Getting kids to do chores is one of the most common arguments families have. Who can’t relate to this picture? You’re yelling, “Why haven’t you cleaned your room yet?” while your child is on the couch watching TV, shouting back, “I’ll do it later!”
The reason kids don’t like doing chores is the same reason adults don’t like doing chores: household tasks are generally boring. Let’s face it; the satisfaction of getting the dishes done is not a very big reward in this day and age of video games and instant gratification. While that doesn’t mean kids shouldn’t do chores, it does help to partly explain why they resist them.
Another big reason is because children feel like they’re being taken away from something they’d like to do in order to do something that’s not exciting or stimulating. And most kids don’t solve that problem by using their time more efficiently to complete tasks quickly. Instead, you’ll see them showing disinterest and dragging their feet. I think it’s also important to understand that children don’t have the same value structure as adults. Most parents feel it’s their child’s responsibility to get their chores done, not only to help out around the house, but also to share in tasks and responsiblities as part of their role as members of the family. Certainly, kids understand on some level that they should do chores simply because they are part of the family. But as every parent knows, children have a difficult time relating that concept to action.
In my opinion, getting your child to do chores becomes a battle when you allow it to grow into one. If you’re standing over your kids telling them over and over again to “empty the dishwasher, mow the lawn, clean the kitchen”—and they’re digging their heels in and still not complying—you are in that battle, make no mistake about it.
Nag, Nag, Nag—All I Ever Do is Nag My Kids!
Frankly, I don’t like the term nagging because I think it puts a negative spin on what parents are doing—when in reality, it’s not negative at all. When we’re “nagging” our kids, we’re prompting, reminding, and encouraging them to fulfill their responsibilities. And as a parent, it’s well within our responsibilities to make sure our children do tasks around the house. In fact, I believe that part of the chore system in your home should include the rule that your child doesn’t need to be nagged. (I’ll explain more about that later.)
Parents generally get caught in a nagging cycle out of habit; we get stuck in repetitive behaviors just like kids do. Personally, I think giving a general reminder is fine. It’s perfectly okay for parents to say, “All right guys, let’s get to work now.” But after that, they need to get started. The problem with nagging, of course, is that it doesn’t work. Far too often, parents continue to do things that don’t work because they don’t have any other options. Once you turn your back on your child, they stop doing their chores—and then you have to get back on top of them, and the whole cycle repeats itself.
If you feel like you’re constantly on top of your kids, trying to get them to do their household chores, here are some effective things you can do to give yourself—and them—a break.
6 Ways to Get Your Kids to Do Their Chores (Without Going Crazy)
- Stop the Show: I believe that parents really have to learn how to stop the show. What does this mean? If your child is not doing his chores, you simply stop everything, tell him to have a seat and talk to him about it. Ask him what he thinks is going on and what’s getting in his way of doing his assigned tasks. Find out what his plans are after he’s finished and try to motivate him toward getting the work done so he move onto what he really wants to do. Appealing to a child’s self-interests—rather than explaining the abstract concept of responsibility or duty—is generally much more effective for kids.
- Time Your Child’s Performance: Timing is a good way to get your child to comply with doing chores. You can say, “All right, the dishes have to be done in 20 minutes.” If they’re not done in 20 minutes, then your child’s bedtime is earlier. Now there’s a cost associated with his foot-dragging. The beauty of this system is that you’re not constantly nagging anymore, you’re just keeping time. The next night, you can say, “Let’s not repeat what happened last night—because remember, you didn’t enjoy going to bed earlier.”Another timing strategy parents can use is a technique where you motivate kids to compete with themselves. You can say, “Let’s see if you can get it done in 15 minutes tonight. But remember, you have to do it right. I’m going to check.” You can even give them an incentive: “If you get it done within 15 minutes, you can stay up 15 minutes later. Or you can stay online 15 minutes more.” So then it becomes more exciting and stimulating for the child. And while your child won’t lose anything if he or she doesn’t get it done, they’ll gain something if they do. That kind of reward system is always preferable to one in which the kid loses something, because it’s more motivational and less punitive—you’re giving your child an incentive to do better.
