Getting kids to do chores takes effort. We need to remember that children are imperfect beings. So are you. Remember that they are, after all, CHILDREN, and by definition haven’t mastered themselves or their attitudes. All of this is a work in progress.
Given all of that, here are 8 great tips on implementing chores and other methods.
Define the chore clearly
Nothing will drive your child crazier than for you to say, “Go clean the bathroom.” They have no idea what your expectations are until you descend upon them in a crazy rant saying, “That’s not clean. The mirrors are a mess.” For many years, we had 3x5 cards for each chore defining clearly what was involved in doing that chore, so there were no questions.
Set a definite time-frame
A vague timeline (get your chores done on Saturday) is setting yourself up for defeat. Pick a definite time, such as “This list of chores must be done by 12 pm on Saturday,” and have penalties if not completed, such as a loss of privileges, or my personal favorite, “penalty chores.” Mopping was always my favorite penalty chore because I hated doing it.
Have a no-nonsense attitude
Often parents cave in, give second chances, negotiate them away, and otherwise succumb to the mind-numbing whining and complaining. Don’t go down that slippery slope. Go into your bedroom and give yourself a pep talk. “I’m raising independent adults here. This is crucial to their development. I can be tough. This is important.” Hop around the room a bit, throw those shoulders back, and go back out there and be FIRM.
Chores must be done before “Elvis leaves the building.”
This works great for older kids who always have somewhere they want to go. Chores must be done before they can leave. Great motivation. For younger kids, it was chores before TV. Prime motivation.
This has always been a contentious point with parents. We do NOT believe in paying for chores. We all do chores as a member of the family. However, that does not mean there are no rewards. For little ones, stickers are absolutely fabulous. They LOVE stickers. We had big boxes of a huge variety and let them pick out what stickers they wanted to put on their chart and which one they wanted to wear when they were done.
Little ones are fairly easy. You can use stickers, magnetic systems, initials, and smiley faces. We would give rewards for things like attitude and promptness. If they did them willingly, or got them all done on time, sometimes (RANDOMLY) they would get a coupon for ice cream or something similar. Random works best. Remember that. That means, do not give a reward all of the time. Every once in a while, you can reward some aspect like quality or happy attitude. That will help improve the overall work.
As kids get older, offer the rewards less and less. You want them to get to the point, around age 10, where they do chores because we all do chores. That’s the expectation. By this age, there should be no reward systems. You merely use the loss of privileges or leaving to play, as mentioned above. You want to remove the mentality that they have to get some tangible reward for everything they do.
Occasionally freak them out by posting your own list of chores. I love the, “You-are-SO-lazy!” routine my kids try to pull. Sometimes they try to act as if I am personally punishing them. Whatever. Periodically, I make a humungous to-do list of all the things I do and post it. Then, ask if they want to trade. That usually nips that in the bud.
Use both arms
If you’re married, get your spouse to back you up completely on chores. Often, they’ll respond to Daddy more than Mommy. If you’re Dad, step up to the plate and supervise. Or, you can trade off being in charge. However, if one is a softy — good luck. It won’t work well. Remember to keep discussing the End Goal. (“Dear, do you want these children to live with us forever in this house for their entire mortal existence?”)
Day after day, week after week, month after month. Just keep plugging away at it. Some weeks will go great while others will be horrendous. Keep working at it. It will get better and easier. However, it will never be perfect.
I always crack up when one of my kids says, “You didn’t tell me I had to do chores before I could leave,” with all the indignant attitude they can muster. And, I chuckle. “How long have you lived in this house? You’ve been doing chores for over 14 years. Now it’s a big surprise to you? That’s so tragically sad!” I’m not buying it. But, they keep trying. They are persistent. I’ll give them that.
There comes an incredible day in all of this when you get payback. A weekend will hit, and they will all do their chores without a hitch. You will sit back, stunned, and ask, “Were all the planets aligned, or something?” Or, you realize you’ve been swamped for a week and the whole house kept humming along without you.
Better yet, your child goes off to college or work and writes one of those much longed-for and anticipated letters, “Dear Mom and Dad. I just want to say 'thank you' for all the things you taught me. Thank you for everything you did for me that I didn’t appreciate. You did a great job training me.” Man, you frame those.