How can I get my child to do chores?

Parents feel frustrated telling their child over and over to help around the house. They know that what they’re asking—take out the trash, set the table, rake the leaves—is minimal compared to the full adult responsibility of running a household. They also know how much time they spend meeting their child’s needs, driving her to special activities, shopping for her clothes, and preparing for her friends’ visits.

Most parents believe that everyone in the family should routinely help out. They think that doing chores will teach their child responsibility, help her mature, and let her make a contribution. But in reality, most kids don’t do regular chores without constant reminders, threats, bribes, and arguments. This was true when they were younger, it’s true of ten- to thirteen-year-olds, and it usually remains true of kids until they leave home. It doesn’t seem to matter whether they are paid for their efforts or not. The problems involved in getting them to do routine chores often outweigh the benefits.

Kids don’t do their chores because the work is not a priority for them. They don’t care about order and cleanliness the way their parents do. Dirty dishes, an overflowing trash can, toothpaste in the sink, roller blades left out, and a backpack on the floor don’t bother them. A child never complains to her parents, “The kitchen’s a mess!”

Kids often resent chores because their busy schedules leave little free time. A child who spends a full day in school, then goes to afterschool care or an activity followed by an evening of homework, will not willingly wash the dishes. In addition, if stresses have built up during the day, chores can become a target of frustration: “Everybody always tells me what to do!” It’s easier for a child to argue with her parents than with a teacher who may have been especially demanding earlier in the day.

When she isn’t interested in a routine chore, she avoids it. She’ll procrastinate, move slowly, or be easily distracted.  Many parents label this behavior laziness, but it’s really a normal response to something a child doesn’t like.

If she actually does do her chores, her parents may still be frustrated because of the quality of the work. The table won’t really be cleared, crumbs will be left on the floor, the top will be off the toothpaste, and clothes will still be in a pile. When parents express their displeasure, she becomes defensive.

If you want her to do regular chores, you’ll probably have to continually remind her. Try to stay calm. If you use a harsh tone, she will be less cooperative: “I hate cleaning up!” You’ll get a better response if your begin your reminders with, “Before you leave, please…,” or, “Don’t forget to…,” or, “I’d like your help with…”

Offer her choices or vary her assignments. Some families have success with a job wheel of rotating responsibilities. Teach her the most efficient way to do a task. She may resist an assignment because she’s never learned how to do it. One boy told his mother, “I don’t fold the laundry right because you never showed me how.” Surprise your child by taking over one of her routine tasks: “I know you’ve been busy with schoolwork, so I’ll vacuum for you this week.”

If regular chores are causing too much conflict in your family, reconsider your expectations. A neat, well-managed home may not be worth the unhappiness and pressure your child feels. You might decide not to give her routine chores at all and instead have her focus her time on schoolwork, hobbies, and extracurricular activities. You can still reinforce responsibility around the house by asking her to do specific jobs as the need comes up: “You take care of the basement while I straighten the living room.” “Please clean your room before your friend gets here.” “I want you to set the table tonight.” “Give me a hand with these groceries.” You will find your child more willing to help if the need is apparent and if she isn’t overburdened by routine household tasks.

Of course, asking for help when you need it means the initiative is yours, not hers. However, that’s probably the case even if she has regular tasks assigned, since she’ll need reminders.

Everyone, including you and your child, grows up hearing adults stress the importance of cleaning up and doing household chores. Most people don’t fully integrate and act on these messages until they’re grown and on their own. The summer before freshman year at college, many parents are still trying to teach their child the best way to do laundry, mend clothes, and, cook.

It’s right to expect your child to be generally helpful and responsible at home, in school, and with others. However, it’s realistic to assume that her help around the house will be neither as frequent nor as efficient as you’d like. Try to be patient, and reinforce the jobs she does, letting her know that you do appreciate her efforts.

Picture Credit : Google