Taking the Sting out of Doing Chores

Imagine a time when your children are whistling and dancing to music as they clean their room. Imagine a day when you say nothing and the kitchen has been cleaned up after dinner. Imagine family members giving each other high fives as they look around and see all that has been achieved by every member of the family. You can have this – maybe without the whistling and the high fives, but something close enough. How?

1. Think big picture. What is the ultimate goal? Do you just want a little help around the house or are you looking for others to take ownership and responsibility?  Do you have the leisure of time so you can build up slowly or do you need to take some drastic action? There are so many good reasons why children should do chores. It helps to teach about responsibility, kids contribute to the family, they learn organizational and life skills, they develop a good work ethic and it allows all family members to get a rest. So approach chores with the healthy, positive attitude they deserve instead of the already defeated – how in the world am I going to get the kids to do chores attitude! How are you going to help the adults that you are growing, acquire the skills they need to be independent, responsible and healthy adults?

2. When is a good time to start? For the answer to that question I’ll borrow from a Chinese proverb “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now”. The earlier kids get involved with chores the better. That being said all is never lost. Invite kids to a family meeting. Older kids can participate more fully in the discussion of why chores need to be done, the nature and type of chores, the time frames for accomplishing the chores, expectations and consequences. With younger kids the discussion will be short and sweet. Their say might be limited to simple choices. “Do you want to set the table or clear it?” This lets kids feel like they have control and whether you are 4 or 40 you will appreciate that someone asked your opinion and that you have some control.

3. WIFM. When I think about my kids getting their chores done, I am pretty clear about What’s In It For Me (WIFM). What about the kids? What child would pick scrubbing the bathroom over watching a favorite show? So we need to build in the WIFM for the kids. What is it that your kids like to do? What do they look forward to? What free time do they have and how would they prefer to use it? What are they begging you for? Use this list as motivators and bake in the motivations you need to make sure your kids are motivated to do chores. This same list can be used for rewards and well earned rest or family time. Chores being done could mean the difference between you (or dad) whipping up a favorite meal (with all this energy you now have) or having sandwiches. It could also mean a movie night with the family or inviting a friend over to come play. Whatever those rewards are they have to matter to your children. If your child’s favorite pastime is browsing books at the library or bookstore then that’s the best reward you can give them. When implementing a new system (which chores getting done without nagging might be new for you) then initially you might need to go overboard on the rewards. Over time you should be able to eliminate or reduce the rewards as doing chores becomes a normal part of daily life.

4. Same time same place. Family chore time is on Saturday morning between 9 and 11 am at our house. We work very hard to not schedule anything else during that time. Making chores predictable and building in a routine takes the pain of negotiation and reminders completely out of it. If you have older kids and this is not an option, figure out how you make it their problem if the chore is not done? If your child is meant to mow the lawn on Saturday and they don’t do it, are you willing to have them miss something they do want to do so that they can get the chore done? Missing the key event (a movie, a tournament, soccer practice, going out with friends) might be painful for both of you in the beginning but if it’s something they really want to do then it will get the point across. It’s now their problem and they need to figure out how to get to the things they want to get to.

5. Invest in a good timer. Not all chores fit into family chore time. Some of them need to be done after dinner, on Friday morning or when they get back from school. How do you get your kids to buy into getting the chore done on time? By having a natural consequence that kicks in when the timer goes off. This works perfectly for cleaning up after dinner. You don’t want to nag the person that’s clearing the table, washing dishes or sweeping the floor. These tasks need to be done quickly so the family can move on to more exciting things. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a sparkly clean kitchen and everyone done in 15 minutes? Set the expectation and the timer and get cracking.

6. Ensure success. Everyone wants to be a winner. If the tasks seem unattainable your child will give up and you will be back to square one. To ensure each child is successful make sure they have the tools they need. Some children need visible checklists that they can check off for quick wins because the big goal might seem too far off, some kids might need small immediate rewards to break things up. Some kids might work better if you are in the same room, so you could coordinate your chores so that you are doing them side by side. Try some of the apps out there like iRewardChart, Chore Pad or Chore Hero to make maintaining lists and charts a lot easier for you and a lot more rewarding for the kids.

7. Chores don’t have to be painful. Could cleaning their room be a no entry zone where you are not allowed to go into their room for an hour and they can have their music blaring (at some pre-negotiated level)? Does your child love listening to stories or music and they can do that on the ipod while they work. Does the whole family like listening to music and the whole house could be singing and bustling at the same time?

8. Consequences. Once you have setup the structure with the kids the most important thing after that is to stick to it. If chores are not done and there aren’t any consequences then you will slip right back into reminders, tiresome nagging and negotiation. Some chores have natural consequences that as terrible as they may seem might need to occur to get your point across. If your teenage daughter does not get to her laundry then she won’t have any clean clothes to wear.

Wow, that seems like a lot of work! If you are a stay-at-home-mom transitioning to working outside the home you might not have the luxury of choice. You will not be able to do it all. Weigh the energy it would take to implement a new system and have everyone contributing against the energy you currently expend doing chores, nagging and yelling and decide if it’s worth it. Also, weigh the consequences of putting off getting your kids to do chores. Do you want to still be having this discussion when your kids go to college? Lastly consider how you want to spend your time? In the kitchen cleaning up while everyone else has their feet up enjoying some leisure time or do you want to be right in there with them playing a game of monopoly or enjoying a good book before bed?

If after all the above your kids are still balking at the idea of doing their chores gently threaten to travel back in time. Why, back in the day you used to have the wake up at 5 am to scrub the floors on your hands and knees. You had to hand wash your clothes and hang them out to dry. Allowance? What allowance? Not having your bottom spanked was reward enough!

So choose what works for your family and be patient. Things have been done the current way for a long time it will take time to get to your new normal.

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