Home article Children and Chores: 6 Keys to Getting Help Around the House

Children and Chores: 6 Keys to Getting Help Around the House

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Children and Chores: 6 Keys to Getting Help Around the House

“I want the kids to pitch in without pitching a fit! How can I make that happen?”

Frustrated by lack of help around the house? Your kids might actually think chores aren’t important to you. Why is that?

First, kids don’t see the need. Kids cruise along in their own little world and only notice a problem when it crashes into their happy mindset.

Second, we don’t teach how to help. Becoming aware of others’ needs doesn’t just happen. Children need to be taught.

And, third, we let kids off the hook. We sometimes think it’s unfair to ask for help. But your child wants to be helpful. By assigning chores, you let your child feel competent, capable and valued for her contribution.

Competence. That’s the feeling “I did it myself.” To feel this way, a child needs to know a task exists, what it takes to do it and how to tell it’s done. The task has to have a recognizable beginning and end.

Capability. This is the feeling “I have valuable skills.” To feel capable, a task can’t be too easy. But this is where parents get tripped up. Instead of assigning a simple task, appeal to your child’s desire to do important things by giving her difficult tasks.

Contribution. “Does anyone care?” This is why cleaning the garage is more fun than cleaning one’s own room. A clean garage matters to other people. Cleaning one’s own room, not so much.

So… your plan of action looks something like this:

1. Think about your child. What does he like to do and what task would he think is difficult and grown up? The task will obviously change with the age of the child.

2. Choose one task to start. The task should be something that can be repeated at regular intervals. It should be something that provides obvious clues that it’s “time” to perform the task. It should have obvious indicators that the task has been completed and completed well.  For example, a five-year-old might be assigned the task of keeping the dog’s water bowl filled. A ten-year-old might have the job of collecting trash and setting it out for pick-up on “trash day.” And a teen might be asked to plan and prepare the family dinner every Wednesday night.

3. Tell your child what you want her to do. Your child is not a mind-reader. Talk with her about your need for help. Be sweet, be pleasant but be clear that doing the task is not optional.

Tell her what – Tell her when or by when – Tell her how to tell it’s done

The ten-year-old might need to know which wastebaskets need emptying and how to get the trash bins safely to the curb. She will need to know when the trash trucks come by and if she is also responsible for retrieving the bins from the street or putting fresh liners in the wastebaskets. Help her know what goes into her job and how you want the finished task to look.

4. Let your child decide how he’ll do the task. Ask your child how and when he thinks he will do it.  If the task will be messy or if there are tricky parts, suggest ways to avoid these issues. Help him visualize doing the task and anticipate problems.

The five-year-old who is filling the dog’s water bowl will need to know how frequently the bowl needs filling, what to do about cleaning the bowl, and how spills should be handled. But how he actually decides to do it – by carrying the bowl to the faucet or by carrying a pitcher of water to the bowl – is up to him.

5. Step back and shut up. Will your child do the task the way you would do it? No. Will she make mistakes the first time? Yes. But you must let her own the task and find out for herself how to do it and how to do it better.

Your teen may not fix dinner just the way you expect it. But hovering in the kitchen, giving advice, is not the way to go. And eat the meal that gets prepared with good grace.

6. Thank, inquire and reassign. When the task is done, thank your child, no matter how poorly the result is. Then ask your child how the task went. Let the child say the job was not done very well if it wasn’t.  Let her own the task and own the outcome. If you feel the need, suggest one improvement for next time. No matter how well or poorly the task was completed, reassign it for tomorrow or whenever the next reasonable time to do the task is. End on a happy note.

You might be thinking right now that this sounds like more bother than it’s worth. You’d rather do the jobs yourself….

And that’s been the problem all along. Because you haven’t taught your children how to do jobs, they haven’t learned to do them. They may even think you don’t really want them to do chores or don’t believe they can.

The main reason kids should do chores is not to get stuff done, though that’s nice. The main reason is to teach children responsibility and initiative. That’s why letting children decide when and how to do a task is important. That’s why letting kids evaluate their own work makes sense. And that’s why making children feel responsible for their tasks is so key.

What you’re doing here is developing attitudes and character. Do that and doing chores will come naturally.


Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson Dr. Patricia Anderson is a nationally acclaimed educational psychologist and the author of “Parenting: A Field Guide.” Dr. Anderson is on the Early Childhood faculty at Walden University and she is a Contributing Editor for Advantage4Parents. Learn more about Dr. Anderson at http://www.patricianananderson.com/
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