Question: I’m wondering if you have any tips to share on how to get my kids to help out with chores and just doing some daily clean-up. It seems like my husband and I spend every weekend doing the chores that get ignored all week, and then no one has any fun together on our days off. Our kids are young, 5 and 8 years old, but old enough to pick up after themselves.
Answer: It can be really hard to motivate our kids to do chores, especially in
the beginning when a routine hasn’t been established, or when expectations to help out have been low. I recommend starting out with small steps. Do you have any rituals already put in place, such as picking up toys at the end of the day or helping to set the table before dinner? Choose one area where you’ve seen some cooperation or willingness to help in the past and build upon it. In our house, the kids always seem to linger around the kitchen during dinner prep. While it can certainly be an inconvenience to have them around while I cook, I also see it as an opportunity to capitalize on their interests and attention. It is fairly routine now that the kids will help me with some dinner prep like peeling carrots or setting the table while I make dinner. We built on this area recently by setting the expectation that the kids clear the table after dinner and help with tidying up the dinner mess. I believe a key factor in making this work for us is our full participation as a family. We are all engaged in the act of preparing for dinner and then cleaning up from dinner. It can often be a nice time, generating good feelings on all sides as it fosters our sense that we are a family, all invested in this thing called life together.
I would also recommend creating some incentive around the housework. Call a family meeting and explain your desire to have more fun family time on the weekends. Explain the barriers to getting this time. Ask for ideas and solutions to this problem; be careful not to assign blame or to push your own solutions. Remember, you want the kids to buy in to the idea of doing some chores in order to get more fun time as a family. Once you’ve had a meeting and generated some small do-able solutions, create a plan (perhaps a chart or a checklist to help you all keep track of daily progress). Then decide together on a reward. The “reward” should be connected to the goal of spending more time together on the weekends, such as an afternoon spent at the park or a Saturday matinee. It should not be something for the children like a new toy or candy.
Finally, I advise you to have realistic expectations. Yes, your children are old enough to pick up after themselves. However, they lack key executive functioning skills to carry out this skill independently. You will need to provide the structure and guidance to help them be successful in learning to do the tasks and chores that are necessary to caring for a home. So instead of giving a broad directive such as, “Clean your room,” which assumes they know how to carry out this multi-level job, try breaking it down into small steps, offering support and encouragement along the way.
Julia Cadieux, a PCI Certified Parent Coach and Capital District mom, helps other parents look within for the answers they seek and believes there is no “one size fits all” when it comes to child-rearing. Send you questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.