Featured image CC by David D
Dreaded by both kids and parents alike.
Kids hate doing them, parents hate having to enforce them.
I don’t have all the answers, and things are NOT going smoothly in our house…but I was thinking the other day how much better things are FINALLY going in our house in regards to chores. And that made me think that maybe I should write a blog post about it, and share for those that might benefit from some of the things that work for us.
Side Note: I wish that I had long ago found an alternative word to “chores”. Maybe a word that doesn’t sound so negative…Flylady calls it “blessing the house”…which is a bit corny, but whatever works. Maybe you can find a cute name that works for your family. If so, I’d love to hear it in the comments below.
Here’s what I’ve learned about chores through trial and error…
1. My first advice is to START EARLY. When they are eager to help. Young. Like…preschool age! I wish I started pushing the issue of chores earlier. By the time I got started with my kids, I think my oldest was probably 7 or 8…and it took a couple years of struggles to really take. (With one child, at least…still a daily struggle with the other.) I should have started sooner. MUCH sooner.
2. Really emphasize to them that you NEED THEIR HELP. I am constantly stressing to my reluctant child that chores are NOT a punishment. I genuinely NEED their help.
We all live here, therefore, we all pitch in and help. I cannot and should not be expected to do everything. I am not a servant, here to clean up after him. Everyone makes messes, therefore everyone pitches in to help clean/maintain the house. THAT’S HOW FAMILIES WORK. We work TOGETHER.
I have to regularly remind him of this when he balks, because he tends to see chores as, well, a “chore.” And I have to remind him that no one ENJOYS chores…but we all enjoy living in a house that is not a wreck.
3. You can emphasize that last point by drawing attention to how WONDERFUL it feels when a room or area is tidy. Pointing out this feeling (over and over…because once or twice doesn’t take. It takes years and years of harping on this. I’m still not there yet with him and he’s going to be a teen this year!) will eventually, I know, help my kids internalize how good it feels to be in a tidy room. And how good it feels to help to have made that happen.
4. Don’t just tell them how to do a task, or expect them to know…SHOW THEM. I try to always guide them, side by side, initially.
Show them (patiently and kindly!), then have them try. Then continue to help them with that task for as long as it takes for them to get the hang of doing it properly.
And remember to always guide with kindness! They most likely already don’t want to be doing this…don’t make it worse by YOU being grumpy on top of things.
This will also have the added benefit of helping you see pretty quick if a chore is not age or personality appropriate for your child. If it’s not working, change it up or swap it out for something else. Be flexible!
5. PLAY FUN MUSIC! To help make things more tolerable (dare I say it…maybe even FUN??) music is a MUST! Music has this amazing superpower of changing the mood of a room. When I approach a grumpy, uncooperative child about chores, I try to remember to suggest to them that they get to pick out the fun music for the day’s chores. If that doesn’t work…then I pick fun, danceable music, crank it up and dance and sing like a MANIAC!! Mom being ridiculous usually wins them over pretty quickly.
The goofy factor is key here. I have been known to tell my son that a chore doesn’t count if he’s not wiggling his butt in time to the music. Have fun!!
Big thing here: I make sure to pick music I know we BOTH will enjoy. I need to genuinely be feelin it, and so do they!
6. Always do chores at the same time as your child. While my child is doing their assigned chores, I will try to always be also doing (some of) mine!
I find this ends up really emphasizing my point that I NEED their help…and that we all work together as a family on the upkeep of our home. If chores is instead something I make my kids DO, alone, then it feels more like a punishment to them…or something they are being forced to do against their will vs me enlisting their help to take care of the house.
It’s not a fix-all, mind you…but I do find that it makes things much more pleasant sometimes. I’m setting a good example for my children and also it just feels more like we are working together! Which is the whole point!
NOTE: I don’t wait for everyone in the house to be ready. If there are more people that have chores to do and they are not ready to do it when we are ready to start…I will just do more of my chores with them later, when they are ready. Don’t need any hold ups! And I ALWAYS have chores for myself to do!
7. The number of chores assigned a child equals the number of years they have been alive. BUT, I max them out at 10. That seems like plenty of chores, ya know? So after 10 years old, they will stay with 10 chores, forever. (Though what those chores are will likely change at some point.)
8. Break chores into VERY BASIC TASKS. Meaning, I don’t say something like “do laundry.” That’s a complex task with multiple steps. I break that into multiple chores. So, for my daughter that has handled doing the family laundry every day entirely by herself since she was 9 years old…Her laundry chore is broken into 4 chores: 1. Put a new load in the washer (& run), 2. move a load from the washer to the dryer (& run), 3. take a load from the dryer out and sort into baskets (each person has a basket, and there is a separate basket for towels/rags), 4. put away your own basket of laundry.
