can’t sit still in class. Again, I sympathize with the struggle, but I feel like this is a counter-productive solution. I think a little firmness, support, and playful “we’re all in this together” spirit goes a long way.
Do you have any secrets to getting your kids to do chores?
Any suggestions for breaking it down?
Ideas for making it fun?
I’m always looking for ways to make this part of my life work better and would love to hear your suggestions!