Trying to get your kids to do chores? It's not as hard as you think. Jump down for my 5 top tips to get your kids to start doing chores.
This is not a post with a bunch of special systems or manipulative tactics. No chore charts, point systems, or rigamarole. The goal here is to get your kids doing chores, regularly, on their own, with very little initial effort and no ongoing pleading and prodding required from you.
To be honest, the main reason I have never tried to get my daughter to do chores in the past was because I just didn't want to deal with all the whining and pushback. I was so exhausted always having to remind her to do chores — it was easier just do it myself. But I have finally mastered this… and I'm telling you, getting your kids to do chores will change your life!
Should You Get Your Kids To Do Chores?
YES! YES! And YES! Most moms I know (all moms?) are tired and work too much. We all need more help with housework and cooking. So why are we not asking our kids to do more around the house?
For a long time, I wasn't sure if I should make my kids do chores. We were unschooling, and unschoolers are pretty meh about chores and rules and routines… But I've changed my mind.
Unschooling guru Sandra Dodd is an advocate of no chores for kids. While I used to buy into this theory, I've recently come to the conclusion that it's unmitigated BS.
Dodd says that if a mess bothers you, you should clean it up, but that you shouldn't ask your kids to help. She says you should only do the things you feel like doing. This is what she wrote on her website:
“I had been unschooling for years before a few people suggested at www.unschooling.com that requiring kids to do chores could be as bad as making them do schoolwork. I perked up immediately, and everything they said has proven true at our house. The first principle was “If a mess is bothering you, YOU clean it up.” Another one was “Do things for your family because you *want* to!”” (Source)
Um… I don't know about you but back here in the real world, laundry needs to get folded, dishes need to be done, dinner needs to be cooked, groceries need to be put away.
And yeah… I don't normally want to fold laundry. I don't want to pay taxes, either, for that matter. But I do it because it needs to be done.
Don't get me wrong, I still love the concept of unschooling. I just think some people take unschooling too far. And yes, that includes Sandra Dodd. (Note: We now do a combination of Classical Education and unschooling for homeschool. What I mean by that is, Kate has her Classical Education lessons (via Classical Conversations) each day, and she spends the rest of the day exploring her passions: drawing, art, animation, animals, games and YouTube. And yes, doing chores! I'll post more about our homeschooling methods soon…)
Chores Are a Part of Life
What I know about life is this: there are certain things we all have to do. For example: household chores, making a living, feeding ourselves, paying taxes and bills, using the toilet, taking care of personal hygiene, serving on jury duty.
Clearly, we don't always enjoy doing all of these things… but they have to be done. Instead of avoiding them, we can find a way to make them enjoyable.
Sure, if you have enough money, you can pay someone to do most of your housework and cooking… but even if you become a billionaire, you still have to bathe and wipe your own butt. (No matter how rich I become, I never want someone else wiping my butt.)
So this is where the radical unschooling logic falls down. If we coddle your kids too much, and don't require them to do anything, how do they ever learn discipline?
Life is not just about doing things you are happy to do. Life is about doing things that you want to do, but it's also about doing things that are HARD and not necessarily fun.
For example, caring for the elderly, disabled people, and children with special needs. Not easy… and not very fun changing the diapers of an 80-year-old with dementia. But it needs to be done. And if everyone just sat around and waited until they felt “inspired” to do these things, would they ever happen? It's doubtful.
Our capitalist free-market economy works very well to motivate people to work hard. And I think our kids need to learn the rewards of working and contributing to a community, even if they don't always feel like doing it. Chores are a wonderful way to introduce them to this.
OK, end rant… let's get on to the tips!
How to Get Your Kids to Do Chores: My Top 5 Tips
1. Don't Give Them a Choice About Whether Or Not They Have to Do Chores
If you give kids a choice as to whether or not they have to do chores, they will always choose NO CHORES. So just don't give them a choice.
If you have trouble with this, ask yourself… would you allow them to go without brushing their teeth? No, you wouldn't, because they would get cavities. Would you allow them to eat only chocolate candy bars and jelly beans and never eat nutritious food? No, you wouldn't, because they wouldn't get the nutrition they need.
Here's what you tell them: you have to do chores. No ifs, ands or buts. It is in their best interest to do chores. You're the parent, and you decide this.
And chores are something they will do every day. Just like brushing their teeth or eating meals. Once they get into the habit of doing their chores, you don't need to continually ask them to do chores. It's just part of their daily routine.
2. Do Give Them a Choice About Which Chores They Do
What you can do is tell them that they can choose what they want to do. Give them a choice of several different chores that need to be done and let them rank them in terms of what they like best.
For example, when I told my 10-year-old daughter she had to start doing chores, I gave her a list of chores she could choose from: loading and unloading the dishwasher, taking out the trash, loading the laundry into the washer and dryer, folding clothes, wiping down the kitchen counters, carrying in the groceries, feeding the cat.
