I was asked to share some advice on getting kids to do chores.
I’m gonna talk about allowance and chore charts and tips that have worked for us.
BUT, before you think I’m gonna have some magic spell that turns your kids into happy chore-doing robots, I want to pop that bubble.
LETTING GO OF THE HAPPY KIDS HURDLE
My kids do chores but it did not come happily and effortlessly. And it still isn’t all happy and effortless, But that’s ok with me, and I think this is the first myth we need to bust if we want to raise kids who have some homemaking skills and responsibility.
Your kids will not be happy, but our job is not to ensure our kids are happy all the time.
Of course, we love it when it happens, it makes us feel like we are good moms – but the conditions to maintain their happiness are irrational and often destructive, like eating hotdogs for every meal and never brushing their teeth or turning off their screens. That is happiness to a 5-year-old.
That’s a topic that comes up often for me in life coaching – this notion that if our kids are happy then we are doing it right. Let yourself off the hook mama, it is up to other people to be happy, it is not your job.
So if you can make peace with them feeling uncomfortable, maybe even angry about chores – and knowing you might be tempted to echo that back to them and feel uncomfortable and angry too – but you’re still going to show up with love and consistency – then let’s get started on some strategy to introduce chores into the lives of your youngsters.
HOW TO INTRODUCE CHORES TO YOUR KIDS, AT ANY AGE
Know your WHY
A while back I shared a pic of my son washing the windows on IG. And I was so surprised to have a slew of comments about how making my kids do chores was child abuse, and non-biblical.
Now, I think these are extreme opinions but they are also opinions I had never considered before. I could appreciate how some people don’t give their kids chores. I can understand how some parents do the work and let the kids play. I can see it. But I know it’s not for me.
There is also a whole body of evidence that talks about the benefits of chores. And speaking as someone who didn’t really ‘do chores’ as a kid, I would like to offer my kids some training grounds that gives them more skills and discipline in this area.
So the first thing I would suggest is to get rooted in your why.
Why do you want your kids to do chores?
I mean, on the surface we know we want help with the house, we want them to learn how to clean things, and we want them to be responsible.
But, what else do we want?
I want them to see that chores are not so bad, they are not scary, they are not ‘just for adults’.
I want them to see that it is a way to contribute to the family unit, to be a team.
I want them to scan a room and see where they are responsible for something and take action on tidying it up.
This isn’t where we ARE – meeting all these things – but it is where we are going.
How we got started with Saturday Morning Chores
About three years ago we started with Saturday morning chores.
Cleaning their room.
The kids were 6,4 and 3 so you can fill in the blanks on how that went. Exactly as you’d expect.
It was an effort to stay consistent and make ‘Saturday morning chores’ a thing. Like with all rhythms we want to make in our families – it takes work upfront. But now, it is its own thing, it is a habit, we say ‘Saturday morning chores’ and the kids know what’s expected of them and there’s a lot less hand-holding
Then we built up to the second chore. So they clean their rooms and do a second chore on Saturdays.
The second chore is from a mental list that I recite to them and I offer the option to choose. These are things like wash windows, wipe down the bathroom counters, wash walls, take all the shoes to the mudroom, vacuum, unload the dishwasher, fold a basket of laundry, etc.
Then we added in mid-week chores for my oldest, and add in mid-week chores as each kid gets older.
During times when we are all at home (on break), we do morning room clean-up and a second chore every few days.
How we introduced chores into our kids’ lives
The way we introduced each of these changes by sitting down with the kids, usually during a family meeting (check out episode 20 for info on family meetings) and we tell them what’s happening, and why, and what we are expecting, and what questions they have.
Because our family meetings usually involve candy, they seem more open to this news versus a scenario where we roll in shut off the tv on a Saturday morning and declare a new world order
The delivery matters.
Start with one chore and work up to more
We started with the bedrooms here, and I think you can start wherever you want. Pick a chore to introduce with the understanding that things will increase over time.
I know bedrooms are popular place to start but they can also be a big undertaking. For us, some mornings it would turn into a 3-hour long hostage situation of fun by a kid who was laying in the middle of their messy floor saying ‘i can’t do it’.
There’s a lot of emotional coaching that might be happening. That’s ok. This is the time to do it. I’m like, “Saturday morning, I’ve had my coffee, and my schedule is free, bring it on tiny caveperson! We are HERE to learn to DO chores! I am your coach in this arena, let’s do it!”
Breaking it down to help with the overwhelm
One thing that has helped, especially my daughter who gets overwhelmed by how messy her room is, is to make a checklist. I write out about the four things she needs to do: Make the bed, put clothes away, put books in the bin, put toys away.
Just like with us adults, we need this too sometimes, to break down the overwhelm into little steps so we can see our way through.
Sometimes her room, she is the one who is most carefree with her space and possessions, is so messy that I sit with her and talk her through it. It’s been a lot of work, not always fun. But I’ve seen it pay off because she will sometimes say something like, ‘I got this mom’. Or her goal for the month will be to do chores without fighting or drama.
Bring attention to the benefits
One thing that has been very helpful with getting her to clean her room is to get her to pay attention to it and how it makes her feel.
When her room is messy I lift her up and say look at how much space is covered, what is hard to do in here?, how does this space make you feel?
Then she cleans it and I pick her up again and we look down into the space and I say – look at all the space you have, what are you excited to play here?, how do you feel about your room?