- Consider Giving Kids an Allowance: I think if parents are financially able to give kids an allowance, they should do it. Your child’s allowance should also be hooked into their chores—and to the times when your child fails to complete his tasks or has to be reminded to do them. So for example, if your child has to be told more than once to do his chore, he would lose a certain part of his allowance—let’s say a dollar. And each time you remind him, he loses another dollar. It is also appropriate to give that part of his allowance to a sibling who does the chore instead. This way, you’re not working on the chore, you’re working on the communications process, as well as your child’s motivation.
- Use Structure: Structure is very important when it comes to completing household tasks. I believe there should be a time to do chores in the evening or in the morning. Personally, I think that evenings are best during the school year, because doing chores in the morning just adds to the stress and intensity of the schedule. Summertime is easier in some ways because you’re not contending with homework. So in the summer, chores should be done first, before anything else gets done. For example, before the video games or any electronics go on, make it a rule that your child’s bed has to be made, his clothes should be in the hamper and his room is tidy. This way, he’s starting to learn that before he can have free time, his responsibilities have to be met. Again, you never want to be pulling your child back from something exciting in order to do something mundane and boring. Rather, you want to get them to work through the mundane and boring things to get to something exciting.Sometimes as a parent you have to ask yourself, if my child isn’t doing his chores, what is he doing? You really have to be aware of how your child is using his time. If he’s not doing his chores because he’s playing on the computer or reading a comic book, you’ve got to stop that pattern. The choice shouldn’t be “excitement or chore.” The choice should be “boredom or chore.” What I mean is that kids have to understand that they can’t go listen to music in their rooms or just hang out until their chores are finished.
I also think it’s a good idea to set aside time during the day when all the kids in your family are doing their chores at once. So your 15 year old might be unloading the dishwasher while your 11 year old is taking out the garbage. That way, no one feels as if they’re missing out or being punished by having to complete their tasks. It’s just chore time.
- Don’t Turn Chores into Punishment: I tell parents not to use chores as punishment. If somebody misbehaves and does something wrong, don’t give them a consequence of doing the dishes, for example. The only time that’s appropriate is if your child does something wrong to another sibling. And so in order to make amends—in order to right the wrong—they do that person’s chore for them. That’s a physical way of saying, “I was wrong to do that and I’m doing your chore to show you that I’m sincere.” That’s the only time when I advocate that parents use chores as something more than an assigned task.
- Use a Reward System: It’s pretty simple: If you want kids to take responsibility for their chores, integrate their tasks with some reward system that has to do with allowance, as we mentioned, or in some other observable way. I recommend that parents have a chart on the refrigerator with each child’s name on it, with their chores listed next to their names. If they make their bed promptly and do it right, they get a check. When they get five checks, they get some reward. Maybe it’s staying up an hour later. Maybe it’s having more computer time one night. In my opinion, the computer, video games and television don’t have to be on every waking hour. Just because the computer is there doesn’t mean the child has to be using it—especially if your kids argue about it. Each child should get an hour of computer time, and then computer time is over. If they want more than that hour, they should have to earn it. This allows you to use computer time, TV time, and video game time as a reward. Of course, this doesn’t apply to schoolwork or projects that they have to do on the computer.
Kids might understand that doing the dishes is part of their role in the family but they’re not going to feel it in some significant way. Chores are work, and in that sense very few of us like to work unless we’re getting rewarded for it. And the reward has to be something we like. If my boss had paid me in carrots I wouldn’t have worked much at all—because one or two carrots and I’m all set. Kids have the same motivating principle. They want a reward that’s in currency they like. The idea that they should learn to do chores for some abstract reason—like duty or responsibility—sounds good on paper, but has very little practical application in a child’s life.