Getting Kids to Do Chores

QUESTION

Dear Mr. Dad,

It's nearly impossible to get my kids to do anything around the house. I know I must sound like my own mother, but when I was young, my siblings and I had a whole list of chores to do every day. And we did them without complaining. Is there anything I can do to get my kids to cooperate a little more?

ANSWER

Once upon a time, even the youngest kids had clear-cut duties around the house. It might have been bringing in firewood, feeding the chickens, or whitewashing fences. For better or worse, however, those days are long gone.

Today, it's a lot more likely that getting a child to do a chore as small as loading the dishwasher or taking out the garbage once a week will be like pulling teeth. Even worse, when you do ask a kid to so something, there's a good chance she'll demand to know "How much am I going to get paid for doing this?" Frustrating, but at least you can take some comfort in knowing that that your child has a firm grasp on how the free enterprise system works.

Sure, special jobs, like painting that shed in the backyard, or helping you replant your garden might involve some type of payment (which could be cash or something like a trip to a ballgame), most jobs around the house should just fall under the general heading of "family duties."

No one gets paid for setting the table, making dinner, or cleaning off the dishes. These are things that family members do to contribute to the running of the house. A child's weekly allowance should be independent of chores. In other words, don't tie taking out the garbage to a direct payment.

The trick to instilling a domestic work ethic in your child is two-fold: Lead by example and start early. From the earliest age, your kids look at you for clues on how to act. If they see that you don't put your things away, hang up your clothes, clear your dishes from the table, and so on, they'll get the signal loud and clear that they can leave stuff around for someone else to pick up -- that's going to be you.

On the other hand, if you start with making your toddler put away his toys when he's done playing with them and have him straighten up his room once a day, you'll help him develop the habit of chipping in when there's work to be done. As the kids get older, their duties around the house should expand to fit their abilities.

You didn't mention this, but I'm sure that since you have more than one child, you often hear complaints from the older ones about having to do more than the younger ones. The way to deal with this is to remind the older ones of some of the privileges they have that that the younger siblings don't.

Of course, no one wants to turn their children into little domestic slaves, but having a clearly defined list of chores (posting a written list is often helpful), along with who's responsible for doing each one is an important facet of family life.

Finally, build some flexibility into your system. If one of the kids needs to spend a lot of time on a big project, make some allowances. You might offer to do the child's chores for him in exchange for an equal amount of time spent on other household chores later on.
-- "Mr. Dad"

Armin Brott

A nationally recognized parenting expert, Armin Brott is the bestselling author of The Expectant Father: Facts, Tips and Advice for Dads-To-Be, The New Father: A Dad's Guide to the First Year, Fathering Your Toddler, The Military Father: A Hands-on Guide for Deployed Dads, and four other books on fatherhood. He has written on parenting, fatherhood, and health for the New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post, Newsweek, and dozens of other periodicals. He also hosts "Positive Parenting," which airs on a dozen stations in the US and worldwide on the American Forces Network. Armin lives with his family in Oakland, California. You may visit his website at mrdad.com to learn more.