Do you remember when they were two, and loved to follow you around grabbing at the vacuum and “helping” fold laundry? Whatever happened to all that enthusiasm?
Getting kids to do chores isn’t just about fair distribution of labor. Learning to do household tasks teaches valuable life skills (like separating whites, darks, and the dreaded reds) and saves them embarrassment and incompetence when they finally move out. It teaches children responsibility and helps reinforce the idea that they need to be contributors in a relationship and shouldn’t just expect to be served.
Teaching both boys and girls how to do a full range of household chores also helps break down unhealthy and outdated gendered expectations about men’s work and women’s work. Modeling and reinforcing the idea that both sexes can do a good job at and should be responsible for cleaning up after themselves, preparing meals, and solving problems will help your children be better adults, employees, and future partners in their own relationships.
Here are five ways to make it happen.
Harness their desire to be just like you by starting with chores young. You’ll have to go slow and scale up as their abilities develop, but the best way to engage your kids in household chores is to start them off before they learn to think of helping as a chore.
At first, they won’t be at all helpful. That’s okay; this isn’t about you having less work to do. It’s about good parenting and laying the groundwork for the future. Start with simple fetch-and-carry helping, and . . .
Remember to teach
Explain what you’re doing and why. That helps kids learn critical thinking and problem solving by teaching them cause and effect, and that there’s a reason behind why things are done a certain way beyond that an adult told them so. This isn’t the best area to let them run free and showcase their creativity. Creativity arises out of an understanding of structure, and your children will feel more secure and confident going forward if you teach them well.
Teaching takes patience. Go slow, take your time, and accept that you’ll repeat yourself a lot. However, if you don’t teach your kids how you expect them to do chores, they’re not likely to discover how to do them well all on their own.
Make it social
Many children crave spending time with their parents, especially when they’re younger. Being sent off to complete chores alone feels like a punishment, and they’ll resist. Look for ways to enlist their help and complete chores together or assign siblings to work together. It’ll also build teamwork skills at the same time. It may take longer, and it might not take work off your plate, but it does invest in your relationship and teach your child effectively.
Don’t use it as a punishment
Most of these tips are about how to make chores a positive experience. It will be much harder to convince children to do chores if they associate them with being in trouble or being shamed. The opposite isn’t quite true; bribing children to do chores isn’t the best idea either. Be cautious about adding rewards because your children need to do chores out of a sense of satisfaction, responsibility, contribution, and relationship, and they’ll lose motivation to finish their chores without rewards if you condition them to expect a payoff.
Turn it into a game
While you need to be careful about bribing your children to do chores with rewards, a little game playing fun is just good strategy. Some children are very motivated by competition (against themselves or siblings). Use a chalkboard or large notepad to set goals and track progress. Writing down what chores need to be completed is also a good way to empower kids to work through tasks more independently as they get older.
Keeping it clean can be a challenge, especially if your kids keep blasting through their goals and you need to set new ones, but it’s easy to learn how to clean a chalkboard like a pro. You can even turn that into a chore; get the kids to clean it and then write up a new schedule.
Most of getting the kids to do chores is building an environment where doing them is about helping, contributing, and being a part of the family. If you hate chores personally, you’ll have to work on not communicating that to the kids, and you definitely don’t want to use chores as a punishment, teaching them to associate shame and failure with chores. Focus on making the experience social and fun, teaching patiently and not have unreasonably high expectations to start with. Learning to contribute to the household tasks is a meaningful way to grow closer as a family and help your children become great adults.