Kids and Chores: the How and Why

kids sweeping

Chores. Ugh. I mean, nobody gets excited about doing chores, right? The very word means “unpleasant task,” as in “This is a chore.”

Why on earth, then, would kids ever do these things if we didn’t force them with really awful consequences?

Aha! Because kids don’t know (until they’re around 7) that chores aren’t fun!

Recently the EverydayFamily Facebook page got this question:

How do you teach a 4 year old responsibility? Like cleaning his room putting his dirty clothes where they go picking up after him self. I try and try and try to stick to my guns and make him do them but ultimately I give in and just do it?

A couple of helpful moms chimed in with suggestions:

  • Make it into a game. How fast can he get the toys back on the shelf?
  • Race him! Who can get the most clothes in the laundry?

These are great ideas! At this age there are other tips we can take from preschool teachers the world over:

  • Give a countdown. “Last puzzle! In 5 minutes we will start to clean up.”
  • Sing a clean-up song. This can be as silly or funny as your child would like!
  • Assign “jobs.”  For whatever reason kids this age LOVE having a role.
  • Don’t go on until clean up is done! This last one may help the mom who asked the most. It is SO much easier to do this stuff ourselves, right?

Unfortunately, the answer to “Why won’t my 4 year old be responsible?” is: “He doesn’t have to be, he knows eventually you’ll do it for him.” Which makes mom-sense at age 4, but is REALLY not pretty at age 14. So, as my mom always says, we have to begin as we mean to go on. Even though it’s faster to do it ourselveves.

The very best reason to get kids involved in chores as early as possible (2 year olds can help put laundry in the basket, empty small garbage cans, and pair shoes) is that this helps them feel needed and secure in the family. Teens who have household responsibility have been shown to engage in fewer risky behaviors!

So, what about older kids? Another question in the same thread was:

I am constantly fighting with my 10 year old daughter over chores and homework. How can I get her to straighten up lose the attitude, and do what is asked of her? I have tried rewards, positivereinforcement, and taking away playtime on her laptop and taking away the nintendo ds.

There are several issues going on here. You are totally right, your 10 year old should have chores that she does. And not only responsibility for her own stuff, but chores that benefit the whole family, like taking out the garbage or cleaning the kitchen after dinner. So what can you do?

  • Appeal to her desire for autonomy. Make it clear that everyone in the house has to pitch in to help. Make a list of ten chores she could do each week to contribute, and let her pick three for the month.
  • Take a cue from the Boy and Girl Scouts. Some kids are very goal oriented and really like “earning” things. Explain to her that she needs to learn how to do a bunch of things and prove her competence in them. Break up the chores into categories (see my free Age-by-Age Chore Chart for help with this) and let her earn “merit badges” in each category by doing these chores for a month at a time.
  • Make a responsibilities contract. Chances are very high that there are an awful lot of “chores” that you do. Make a list of all the things you do for her, and make a (probably much shorter) list of the things you want her to do. Link the nonessential but really lovely things you do for her to the things she needs to do. Make it clear that if she can’t help the family, you’re going to spend less time helping her – since you’ll have to do the things she isn’t doing.

Lastly, don’t attack of all your concerns with her at once. You can’t solve the attitude, the chores and the homework in the same week! Pick the issue that is most concerning to you and deal with that one first. It will take weeks – be patient and be strong! And let us know how it goes.



Image via N. Hempeck


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Kids and Chores: the How and Why

Doctor G. (Deborah Gilboa, MD) empowers parents to raise respectful, responsible and resilient kids. Around the country and around the world, she works with parents to increase their knowledge and to utilize the parenting instincts they already have. Her acclaimed book "Get the Behavior You Want... Without Being the Parent You Hate!" is available now. As a Board Certified Family Physician, mother of four, author of Teach Resilience: Raising Kids Who Can Launch! and a professional parenting speak ... More

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  1. Profile photo of Alison LeeAuthor Alison Lee says:

    I’m bookmarking this, Dr. G!


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