She chose: loading and unloading the dishwasher, taking out the trash, and feeding the cat.
And, I told her, she also has to spend a certain amount of time watching her brother. (Like those times that I'm scrambling to get dinner ready and I need her to watch Ollie.)
After a few days of doing the dishes, she decided she really doesn't like loading the dishwasher. I said, fine, because I actually like that part. I love loading, but I don't really like the unloading and putting away.
So we negotiated… she said, “Mom, would it be OK if I just unloaded the dishwasher and did something else instead of loading it? I really don't like loading.” I said, “Sure, what did you have in mind?”
She said, “Well, maybe I could carry in the groceries when we go to the store.”
“OK, sure!” I said. “I hate carrying in groceries!”
So now I load up the dishwasher and run it every day, and she unloads it every morning after breakfast. And she is taking out the trash, feeding the cat, and bringing in groceries.
And guess what, it's working out great!
3. Give Them Consequences
Expect your children to fight you when you first tell them they have to do chores. Expect much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Especially if they have never done chores before.
They will act like the world is ending and they are literally going to die. That's fine. They can have their feelings about it. They can throw themselves on the floor and thrash around. But it doesn't change the fact that they have chores to do.
If they refuse to do their chores, they will get consequences. In life, there are always consequences, and childhood and adolescence is the time they begin to learn that. If you don't pay your taxes, you get penalties. If you don't brush your teeth, you get cavities. If you don't do your chores, you get consequences.
The only thing that works for my daughter in the way of consequences is taking her electronics away. So if she doesn't do her chores, she loses her iPad and/or her laptop. I don't negotiate or bargain with her about how long she will lose it. I just say, “I'll let you know when you can have it back.”
4. Give Them Training
If you want them to do a good job, you need to spend a little time teaching them how to do it, and be very clear about what you expect. I always remember reading that book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. In it, he tells a story about teaching his son how to mow the grass. He explains the whole process and then he tells him, “I expect GREEN and CLEAN”. Meaning, the grass needs to be watered enough so that it stays green, and it needs to be cut so that it looks clean. How his son did it was up to him — but he communicated his expectations.
This is what I did with my daughter. I showed her the dishwasher, showed her how to operate it, then I showed her how I unload it and where everything goes in the cabinets and drawers. I said, “This is the way I do it because it saves me time and effort, but if you find a better way, do it however you want.”
I have to tell you, I was amazed at how fast she learned. She can unload the dishes in like 15 minutes flat. It's so fun to watch her rushing around to get her chores done so she can get back to doing what she wants to do.
In fact, she's now enlisting her little brother, Ollie, to help. As an entrepreneur, I know the importance of learning to delegate and outsource — I only wish I had learned this at age 10!
5. Be Patient & Hang Tough
For us, it was only really bad the first day or two. Lots of whining and complaining and pushback. But I was very firm, and explained that this was not negotiable, and reiterated what the consequences would be if she chose not to do her chores. After that, Kate has been awesome about getting her chores done.
Deep down, I think kids want us to be firm. They want to respect us and look up to us. It makes them feel safer and more secure when they know we've got things handled. Setting boundaries and enforcing them helps them feel more protected.
And I cannot tell you how great it feels when I am making dinner and she's unloading the dishwasher. Or when she jumps out of the car to carry in all the bags of groceries while I help Ollie out of his carseat.
Parenting is a tough job, and can often feel overwhelming. Many moms can relate to feeling resentful that they don't get enough help around the house. When your kids start to pitch in and help you, there is a feeling of teamwork that is so wonderful.
Not only that, but when my husband sees us working together in the kitchen, you wanna guess what he does? That's right, he starts to help! It's contagious. The other night, Kate was putting away dishes and I was cleaning up… my husband had just come home from a long day at work and instead of getting a drink and putting his feet up, he said, “Let me take Ollie, I'll change his diaper and get his pajamas on.”
I thought I had died and gone to Heaven.
Makes you want to break out into the Wonder Pets song… “What's gonna work? Teamwork!”
At What Age Can My Kids Start Doing Chores?
Here's a pretty good list to give you an idea of age-appropriate chores. It says kids as young as 4 and 5 can start doing independent chores.
My 2-year-old son loves feeding the cat, helping his sister put dishes away, taking laundry out of the washer, “helping” me cook, and “sweeping” the floor. I put quotes because, well, you know… LOL!
Of course he can't do much on his own, but it's good for him to learn chores now — it will be so much easier when he is older. (If we hadn't been unschooling, this is what I would have done with our older daughter!)
Do Your Kids Do Chores?
Do your kids do chores? How does it work in your household? What tips and tricks have you learned? Share in the comments below.
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