I want her to look at her space and see that she is the creator of it, she is the homemaker of her room. I want her to have a vision for this space that inspires her and I want her to pay attention to the benefits of taking care of her space.
Chores are easier and more motivating when they serve a vision.
This is a lesson I had to learn in homemaking for myself. Just like, three decades later.
Teaching the attitude and culture of chores you want to have in your home
This comes along to another big thing I have learned about chores. The way I talk about and handle chores will be their filter through which they come to understand what chores are, what their connotation is, and what we should feel about them.
If they are something I’m bemoaning, cringing over, and complaining about then I teach my kids they are a task that is negative and undesirable.
When I make comments about how I have to clean up after everyone, and nobody appreciates it, and I’m doing all this for them – then I’m teaching my kids that chores are a lowly task that you should expect appreciation from and never get.
I don’t know about you but when I was seven, I would not be sold on chores if that was the marketing message behind them
You don’t have to be overly-positive, but you can remove the negativity
And I’m not saying pretend chores are the most fun game you could play, and the Windex sprays rainbows and glitter, and when you smile then work it doesn’t feel like work anymore! I mean, if you want to, sure do it, you might find a lot of possibilities for fun there.
But for most of us we are like, but no. Chores are chores.
I’m not saying to be naive about it, but I’m saying to remove the drama and negativity.
How can you shift over to thinking of chores as something that is serving your family, and yourself and that you could possibly enjoy?
Maybe chores are just impartial.
Maybe some chores are relaxing.
Maybe some chores are interesting.
If you are doing it, you might as well enjoy it
I mentioned before that I try to enjoy chores cause I’m doing them anyway. I put on music, I listen to a podcast, I open windows, I declutter things, I rearrange things. I try to keep enjoying it. (you can read that blog post here, or hear it on the podcast here)
So I’m doing the same with the kids. I’m putting on music, I’m dropping in to have a dance party with them, and I’m encouraging them.
And I’d love to tell you this is all it takes. They are happy, they bought my new marketing, they are in! It helps for sure, but this is where rewards come in.
The reward system we use for kids’ chores
I know allowance is a personal issue and some people even debate on if you should pay for chores. We choose yes. For a lot of other reasons other than motivating them to do chores, but for how we also want to teach our kids about finances and money and the work economy.
Our kids get a weekly allowance for the weeks they do chores. Some weeks they choose not to do them, they don’t get an allowance.
We pay our kids based on their age, and like I said, as they get older, they get additional chores added throughout the week.
The other reward we use is a sticker chart. We’ve been doing it for about six months, thanks to my bestie who taught me how to do it.
Each kid has their own chart and they earn stickers for the things we want them to be working on, it is a little different for each kid and they can redeem stickers for prizes and experiences like a coffee date, or craft stuff from the dollar store, or some ipad time. When my oldest son wants ipad time he starts doing chores to get stickers.
You can say rewards systems are not for you, I totally get that mentality as well, we have chosen to use them in our house and we have seen results so we are sticking with them.
Preparing for the mindset hurdles you might experience
There can be a couple of mindsets that are hard for parents to accept when it comes to their kids doing chores;
It is always more helpful to focus on them showing up and practising than the results. My son ‘washing’ the window is not about the outcome of me having a clean window. It is about the process of him learning how to be someone who can wash a window.
Progress over perfection. Because chores are a skill to learn, like painting or reading, and if we want to nurture that then let’s be loving and supportive about effort and encouraging them to make progress the next time and the next time.
And it helps to keep remembering, you get what you pay for.
Your kids will not want to simply obey you when it comes to chores. Or you might have a kid who does it and a kid who fights you.
You could see this as outright disobedience and punish it, and we have done this. We have said ‘this is our standard and you must meet it’. We’ve noticed that it wasn’t working in the long run. In my experience, there is usually something else going on for them. When they aren’t doing it, we have a conversation – ‘What feels hard about it? How can I help you?’
For us, we don’t demand it, but we do lay it out – if you don’t do the chores you don’t get the allowance and you don’t get these privileges we have later today. It’s your choice. Sometimes they make the choice not to do it but that not very often.
There are areas where we expect obedience, but for now, this is an area we don’t. Rather, we see them practicing to motivate and discipline themselves with the rewards and consequences available to them.
As I mentioned at the beginning, your kids probably won’t be writing you cute little best mom ever cards and making you a coffee cause you had them do chores.
Don’t take their feelings personally, and don’t waste half you morning trying to talk them out of their feelings.
I’ve found the most success when I give them empathy and space to work through them. I know when I’m sour about something I don’t want to do sometimes I just need some space to work through it on my own. (Check out Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child that I’ve mentioned here in my top three fave parenting books).
And don’t let comparison with other moms take you out of your own motherhood
And finally, I want to say, like with all things mothering, don’t compare yourself.
For me, I see other mom’s talking about chores and I think – oh they are doing so much, their kids are learning so much more responsibility – I should do that – and it almost negates all the hard work we have done. And it also takes me out of my own values and my own mothering and makes me insecure and out of touch with myself and what I do actually want in my home and family.
So, watch out for times you are comparing yourself with the chore charts and the beautiful closets of folded clothes – that’s them, and that’s Instagram so maybe it’s them, maybe it’s a beautifully staged moment in time – and get back to you and how you want to parent and show up.
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