Parents report one of their biggest problem is getting their children to help around the home usually through daily or weekly chores. I get it. If a child contributes to the mess that is created within the home, they should be expected to help clean it up as well. Now this sounds good in theory, but I rarely see children who look forward and relish doing their chores in the home. In fact, most children will avoid their chores as if doing so would cause some sort of irreparable harm or death to them.
As a child and family therapist, I have seen the struggle over and over that parents go through in trying to get their kids to do their chores. Some parents try the nice road and end up begging or pleading with their child to do their chores. Others take a more heavy-handed approach and will remove privileges for weeks at a time for not completing chores. Neither of these extremes is particularly helpful.
What I will be encouraging you to do is to have a sensible enforceable plan around doing chores in your home. One that will require you to not engage in arguing with your child or pleading with them or any of the other things that will sap your energy. Instead what you develop will do the talking for you and make it crystal clear to your child what is expected of them.
The set up
While on the surface expecting your children to do chores seems like a no-brainer, I would like you to take some time to reflect on what is it that you want your children to be doing, in particular what values you are wanting to communicate to them by doing chores. By helping to define what is important to you, you will improve your overall focus in this area and not get dragged into peripheral arguments about things that are not as important to you but may seem important to your child. For example, you may want to make sure your child puts away the trail of bookbag, jacket, and shoes that are left after your child returns from school since it is a tripping hazard rather than focusing on your child’s view that their sibling doesn’t do anywhere near the amount of work around the house as they do.
I would suggest you give your child a heads up that you are developing a plan around completing chores in the home. You could solicit information from them that would help you develop your plan. For instance, you may ask them what jobs they prefer to do within the home and take that into consideration when planning the chore schedule out.
Another consideration is to make sure the jobs you are expecting your child to do are developmentally appropriate to them. It is perfectly appropriate to task a child seven and older to help with dishes. It may not be such a good idea for someone five and younger. They may be better suited to helping make sure they are picking up their toys and perhaps learning to make their bed. You will also need to consider your child’s maturity level as to what chores might be a good fit for them.
You should consider how this is structured on a daily or weekly basis. You want to make sure that you are available to monitor and enforce chore completion. Often families are much busier during the week, so jobs should be smaller or more limited in scope during the weekdays with more involved chores occurring on the weekend when there is more time.
The set up tasks:
What are the important chores you expect your child(ren) to do? Why?
Ask your child what chores they are more interested in doing or things you should know that are more important to them such as when they do the chore.
Are these daily or weekly chores?
In this stage, you will be taking information you gathered previously to help develop an enforceable plan around chore completion in the home.
First thing I want you to do is to clearly define what it means to do the chore. For instance, it is not enough to say, “clean your room”. I have had many parents issue that command only to find that the child has stuffed all the things on his floor under his bed or into the closet rather than doing any type of cleanup. This is also important to do for children who have ADHD or other attentional problems. If you don’t clearly define the list of things they need to do under the task, they’ll have a hard time getting started to do the chore and will likely not remember the list of things you want them to do beyond what you told first told them. Here is an example that may illustrate this. Cleaning your room: this means picking up everything off your floor and putting it where it belongs in your room. Empty your garbage can if needed. Put away any clean clothes where they belong. Once a week, you will need to vacuum your room and help change the sheets on your bed. Now if this seems somewhat excessive, I can virtually guarantee that a good set up will save you tons of emotional time and energy later.
The other thing that is important in this is that your plan is written. I can already hear the howls of protest. “My child already knows what he needs to do in the home!” That may be true, but I am hoping you will indulge me on this point. The reason for this is that we want the written list to do the talking not you. I’ve seen far too many parents get frustrated and upset because they are having to repeat over and over the chore that they want their child to complete. Having that written out eliminates that problem and instead if your child says he does not know what he needs to do that day you can just say “check the list on the fridge”.
The best thing to do is make sure you have the chore list done on the computer. Many angry children will rip up a chore list that they do not want to do. When it has been handwritten, this will require the parent to write up a whole new list. If a child does this when it’s already saved on the computer – – no problems whatsoever. Just find the form again click print and you have a brand spanking new copy you can put up on the fridge.
You may notice I keep saying fridge. You just want to make sure that the list is posted in a public area that the child has access to and can be reviewed when necessary. In most homes, the fridge is often a magnet for such things as pictures, school projects, a calendar, or other things that family members look at. If there are other places in your home that make more sense, please post it there.
Should I use a carrot or a stick to get my kid to do their chores?
When working with children and parents around chore completion in the home for the most part I want to suck out the negative interactions and energy that frequently occur around trying to get compliance around chores. That is why am recommending such things as a written list, clearly defined chores, and a plan to help enforce that. I want to address more the last part, namely how do you enforce chore completion.
The first thing I would recommend is that you have a drop-dead time the chores needs to be completed by during the day/evening. If you do not define a time the chore needs be completed, I can guarantee you when push comes to shove the child will either be doing it just before bedtime or not at all. I often encourage parents to consider dinner time as the transitional time that the chores need to be done by.
Many parents fall into the trap of layering on consequences if the chores are not done. A fairly common reaction will be removal of privileges for multiple days or a week if a child does not do their chores. Many of these children then say to themselves “if I can have my phone, why should I even do the chores my mom wants me to do”. Those types of consequences will tend to demotivate children and make it less likely that they will follow through with what you ask.
Here is a much better plan related to chore completion. In general, the goal of setting up chores is so the child completes the chore they were assigned to do.
Here’s my suggestion to you around chore compliance. The child’s activities they find reinforcing are put on hold until the chores done. For instance, let’s say at 6 PM a child has not completed cleaning their room. This would mean that they do not have access to laptop, TV, or phone until the chores complete. Once the chore is complete they can go back to whatever they would typically do in the evening. If they complete the chore prior to dinner time, they will be able to use those things according to whatever rules or expectations you have for their evening use.
If for some reason, your child digs their heels in and refuses to do their chore that day, the next day they will not be able to access desired activities until they complete yesterday’s chore as well as the current days chores. This is important because we don’t want the children to avoid unpleasant tasks that they need to complete.
Most children need some decompression time after school, so it is likely not realistic to expect that a child will jump right into chores right when they get home. Instead, give them some time to unwind and perhaps have a snack before they should jump right into completing chores or homework.
a. Make a detailed, written plan around the chores identifying what needs to occur for the job to be complete. A schedule of when doing each chore needs to occur (make it a specific day)
b. Post the plan in a public area.
c. Set a time in the day that the chore(s) need to be complete
d. If they are not done by the scheduled time, all desired recreational activities go on pause until the chore is complete. Once done, the child can access desired activities under your rules around this. If they do not do the chore, they are not able to access these things until the chore is done, even if it is the next day.
So, there you have it. A relatively simple chore completion plan that is enforceable and does the talking for you. More than likely if you been having frequent arguments about chores this will likely make things a lot better in reducing the overall conflict. The key is to be consistent in the application of this plan. If you enforce it one day and not the next, your child will get a mixed message and this will lead to actually higher rates of noncompliance by her child. Don’t make that mistake.
I hope this information was helpful in helping you be a better parent. Please visit my website at secretsofgreatparenting.com to learn additional tips and strategies on how you can be a more effective parent with your child. Subscribe to my list at the bottom of the home page where I will be sharing exclusive tips and strategies with those who opt in.
It is my honor to serve you and I wish you the very best on your parenting journey.