Just thinking about the word “chores” makes me feel tired and brings up feelings of drudgery…and I’m probably not alone in this! CHORES, it sounds like…well, a chore! Children who refuse to do their chores or who drag their feet or do their chores incompletely are sending us a message in the only way they know how. Our job as parents is to decipher that message and help our children feel empowered, encouraged and motivated to contribute to the care of the family and family home. There are a number of ways to change the way we elicit our children’s help around the house, and my first suggestion is to take the word chore out of the equation, literally. Call it something else, family contribution, helping, or my favorite “mandatory fun.”
But besides changing the name, there are many practical ways to win our children’s cooperation when it comes time to help around the house. First it is often helpful to make a list of everything that needs to be done so you can get a big picture (dishes, laundry, vacuum, mow, dust, feed the pet, water the plans, etc.), then share this list with ALL your kids (even the 9 month old can be included just to make the family meeting complete, but it’s not necessary, of course!). Then let them talk about the ways they are most interested in helping. Each kid can get a piece of paper (construction paper is always fun) and write their name at the top, followed by the ways they’re willing to help. The reason this encourages their cooperation is because it shows value and respect for their ideas and opinions. You all can decide as a family if you want to change the list every week or if you want to change it monthly.
While children are more likely to help when they have some power in the decision-making process, they will likely need some help figuring out exactly what we want. For example, your 10-year-old says she’s cleaned her room, but when you go up there her bed is unmade and her dirty clothes are still on the floor. It’s probably safe to say she was a bit overwhelmed at the enormity of the project. It always helps to spend the first 2-3 times helping them, then breaking it down in to smaller projects for them. So while you’re helping her clean her room the first time you can suggest, “should we make the bed first or put the clothes in the hamper? What else is on the floor?” Then, when she is cleaning her room on her own you can ask, “do you want some guidance, or do you want to do it on your own first?” If she wants guidance, pretend like you’re there with her and speak to her face-to-face (don’t shout up at her from the bottom of the stairs), “do you want to make your bed first or pick up your clothes” etc. She can come down after each step in the process, you can make a list together, or you can make a storyboard together. If she chooses to do it herself and invites you up to see her work, be sure to PRAISE HER EFFORTS! “I see you made your bed and put most of the toys away! Can I help you put your clothes in the basket? Wow, you put all your books on your shelf too! I spy one more thing, can you find it? That was a lot of work, but you got it done!”
The important thing is to begin to encourage the effort. A reluctant helper is often a discouraged helper. When children feel they can’t live up to our expectations they often shut down and end up doing nothing – why try if they’re going to get in trouble anyway?
Finally, never underestimate the power of modeling and timing. I often pick up without asking for help because it’s important to ME to be organized and because I’m in the mood to pick up. My family sees me cleaning up, they see the results, and they like it! And sometimes they’ll join in (especially if I’m being ridiculously dramatic with song and dance). But I almost never pick up when I’m not in the mood, and I would likely resent it if my spouse was in the mood to pick up and said, “hey, come help me” when I was in the middle of relaxing with a cup of tea or writing a blog post. Forget it! So I like to offer the same courtesy to my family. When we choose the right time for ourselves, picking up just seems easier. My kid randomly picks up (sometimes), and other times I give her a gentle prompt, “I see you’re busy. When you’re finished with that drawing let’s talk about when you might want to work on rinsing out those potion bowls so you can create more later.”
I hope this helps! I’m likely leaving out some other positive ideas for encouraging children to help with family contributions, so please let me know!
*Get your free Story Board PDF HERE, and then let your kids draw pictures and add descriptions of ways they want to help – when we empower them we help create moments of success!*