Getting our kids to do chores takes effort. We need to remember that children are imperfect beings and so are we. Remember that they are, after all, CHILDREN, and by definition haven’t mastered themselves or their attitudes and so all of this is a work in progress.
Given all of that, here are eight tips on implementing chores and other methods.
Define the chore clearly
Nothing will drive your child more crazy than for you to say, “Go clean the bathroom” and have no idea what your expectations are until you descend upon them in a crazy rant saying, “That’s not clean! The mirrors are a mess.” For many years, we had 3×5 cards for each chore defining clearly what was involved in doing that chore so there were no questions.
Set a definite time-frame
A vague timeline (get your chores done on Saturday) is setting yourself up for defeat. Pick a definite time — such as “this list of chores must be done by 12 p.m. on Saturday” and have penalties if not completed such as a loss of privileges or my personal favorite, “penalty chores.” Mopping was always my favorite penalty chore because I hated doing it.
Have a no-nonsense attitude
Often parents cave in, give second chances, negotiate them away, and otherwise succumb to the mind-numbing whining and complaining. Don’t go down that slippery slope! Go into your bedroom and give yourself a pep talk. “I’m raising independent adults here. This is crucial to their development. I can be tough. This is important.” Hop around the room a bit, throw those shoulders back and go back out there and be FIRM.
Chores must be done before “Elvis leaves the building.”
This works great for older kids who always have somewhere they want to go. They must be done before they can leave. Great motivation. For younger kids, it can be chores before TV. Prime motivation.
This is always a contentious point with parents. We do NOT believe in paying for chores. We all do chores as a member of the family. However, that does not mean that there are no rewards. For little ones, stickers are absolutely fabulous. They LOVE stickers. We had big boxes of a huge variety and let them pick out what stickers they wanted to put on their chart and which one they wanted to wear when they were done.
Little ones are fairly easy
You can use stickers, magnetic systems, initials, smiley faces, etc. We would give rewards for attitude, promptness, etc. If they did them willingly or got them all done on time, sometimes (RANDOMLY) they would get a coupon for ice cream or something. Random works best. Remember that. That means, do not give a reward all the time. Every once in a while you can reward some aspect like quality or happy attitude and that will help improve the overall work.
As kids get older, make the rewards less and less
You want them to get to the point at about age 10 where they just do them because we all do them and that’s the expectation. By this age, there should be no reward systems. You merely use loss of privileges or leaving to play as mentioned above. You want to nip in the bud the mentality that they have to get some tangible reward for everything they do.
Occasionally freak them out by posting your own list of chores
I love the, “You-are-SO-lazy!” routine my kids try to pull. Sometimes they try to act as if I am personally punishing them. Whatever. So occasionally I make a humungous to-do list of all the things I do and post it and ask if they want to trade. That usually nips that in the bud.
Use both arms
If you’re married, get your spouse to back you up completely on chores. Often, they’ll respond to Daddy more than Mommy so if you’re Dad, step up to the plate and supervise! Or you can trade off being in charge. But if one is a softy, good luck. Won’t work well. Remember to keep discussing the End Goal. (“Dear, do you want these children to live with us forever as in stuck in this house for their mortal existence?”)
Day after day, week after week, month after month. Just keep plugging away at it. Some weeks will go great, others will be horrendous. Keep working at it. It will get better and easier. But it will never be perfect.
I always crack up when one of my kids says, “You didn’t tell me I had to do chores before I could leave!!!” with all the indignant attitude they can muster. And I chuckle. “How long have you lived in this house? You’ve been doing chores for over 14 years and now it’s a big surprise to you? That’s so tragically sad!” I’m not buying it. But they keep trying — they are persistent, I’ll give them that!
There comes an incredible day in all of this when you get payback. A weekend will hit and they will all go do their chores well without a hitch. And you sit back, stunned, and asked, “Were all the planets aligned or something??” Or you realize that you’ve been swamped for a week and that the whole house kept humming along without you. And you’re rather surprised by how it all flowed.
Or your child goes off to college or work and writes one of those much longed-for and anticipated letters, “Dear Mom and Dad. I just want to say thank you for all the things you taught me. Thank you for everything you did for me that I didn’t appreciate. You did a great job training me.” Man, you frame those!
And you’ll realize – it worked!! And it was worth it.