Chores for Kids

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How do you get the kids to do chores?

July 2000

I have a topic for discussion which really applies to all parents, but I'd be particularly interested in the responses of single parents. What chores do your kids do & how do you get them to do them? I have two daughters, 5 & 10, and as they get older I find myself getting more resentful that I still do 99% of the chores around the house. I have only myself to blame, I guess, since I haven't made an issue of it & they apparently aren't going to volunteer ... So now that I have decided to make an issue of it, I'm not sure what expectations are realistic. The 10-year-old is pretty cooperative & capable of doing a lot, but she gets very resentful if her sister is not also required to do some work, and there's not that much the 5-year-old can do. Also the 5-year-old tends to be oppositional and stubborn and easily distracted, and it can take major nagging, cajoling, threatening, etc. on my part to get her to do anything - we end up getting into this unpleasant power struggle, and it's easier to just do it myself. It seems like a major effort just to get them to pick up their dirty clothes & take their dirty dishes to the kitchen, they need repeated reminding just to do the minimum. Sometimes I think it's OK for me to do 99%, because they're the kids and I'm the mom, they're not home that much (in school or daycare all day & go to bed pretty early) & even though I'm at work all day, I do stay up later, but then when I'm dashing around fixing dinner, cleaning up after dinner, doing laundry, picking up messes, etc., while they're lying around watching TV, the resentment starts to build ... So what do you say, single parents? What is your philosophy on sharing the load & how do (did) you make it happen? Melinda

In response to the question on how do get kids to help out with housework and how much they should do. What I did with my daughter, who is now 10, is on Sat mornings write down all the jobs that need to get done on index cards or little pieces of paper, one job per card. Then I layed out all the cards on the table and would ask her to pick two. There usually would be around four or five cards with jobs such as clean bathroom, vacuum, take out trash ect... This way my daughter could see all the work that needed to be done in a more concrete way and also was able to choose her jobs. I also explained to her that it wasn't fair if I did all of it by myself and that I'd have more time to do fun things with her if she helped plus it is her duty to help out as part of the family. We also tend to make some sort of plans for something fun later in the afternoon contigent on the housework getting done. At first she didn't like it but now it's become more of a habit (although she does still complain sometimes). You might want to have different age kids have to chose differing numbers of cards (jobs)or weight the cards by points, more points for harder jobs and ask them to pick numbers of cards equally a certain number of points. Maybe you could tie the total points to their age somehow.

My daughter also is required to set and clear the dinner table, put away dry dishes and do her own dishes that she uses (I bought one of those sponges that has a handle on it to make it easier). Possibly one way to motivate them too is to not allow t.v. until work is done. Hope this helps! I don't really know how much work is appropriate to ask of different age groups but I just try to use my best judgement. I definetely think that kids should help out in some way at all ages. After all we're parents not maids. Lynn

My daughter is ten years old. She spends about 2/3 of her time with me, and the rest with her father. I have found it difficult to get her to help with chores on a regular basis because she is not with me all the time, and I try to get a lot of the housework done while she is away.

A few years ago I offered to pay her for each chore that she did (like 25 cents to feed the dog, a couple of dollars to help wash the car, etc.) That motivated her for awhile, but she didn't really seem to care about the money all that much. I also tried making her a chart so that she could check it each day that she was with me to see what she needed to do, but of course I had to remind her to check the chart.

What works best for her now are gentle reminders to set the table, clear and rinse her dishes, put her clothes in the laundry, feed the dog, and other chores that take less than five minutes. When I want her to do something that takes more time, like dust furniture or brush the dog, I try to choose a time that's 'convenient', by which I mean I don't make her put down the latest volume of Harry Potter to brush the dog; I wait until she's already read a chapter or two. Or I may ask her to agree to brush the dog after she's read two chapters, and then I remind to do it. I still pay her by the chore. She asks me how much the chore is worth, and then she writes down the amount on the calendar, and at the end of the week she adds up how much I owe her, and I pay her.

Also with something like house cleaning, I don't ask her to do something time consuming like dust the furniture unless I am doing some house work as well. So then we are working together rather than my just making her do something she doesn't want to do.

Since I don't have my daughter with me all of the time, I try to balance the need for having her help me and teaching her about taking care of the house, car, pets and yard with having free time when we can just have fun. When I was a child I did _a lot_ more house work as her age than she does, but my mother was very strict and very rigid in how and when the house work was done. I think my more relaxed attitude about the state of my house and yard is a reaction to my upbringing. Also I'd really, really like to have a cleaner, tidier house, but as a single, working parent who is already on the edge time-wise, I'm not willing to spend any more time on house work or be any more heavy handed with getting my daughter to help.

That's not to say that I haven't often felt resentment at my daughter wandering into the house while I'm unloading bags and bags of groceries. But time and time again, I've found that if I let her know _in advance_ that I _expect_ her to help me unload the groceries and then _remind_ her when we get home, I usually get the help I'm asking for without grumbling. It's when I ask her to do something for me when she is engrossed in a book or an activity, then I get a lot of opposition. Or if I expect her to help without being asked, then I am usually disappointed. So the burden is still on me (and that still causes resentment), but if the bottom line is that I want help, then I need to learn how to ask for it!

Also, if you keep at them about clearing their dishes, eventually they will just do it. (Yes, the burden is still on you to remind them, but no you are not expecting too much to ask them to clear their dishes.) One thing that worked with my daughter regarding her leaving her dirty clothes under her bed, stuffed in her closet, etc., is that I stopped looking for her dirty clothes and one day, she didn't have too many choices of what to wear. I told her that I would wash her clothes if she would put them in the laundry basket, otherwise they wouldn't get washed. That helped. She also will help me fold her clothes if I put all the laundry on the bed, and we fold our clothes together. That may be an activity that both girls can help with, or I bet if you and your older girl start doing it together, your younger daughter will want to help.

Or if watching TV is an incentive for them, you could tell them no TV until they do their chores.

I know this is long winded, but in summary I'd recommend that you be realistic about that you ask them to do, and accept the fact that you will probably have to continually ask them to do their chores. But you will not be doing them any favor if you do everything for them. They should help you, but in reasonable child-appropriate ways (picking up their dirty laundry, setting the table, clearing dirty dishes, unloading groceries, putting out the recycling, feeding pets, folding laundry, dusting furniture [maybe], putting away things in their room).