By: Michele Timmons
As I started to write a blog about getting kids to do chores without whining and complaining, I turned my iTunes playlist on random and let it choose my music. Then, I began to laugh because the first song was Billy Joel’s "Angry Young Man". I must admit, the song is quite an appropriate analogy for what happens at my house when it comes to chores. When I tell my kids that it’s time for chores, we usually end up with three angry young men… and eventually a grumpy mom and dad.
For the most part, I choose to maintain an “everything is fine” mindset. I am a very positive person who is happy and thankful for what I have, not angry about what is missing. Unfortunately, my “everything is fine” attitude is challenged when I face three grumpy boys who really don’t want to do chores. So, for our own personal sanity, my husband and I have developed some strategies for minimizing the wailing and gnashing of teeth which often occurs as a result of the words “I need you to…”.
Chore Strategies: Ages 0-5: "The Big Help"
Search Institute has identified 9 Parenting Strategies based on the 40 Developmental Assets which help children become healthy, resilient adults. Their research shows that giving small children opportunities to help you and others is great way to introduce them to the importance of being a contributing member of their community. Most importantly, it lets them know you value their help and that they are an important part of your family.
When my boys were little we didn’t call them chores. Instead, we asked questions like “Do you think you are big enough to help feed the dogs?” “Are you strong enough to carry in this bag of groceries?” The boys would look at us with excitement in their eyes and a smile on their faces, say “I’m big!” and off they went to do the work that they didn’t even know was a chore. Boy do I miss those days!
Chore Strategies: Ages 6-12: "Game Time!"
I actually saw this idea in an article about household chores and an article about avoiding routines at work. While I haven’t tried it myself, I am looking forward to using this strategy with my 9 year old son who watches his high school age brothers try their best to get out of chores. The strategy is to make it a game or set challenges for getting the chore done well in the shortest amount of time. For example, instead of giving the order to take out the trash, rephrase it like “How fast can you take out the trash?” Maybe set a goal for the amount of time it should take and give a small reward when he beats his record.
Chore Strategies for Teenagers: "Why Do They Act That Way?"
If teenagers inhabit your house, God bless you! As a mom with two teenage sons, there are days I understand why some animals eat their young. At first, I've tried using the intellectual approach as a chore strategy. I've explained to my teens that doing things such as dishes, lawn care, and laundry is a critical life skill for college and beyond. Then I read Dr. David Walsh’s book, Why Do They Act That Way: A Survival Guide to the Adolescent Brain for You and Your Teen, and realized that this approach won't work. Teenage brains just aren’t hard wired to think logically yet. Then, I got cranky. I discovered that doesn’t work either.
I now opt for a more covert approach. First, I remove all unnecessary tasks, focusing on having my boys do the important ones well. For example, I joined the “keep your bedroom door shut” club. If I don’t have to look at it then it doesn’t stress me out. Instead we focus on having our teens do things that are more visible to neighbors and guests (like washing dishes, mowing the lawn and laundry). Over the last several years, we also began having periodic conversations with them about their chores and have been giving them the ability to choose which chores they will do regularly. I also strategically identify which chores must be done before they can do something they want to do. When it comes to dishes and lawn care, we give them specific deadlines such as “this must be done before you play Xbox or go out with your friends.” At that point, we don’t hassle them to get it done, we simply hold strong on not allowing the privilege until the chores is finished. As for laundry, I am a firm believer in natural consequences— when they run out of clothes, they do laundry. While this strategy doesn’t eliminate the whining and complaining, it does help create a framework through which I can say, “You know the rules, you know the consequences.” The rest is up to them.
Chores—like them or not— teach important independent living skills and help children learn that everyone in a family plays a valuable role. At the same time, it is also important to keep in mind that as kids grow, it is important to change how we view their roles and chores. Some things are worth the fight and others are not.
I would love to hear your own stories about how you get your kids to do chores. Comment below!________________________________________________________________________
3. David Walsh, Ph.D., Why Do They Act That Way: A Survival Guide to the Adolescent Brain for You and Your Teen (2005, Free Press).
7. Getting Your Kids to Do Household Chores, ParentFurther.
8. Image via David Reber's Hammer Photography on Flick'r.