7 steps to ensure that you win the chore battle with your kids every time.

7 steps to ensure that you win the chore battle with your kids every time.

Wondering if you are alone in feelings of helplessness when it comes to getting your kids to pitch in around the house? You’re not.

Just look at the parenting section of any bookstore and you will see that this is a prime topic for all the experts. Skip putting another book on your shelf and follow these doable steps at home…

  1. Stop calling them “chores.”

First things first. Rebrand.

Every marketing executive knows that naming your product is the most important step for attracting buyers (well…that along with packaging, market research, etc…). Nobody wants to buy colon-scrubbing pellets but Grape Nuts sound pretty good!  

So let’s talk about our terms first and foremost. I have never met the adult, let alone the child, who is itching to do a chore.This word is heavy with negative connotations. The mere saying of it is laborious!

So if not “chores,” what do we call them?

Think of your audience — what are the ages and interests of the demographic you’re trying to “sell” chores to? — and find a name for their participation that is more palatable. We used to call them random acts of kindness in our house, when we were being especially communally-focused. 

Maybe you call them tasks, opportunities, contributions, responsibilities, to-do’s… whatever strikes your fancy. Take some time to think of a term that encompasses the spirit that you hope these duties will be done in and the message that you want to communicate to your offspring.

OK, do you have your name picked out? Then let’s move on to choosing the jobs.

  1. What should this “not-chore” be?

Close your eyes. Imagine the job that you dread the most at home. What if I told you that it is the perfect one to outsource to the next generation? I know, it sounds too good to be true, but trust me, it works.

You will be ultra-motivated to teach your kids invaluable life lessons if your load is truly being lightened.

I shudder at piles of laundry. Hate this job. So this is the “not-chore” for my kids, because I will love passing this one on…forever.

You can outsource and offer life-training in one fell swoop. It is a win-win! Now how to make it actually work, that is the question…

3. Set them up for success

Remember the how-to speech that you had to write in grade school? This is what you need to do here. Make the task at hand as simple, straightforward, and systematic as possible.

Let’s stick with laundry as a good example. Every job can be broken into small, approachable mini-tasks. So dissect the overarching job into chunks…  

    • Gather the dirty laundry and bring it to the laundry room.
    • Separate the clothes into lights and darks.
    • Load the clothes into the washing machine.
    • Move the load from the washer to the dryer.
    • Fold the clean laundry.
    • Put it all away.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

Once you’ve divided the chore into mini-chores, they need to be clearly explained. You can use pictorial instructions for the younger set. And even though it may not seem necessary, written instructions are a good idea even for the older child so that there is a clear understanding of what’s expected.

You want to set them up for success by teaching them carefully and by making even a multi-step job that might feel overwhelming at first seem like something they can accomplish. In the end, this gives them a real sense of self satisfaction and makes it possible for you to hold them accountable when steps are inevitably skipped. (They are only human, after all.)  

But even though they’re going to make mistakes, don’t think for a moment they can’t live up to your expectations…

  1. Don’t underestimate your kids’ abilities.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking little kids are incapable. Don’t let this happen to you!

Let’s keep looking at laundry as an example. Children as young as toddlers can gather dirty clothes and separate them into light and dark. And running the machines? That’s a perfect grade-school job.

Now, folding. Um…I’m not even good at this myself so I opt for hangers. But, again, it’s a perfect job for kids pre-school and older. And finally, putting it all away. You may have to join in on this with younger kids, but it’s something everyone can help with.  

The point is: Don’t overburden yourself because you’re unwilling to test your children’s ability to rise to the task. Test them. See what they’re capable of. You’ll be surprised…and maybe even more relaxed.

Now you are ready to set the tone…

  1. Have a catchphrase.

It’s impossible to keep kids constantly upbeat about working around the house, but it is possible to keep the reason we’re all doing this in mind as a motivator and a reminder. What phrase can you say over and over again to let them know why they are doing what they are doing?

If you came up with “Because I told you so,” stop and start over. It may be a tempting retort to their complaints, but it’s almost as distasteful to hear as it was when you were their age. Don’t go there.

Here’s a better example. My husband has a phrase that he says so often that it is certain to elicit eye-rolls and recitation in unison: “Families cooperate.”  

You will undoubtedly run into resistance — repeatedly — from your in-house workforce. The key is to have an answer to every argument that they throw at you. Keep it short. Sweet. And to the point.

Ok. Have your line ready? Let’s talk about compensation…

  1. Reward a job well done…carefully.

Of course your kids want to be paid. So now you have to choose a currency. Pick your dangling-carrot wisely.

For younger kids, marbles in a jar work well for marking completed tasks and working toward some sort of prize after a week of consistent effort. Even just stickers can be plenty of motivation for some eager beavers.

As you move into the school-aged set, you may want to offer something more tangible like an outing at the end of a productive week or even a modest allowance to  recognize their efforts. Middle school children will work best for some sort of extra privilege that reflects the level of responsibility that they are taking on.

Finally, high-schoolers. Kids at this age should be able to see that they are expected to contribute as the adults they nearly are and that the reward is the benefits that they gain by being a part of the family. Don’t get me started…

Whatever you pick, it is imperative that your carrot is clearly named and possible to take away if necessary without any sort of lecturing, voice-raising, or guilt-tripping. Keep it calm, people.

And when you do find yourself having to be the strict parent, taking a potential reward off the table, this does not mean that your child no longer has to complete the assigned task. Quite the contrary!

Finishing the job they were given is an absolute. The reward is the only variable — it’s only given if their attitude is good and the responsibility is taken on fully. The reward is an extra.

Ready for the closer?

  1. Live up to your own standards.

The last step is all about you.

To make this whole “not-chore” go well, your kids need to see you working with the same spirit that you want them to exhibit. Maybe whistling while you work is too much to ask, but keeping a positive attitude is essential. If you want to see it in them, they have to learn it from you.

Some of the best memories in a family are occasions when dishes are done side by side or the lawn is mowed and raked together or veggies are chopped by an assembly line of children at the kitchen counter.

Kids are eager to be a part of your world in any way that they can. Chores — or “not-chores” — are a great way to give them that and to give yourself a little help at the same time.  

You just need a strategy that works and some internal conviction. Remind yourself, you are the adult. This is winnable folks!


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