Kids and chores

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Kids and chores often go together like oil and water. There are lots of different reasons parents want their children to do chores: to have them learn responsibility and self-discipline; to encourage them to take ownership and pride in a clean and tidy house; to instill in them a sense of being contributing members of the family; or simply because we need a little help around the house. However, when it comes to completing household tasks, it’s almost certain our priorities as parents will come into direct conflict with the priorities of our kids – having fun. It’s easy to fall into a cycle of whining and nagging, crying and threatening. While getting your kids to do their chores may never be completely effortless, there are some strategies you can use to make it easier.

Make it age and child appropriate. The tasks and responsibilities you assign to your kids will vary based on their age, temperament and skill set. All children from toddlers to teens can take part in chores, but the level of responsibility will increase with age. Also, just as you likely have certain tasks you don’t really mind doing (or maybe even enjoy) and others that you’d rather visit the dentist for a root canal than do, kids will have certain things they hate doing less than others. Certain chores, such as cleaning their own room, might have to be something that everyone does regardless of how much they enjoy it. Others, such as doing dishes, folding laundry, helping younger siblings get ready for bed, cleaning out the fridge, etc. can be assigned in conversation with your children. It might surprise you what they volunteer for. Tasks that nobody likes doing – cleaning the toilet, for example – can be assigned on a rotating basis.

Write it down. Use a chore chart or some other creative way (Pinterest has lots of great ideas!) of assigning and keeping track of chores. If you have kids that not only need reminders to do their chores, but also what the finished result should look like, include point-by-point instructions. One family I know has an envelope on their fridge with laminated sheets for each family member’s chores for the week that include a detailed checklist of what each chore entails. The kids have to sign off with wipe-away marker when they have completed each aspect of the chore and the parent signs off when everything is done. This might take a bit more of an initial time commitment, but the time it saves down the road in terms of nagging, reminding, and lecturing is well worth it.

Set a time limit. One of the ways kids get out of doing chores is by dragging their feet and taking so long to complete a task that we throw up our hands and do it ourselves. Set a clear and appropriate time limit on how long each task should take and refuse to negotiate around it. Many families like to use an actual timer so there is no need for reminding or nagging. Another way to structure chore time is to set expectations around what needs to be done before an enjoyable activity (TV time, computer time, visits at friends’ houses) happens. It might be a standing rule in your family that on Saturday mornings, before the TV goes on or anyone goes outside to play, that everyone’s laundry is sorted and ready to go into the washing machine. Or that all beds are made before breakfast. Make sure the time you set fits with the rest of your lives. For example, if it’s already difficult to get out of your house and get everyone to school and work in the morning, it is probably a better idea to set chore time for the evenings on weekdays. Similarly, if your kids are involved in a lot of after-school activities, it might be better to break chores down into things that can be finished in a short time (under 15 minutes) on weekdays and then devote a larger chunk of time to chores on the weekends.

Make it a fun, family activity. Let’s face it, chores can be boring. Most of us dislike at least some aspects of housework. It’s especially no fun to be cleaning or doing homework or folding laundry while the rest of the family is engaged in fun activities. So, have a set “chore time” every day/week where everyone participates. Play loud music. Dance while you clean. Have races to see who can put away more toys. With older kids and teens, use cleaning the kitchen, making dinner, doing dishes, or folding and putting away laundry as an opportunity to catch up and check in on each others’ lives.

Lower your expectations. If your motivation for getting your kids to do chores is to have them learn responsibility and instill in them a sense of being a contributing member of the family, it is important to keep that in mind when you see dressers full of half-folded clothes or bits of food left on dishes. It is not likely that our kids will perform household duties the same way we would have. It takes time and practice to learn how to do things properly. But it’s important as parents to resist the urge to go in and refold the clothes or rewash all the dishes. Not only does it create more work for you, it undermines your kids’ confidence and teaches them there is no point doing their chores, because you are just going to come in and do it again anyway. A few missed dust-bunnies under the couch are a small price to pay for a child that feels good about their abilities. If you have a sense that your older kids are taking shortcuts, laying out detailed instructions like those mentioned above can go a long way in making sure the job gets done properly.

To reward or not to reward. There are lots of differing opinions over whether children should get rewarded for completing chores. In terms of monetary rewards, some experts suggest having a set weekly allowance and taking away a small percentage of that amount if your child  needs to reminded to do their chores or a larger amount if they don’t get done at all. Others suggest that certain daily chores should be considered part of everyday family work, but that children should have an opportunity to earn money by completing extra chores. Others suggest that if we as parents don’t get paid to do housework, neither should our kids. Sticker charts and other incentive-based motivators for behaviour also have their advocates and critics. It is a good idea to learn the arguments behind each and decide what works best for you and your family. Do remember that it is never a bad idea to thank children (and your partner) for their contributions to the household and that a warm hug and a little praise can go a long way.