As children get older and better able to handle more things, I may combine some chores that are really simple into one chore, enabling me to expect more from them but not actually add more chores (in number) to their list. Just expecting more of each chore. I always look at the individual child and what I know they can handle. I am trying to not overload them, but always am stressing how I need their help to manage the house.
9. Choose chores that GENUINELY HELP. I never pick just “busy work” for my kids, just to make them feel useful or me feel like I’m making them do something. I ALWAYS think of things that will help with the biggest problem areas that I see around the house.
At one point, my son was too young yet to trust to handle putting away dishes in the cupboard without help, so I had his chore instead be to go all around the house and find dishes that had been left in other rooms and needed to be brought to the kitchen. He was my dish/cup finder. He brought all the stray dishes back into the kitchen and put them on the counter for me. It was a simple enough job, but it genuinely helped to eliminate the problem of stray dishes piling up around the house!
10. Find a system of keeping track of chores that works best for each child. This might be a sticker chart or a check list or an app or a magnet board or any number of things that might work to help that child stay on track and feel accomplished. We’ve tried lots over the years.
The important part is what does your child feel works best for THEM?
For my daughter, it was a simple laminated list until she committed the list to memory. She would check it off daily with a dry erase marker and reset for the next day when done. But after a time, she didn’t need that list and didn’t want it anymore. Her chore routine has become so ingrained in her that she often forgets that it’s a weekend (I give her weekends off from regular chores…though sometimes we do extra chores as a family)…she will still do them on weekends sometimes because she’s just in the habit!
Now with my son, I’ve tried many different systems…the laminated list worked for awhile. I’ve used apps and magnet boards, and all sorts of things. Pinterest is FULL of ideas for chore charts and systems. But what works now for him is a simple thing: popsicle sticks with the chores written on them, and a glass mason jar.
The sticks are stored in the jar when not in use. When it’s time for chores, he lays them out and sorts them into areas of the house or chores done together. Then, as he finishes a chore, he plunks it back into the glass jar, where it makes a nice sound. I think the tactile nature of this system, covering more senses (sight, touch and sound) has been very satisfying for him. And seeing the list get physically whittled away is a good feeling as well. He tends to whiz through chores now, once he gets started. (It still can be a bugger getting him started, sigh.)
11. If you have a reluctant child, incentivize. I don’t believe in paying my kids actual money for doing chores. As I said, chores are just part of being in a family, and I expect them to pitch in. However, I have found it much easier to get my kids to do what is needed if there is SOME sort of a reward for them in the end. At least until the habit is established.
This incentive started out as computer time for both my kids. Over time, my daughter no longer needed incentives…she just was in the routine and didn’t always want to play on the computer afterwards because she had other things she wanted to do.
But my son, ever the reluctant worker…he always needs incentive to do the work. His currency still very much is computer time. It motivates him. Do what works!
12.Point out how much easier it is to do the chores when they keep up with them regularly, vs letting it go for many days and having to start essentially from scratch. As with anything, work piles up. They make it MUCH easier on themselves if they keep consistent and do their darn chores daily! Then there’s usually not a lot to clean up!
I like to really play that aspect up when they finish in record time because there wasn’t much to do. “Hey, you finished your chores super quick today because you’ve been so on top of them lately! HIGH FIVE!”
So that’s the gist of chores in OUR house! This is what works for us….for now. That’s not to say that things won’t change again in the future. Things are always changing. And I just try to adapt. When things stop working, time for a change. But right now, this is going pretty well.
I want to add weekly chores to our lists, but I’ve just been trying to get daily chores into a rhythm for so long that I let the idea of more chores go. Baby steps.
If things continue to go well, I may update this post later with what I learn about adding weekly chores as well… Flylady is a great resource for how to break down weekly chores into manageable pieces.
The hardest part is just that constant struggle to get my son to get his chores started…my daughter is on autopilot, so I don’t have to say anything to her anymore. But once my son gets going, he usually whizzes through them pretty quickly.
I like to also point out how much HAPPIER their mom is when they help out and when the house is clean! Happy mom=happy family!! It’s true what they say:
“If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy!”
My kids agree on that, LOL! And they agree that THEY are happier in a clean house as well!
So if you’re not there yet, keep at it! You’ll get there! It takes time and perseverance. But you’ll get there!