Getting Kids Involved in Chores Shouldn’t Be A Chore
Chores are good for kids. By the time they’re two years old, toddlers can pick up toys and put away books. At four, preschoolers are perfectly capable of setting the table with placemats, napkins, and silverware and clearing away utensils after a meal. Little do they know at such early ages that they’re developing motor skills and practicing attributes of responsibility and cooperation they’ll need as they grow and mature. But you do and so do child development experts, which is why you should take the time and effort to get your children to do chores necessary in day-to-day tasks needed to make the household work.
The Challenge? Getting Chores Done
Except motivating kids to complete their work isn’t always easy. No is part of every child’s vocabulary and a word they like to use early and often. In part, no is a way of establishing independence as children become individuals and learn to express personal wants and needs. When it comes to chores, no may also come from realizing what we all know as adults—chores are basically boring and doing them is not much fun.
Still, cleanliness and safety demand that household chores be completed on a timely basis. Fortunately, there are ways to deal with resistance. That starts, according to some commentators, with changing the name from chores—who really wants to do chores?—to tasks or jobs or projects or whatever the family decides. Sure, it’s semantics, but words have meaning and creating a different meaning just might set up a more positive attitude.
Techniques to Get Kids on Task
While there is no one-size-fits-all solution, approaching the motivation problem in various ways should eventually result in something or a combination of somethings that works.
- Match jobs with each child’s age, skills, and interests. Toddlers have a natural desire to help and imitate you, so harness that at a very young age by setting up tasks when doing them still feels like fun. As kids get older, tasks become more complex. Make sure work aligns with what a child can actually handle; expecting a youngster to successfully complete a job that’s beyond their capacity only leads to anger, frustration, and resentment. Think about attention spans, too. Toddler focus lasts about 5 minutes, which makes an hour-long job unrealistic and likely to fail. Model how to do something new and practice beside your child until he or she knows the drill. Breaking a task down into clearly understandable pieces is also an advantage. The command to clean up your room can be overwhelming, whereas make your bed and put shorts and socks in the hamper is specific and manageable, especially to younger minds. When your child shows an interest in something, encourage it and send more their way. And forget gender bias. The days of only girls doing laundry and only boys raking leaves are long gone.
- Make sure all family members participate. Everyone benefits from being part of the family, with a place to live, meals on the table, activities together, camaraderie and caring for all. Make it clear that everyone has to pitch in, in age-appropriate but equalized ways. Siblings quibbling about who does more than whom can be (mostly) avoided when clear expectations are set for each person. Periodic family meetings to check on status are a good idea to make sure tasks are being completed in a timely manner and roles are clearly understood.
- Set up a chore chart. The chart is helpful in keeping track of assignments, timing, and routines. It serves as a visible, physical reminder of tasks to be done, when, and by whom. Some families have a different chart for each person; others show everyone together as a way of demonstrating that each person has jobs to do. For toddlers and preschoolers with limited reading skills, use pictures depicting the work. Make sure the chart has a way to check off items as they are completed; adding a sticker works too. Posting the chart(s) is a prominent place where everyone can see it is a constant reminder that every job matters.
- Establish an allowance or rewards system. This is controversial, with opinions from researchers and specialists varying from always, to never, to somewhere in between.
- The always crowd contends that paying children for doing chores teaches them the value of money and the importance of earning tangible rewards for hard work. Paying even the youngest children gives them their own money to spend on a candy bar or save for something larger. A variation on paying money is granting rewards, such as extended session with electronics or a later bedtime.
- The never group says that paying kids for doing household tasks sets up an unrealistic expectation of pay-off—unless they get money, they won’t work. Rather, according to these experts, kids need to develop an intrinsic motivation to contribute because the family is a team and team members help each other to better the common wellbeing.
- The in-between approach involves a blend of always and never that’s appropriate to each family and situation. There is no right answer, but it’s wise for parents and families to think this one through.
- Mix things up, praise accomplishment, and have fun. Since doing the same tasks week after week can get boring, switching things around from time to time makes the work more interesting and lets kids learn new skills. Asking people to choose their preferences also works. Turning tasks into a game is another way to keep things interesting. Making a race of putting blocks away or seeing who can rake the biggest pile of leaves in 15 minutes or looking for the cleanest window are ways to pass the time, lighten the task, and still get the household shaped up. Setting a timer can help kids learn the value of time and deadlines as they work to beat the clock. Recognizing a job well done with praise and recognition contributes to pride and self-esteem., which is important at every age, even to adults. Motivating children to do chores can be a difficult task, but these tips will make it easier.
Flexibility and Patience Pay Off
Unfortunately, there’s no magic wand when it comes to getting children to do chores. Dealing with resistance can be frustrating, but coming up with workable approaches is better than living with ongoing tension in the home. Remember that every child is different, with temperament, interests, learning styles, place within the family, and myriad other factors affecting how best to motivate them and organize their work. Don’t expect perfection from kids of any age. Correct gently if that’s in order and share ways to improve on a task next time around. Physical punishment or verbally abusive treatment is never appropriate, no matter how aggravated you may get. Letting kids off the hook for chores by doing them yourself, even occasionally, doesn’t help children either. Delaying the inevitable doesn’t make it go away. Motivating your child to take care of day-to-day tasks within the family, even the boring ones, is a fundamental lesson that pays off throughout life.