Getting kids to do chores is incredibly frustrating as a parent. We want our kids to DO their chores, but we don’t want to nag and we don’t want to deal with bad attitude. Sometimes, it seems easier putting away the dishes ourselves or cleaning the mirrors on our own.
But we feel there must be a better way.
When our parents asked us to do something, we did it. Right?
Well, nooooo… and I laugh a little it when I say that. My parents and I had a constant war over the dishes.
My dad thought I should be responsible for cleaning the kitchen after family meals. After dinner each night, all the dishes sat in a sudsy sink… waiting for me. Most of the time, they waited all night. More than likely, I could hold out and my mom would do them for me.
I hated the dishes and disliked being alone at the kitchen sink doing them. Therefore, I pulled every trick you could think of. I whined., claimed I had too much homework or that I didn’t feel well.
My parents survived with my behavior over dishes from the time I was 10 – when I got the dishes job – to when I turned 17 and moved away to college.
I never quit and my dad never stopped insisting. Obviously, we both share the gene responsible for stubbornness.
As parents, we don’t want to deal with chore drama for the next several years. We simply want our kids to do their jobs, contribute to the family and we can all be happy.
There is a better way. Here’s how to fix the constant chore battle in your home
Before we start, I need to warn you that this isn’t an easy one-time fix. It’s not a simple phrase we can say or threat we can make that will immediately change the behavior. When we teach kids responsibility and how to complete chores, what we are really doing is forming a habit.
Brace yourself, habits take between 4-6 weeks to really take hold.
Now, the good news, every day in those 4-6 weeks is pretty simple. No gargantuan effort required here, just consistency.
Ready? We can do this! First,
Consider the Time of the Chore
We are making a HUGE change here. We need to first talk about it with our kids.
Here’s how to bring it up.
Address the specific issue. Such as, “Hey, I notice you haven’t been unloading the dishwasher when you get home.”
Don’t ask why.
Wait for a response.
You want to listen to your child so that you can adapt your expectations around his or her needs.
This may sound completely counterintuitive to how we were raised, but I promise you it works so much better.
We each have our own motivations and personalities. Most adults know if we’re morning people or night owls – we work better at specific times of the day as opposed to others. If you need a few responses as to why chores are important, use this list.
Kids are like this, too. When we build a habit, we want to start doing the task when our will is the strongest. Usually, this is right after we refuel or rest.
When your kid responds to your comment, look for specific indicators of tiredness or hunger at the specific time they are asked to do their chore.
I used to ask my daughter and son to unload the dishwasher before we ate dinner. They pushed back hard. My three-year-old launched immediately into a “NO!!! I don’t want to!” and my daughter dragged herself around the kitchen sighing that her leg hurt and asking why didn’t her brother have to help with chores?
It drove me freaking bananas.
After a little experimenting, I found that 30 minutes after we arrive home from school and immediately AFTER a snack works best for this chore. Why? Because they’ve had a little time to relax and refuel.
Finding the right time is only part of the battle. Next is the step that most of us forget.
Do it With Them… at first
To learn something really well, we need lots of modeling. This essentially means we need to see someone else doing the task over and over again. Kids need much more modeling than adults to do a task well.
When you expect your children to take over a chore, they first need to watch you do it… A LOT.
Don’t skip this step. Trust me you might be tempted, especially if you have a daughter like mine who thinks she knows everything. (I say this aloud because she has a mother who thinks she knows everything. I’m aware where this personality trait came from.)
As you do the chore, tell them what you are doing. Narrate your actions. Ask your child to narrate your actions.
That’s the first time you do the chore.
The second time, do the chore together. This doesn’t mean the child does the chore and you tell them what to do. Trust me, I’ve made this mistake and it always leads to nagging.
It means you do 90% of the chore and your child does 10%. Yes, it definitely seems like an unequal distribution of labor. Bear with me.
Kids need lots of modeling. Even if they say they can do it on their own, they usually still need your help. This process will be a lot of experimentingto find an equal balance.
Approach it as, “Let me help you unload the dishwasher” rather than, “Let me tell you what you are doing wrong”.
Release Responsibility Gradually
After a week of helping, gradually release the responsibility. Slowly, shift the amount of work to 50/50. You will see your child start to internalize what you expect of him or her and start doing more of the job on his or her own.
Your heart will perform a mini happy dance in your chest. This is working! It’s working!!!
Right now, it is imperative that you don’t forget this next step.
Lots of Positive Reinforcement
We all love to hear what we do well. The ratio of positive reinforcement to criticism is super high. A study of adults in a business environment found that the highest performing teams averaged six positive comments for every one negative comment. Most experts advise teachers in the classroom to give 4 or 5 positive comments for every critical one.
That’s a lot of positivity! It’s how much we need. When we’re stressed and frustrated we forget this ratio so quickly.
When forming this new chore habit with your child, praise everything he or she does well. Comments like,
“Great work stacking those dishes.”
“You are working so fast”
“Thanks for coming over right away to work on this with me”
“Nice job putting that away”
“Thanks for handing me that”
Anything! Say anything and everything positive related to the job they are doing. Keep this up every time they do the job. Not only will they take criticism much better, but they will also start to internalize your comments to create a better self-image.
Let them do it
One day, and it may not come for a few weeks, you will see them naturally take over the job. The first time this happens acknowledge it with an “Awesome job starting this yourself today,” and then watch.
Well, busy yourself with something else close by and watch. When they finish, tell them, “I love how you took control and unloaded the dishwasher yourself today.”
Now, is when you start to back off and just keep a watchful eye. Keep in mind that your child may need redirecting from time to time. A little reminder here and there.
If it ever goes off track, simply return to the previous steps of doing the chore with them and then gradually release responsibility. This process will guarantee that you never have to nag or fight with your child over that chore again.
Once you form one chore habit, add more chores to your child’s responsibilities. Follow the same process. It will be easier subsequent times and you will never have to experience the frustration of teaching chores again.
Well, until they become teenagers, and then all bets are off. I joke!!! I’ll have something for you when you reach that stage. Don’t worry.
Until then, it might be helpful to start your child on an allowance system now.