Advice Column, Child, Parenting

Getting Kids to do Chores

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Do your kids whine and moan about having to help you around the house or yard?  Does it seem like pulling teeth to get them to do the smallest of tasks?  And if you do assign them some household chore, do they avoid doing it until you are yelling and doling out punishments?  If you’re finding yourself in this situation way too often, let me offer some advice.

When you think back to your own childhood, you probably hated the thought of having to do your chores too. Why? Because many parents ruled with the “iron hand” of autocracy to ensure that you did what you were told. Most parents today have replaced that unhealthy approach to parenting with more democratic means for raising their children. The bottom line is that when you remove fear from rearing children, you leave room for opinions, feelings, and resistance; all things that get in the way of efficiency.

So how do you get kids to do their chores? If you’re using more respectful and democratic parenting methods at home like I am, then the secret is to extend that style of parenting to chores. This means setting things up in advance, incorporating their opinions and ideas, and establishing verbal and written agreements. It also means using respect to get them to follow through when they fall short.

As part of your next weekly or bimonthly family meeting, establish the list of chores the grownups will do and ask everyone to help construct a list of all the other chores that need to be done.  Listen to your children’s and teen’s ideas on how and when these chores will get done.  Draft a schedule that everyone agrees to and consider getting everyone to sign it. If any of your children are extremely resistant and uncooperative, postpone the discussion until the next meeting.

Chore assignments will be more effective when you have a unanimous agreement by all family members.  It’s also equally important that all chores have an assigned date, time, and schedule for completion.  There should be no question as to when it should be done and what the finished job looks like. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of using very specific parameters when getting kids to complete tasks.  And most importantly, you do not have an agreement with a child until they utter the words of the entire agreement!

Whenever you notice that someone did not complete an assigned and agreed upon chore, commit to NOT coaxing, reminding, or scolding. In fact, do not speak at all! Simply find that child in question and placing your hand on his or her back, gently and lovingly guide them to the location of the chore that wasn’t completed. If they resist and fight your guidance, then something in your relationship with that child needs to be addressed before this follow-up method will work.

Finally, I’m often asked at what age a child is old enough to help with chores.  My suggestion is that children as young as preschoolers can do some chores, but of course, the task assigned to them must be age and ability appropriate. Getting children this young to cooperate with chores and tasks requires that the assignments be few, simple, easy to do, and implemented with lots of fun, excitement, and praise when successfully completed.

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