How to Engage Kids in Chores
We've all likely experienced one of these scenarios: We're folding laundry while the kids read, watch TV, or horse around, and we wonder, Why don't they help? There's always housework and our kids have tons of energy, but somehow we don't ask for help. Or we do ask for help but when our kids don't follow up, we don't enforce the need for them to do chores.
Chores are an important part of family life -- a wonderful way for kids to gain life skills, embrace a good work ethic, and be part of the family "team." All kids -- and especially those whose lives have been disrupted by adoption, divorce, or other trauma -- can find regular chores steadying if they see that their contributions help the household.
For example, when my husband and I adopted our kids (then preschoolers), we engaged them in our family routine by having them make their beds, put away their dirty clothes, and clear their places at the table. They accomplished these daily tasks with pride because -- they told us -- it was their house. Now, over five years later, they've expanded their chore repertoire, but they still rely on basic tasks such as bed making and tidying up to help them feel at home no matter where we travel.
Need ideas for getting your kids started, or maybe restarted? Here's what has helped us:
1. Offer choices. Make a list of chores that need doing regularly, then another list of occasional tasks, and let your kids choose which ones they will do. However...
2. Be realistic. Some kids volunteer for everything, so help them choose what they can do safely and well in the time they have. If your kids volunteer for nothing, then choose a few jobs a week for them to do, and let them see what they like or do well. Make those few items the regular chores, and change them as necessary.
3. Don't nag. Agree on a date or time for completion and write it down. For readers, write the chores on a calendar. For non-readers, make a pictorial checklist. If chores aren't done by the agreed time, let there be a logical consequence, for example "paying" you (in time, money, or toys) for having to do the chore yourself. There will undoubtedly be some times when they forget and it's important to be consistent in following up with the consequences. That's OK! It's part of how your kids will learn to take on responsibility.
4. Don't criticize. Embrace imperfection! Don't re-do their work! The best way to do this? Let kids do only those chores that you don't mind having done differently. For instance, if you think there's a wrong way to load the dishwasher, load it yourself; but if you don't care how the garden gets watered, let the kids do it.
5. Value the work. When your child finishes their chores, issue a heartfelt thank you and a reminder of how their work helps the family. And if you believe in paying for chores (some parents do, some don't), pay right away. If your kids feel good about the work they do, you might find them asking for jobs when their self esteem is low. There's nothing like hearing your family say "Great job!" (particularly on a day when your teacher has just said, "Not so great.")
Fall is a great time to incorporate new routines into family life. Why not start a routine that can help you gain time and help your kids feel good about themselves?
Do your kids do chores? Is it a struggle? Do you pay for chores or expect them to be done as part of general family management? We'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.