I will be the first to admit that I don’t really like making my kids do chores. I know the benefits, of course, and the last thing I want is to raise kids who grow up not knowing how to do basic stuff like wash dishes or clean toilets. Plus, there’s the little matter of making sure I don’t raise a couple of spoiled brats who think the world will be handed to them on a silver platter.
However, we all know how hard it is to get kids to do chores — and that in the end, it is almost always easier to just do the dang chores yourself by the time all the whining, arguing, and negotiating is over. I spent most of my first few years of parenting giving up before I got started and really not pressing the matter of chores. But over the past year or so, as my life has gotten busier, and when I realized that my oldest was going to head into his tween years still not knowing how to do basic stuff like clearing the table and making himself a bowl of cereal, I realized something had to give, and I was just going to have to make my kids buck up and do chores.
Once I jumped into it, I’m happy to report that it really wasn’t that hard. My kids are not scrubbing toilets (yet!), but each day they have a set of chores to complete, and they do them (most of the time).
Here’s what has worked for us:
1. Make chores a routine part of life, with few surprises.
Chores can’t just be sprung on kids. They need to know exactly what is expected of them and when. And then they need to practice, practice, practice. Oh, and expect them to forget what they’re supposed to do the first three million times. But keep gently encouraging it, and it will eventually become a part of life.
2. When you need to come up with a new chore plan, find a positive time to broach the subject.
Do it when you and your kid are connected and having a nice time together. Don’t rush into their room complaining that it’s a pigsty, and then expect them to listen to your chore expectations. That never works. It’s all about approaching the whole thing as positively as possible.
3. Let them have choices.
When I talked about chores with my kids, I tried to give them as much choice as possible. After dinner, they could set the table or wipe it. In the evening, they could clean up the living room or make nighttime snacks. You get the picture. It was a small thing, but it helped them feel that they had ownership over what was happening, and that it wasn’t just a parent barking out orders at them.
4. Praise them while they’re doing chores (keep the critique for another time).
Okay, here’s the hardest part: If you want chores to work, you can’t criticize your kids while they do them. I know this is hard because someone is always, always doing something wrong. But how are you going to have kids who feel good about what they’re doing if they feel like they simply can’t get it right? This will only make your kids resist it. You can give them a gentle critique later, but make sure you lavish them with praise for what they’re doing while they’re doing it. It really helps.
5. Reward them.
Often, just your smiling face and a high-five will be enough to keep your kid motivated and happy. You may not realize it, but kids really care what we think, and when we keep things cheerful, that’s a huge bonus for them. But sometimes a nice tangible reward really helps too. My kids like going out for a special pizza dinner or ice cream. I do that special stuff when they’ve had a good week of being helpful and cooperative. You can figure out what works best for your kids. Of course, you don’t want your kids to expect that chores equal rewards in all instances (and you might break the bank if you’re not careful). But I don’t see a problem with giving them rewards in addition to praise for their work.
Going in, I was certain that my kids doing chores was just going to be a good learning experience for them, but wouldn’t actually make my life any easier for me. In fact, I thought it would make things harder. But now I have to admit that they are actually helping! Dinnertime cleanup is much smoother, and so is our end-of-the-day pickup. My kids are learning to make themselves snacks and small meals — and sometimes they’ve even been known to make their good old mom a little snack too.
It is adorable and sweet, and while I still get a few complaints every now and then, I am happy I took the plunge and figured out a way to make the dreaded chore list a positive experience for my kids — and myself.