(overheard while blatantly eavesdropping on my kids)
“ I’ve already washed 6 things. You have to do the rest because you’re younger than me.”
Really? I have to say, it was all I could do not to start listing off the bajillion things I do every single day that no other family member takes ‘equal’ responsibility for or in. Being the bigger person (and supposed good example), I refrained but not without realizing for the umpteenth time how hard it is to get kids to take part in the management and completion of household tasks. No one likes chores. No one likes to stop playing and have to do work. Everyone likes to play with the dog/cat/furry pet, but no one wants to be the one to clean up after it. But, you know what? Just because you’re mom or you’re dad does not mean that you should have to do all of the dirty work. So don’t. Help your kids do their parts as well. And by that, I don't mean you do it for them, but rather help them get in there and do it themselves. How? Well, a couple of suggestions, but also know that your efforts are going to be thwarted on an important point (I mean, beyond just the sheer reluctance of your children for taking part). If you are an expat family, and you are living overseas, chances are pretty good that you will have household help (Note: those of you that are state-side, know this: our houses are often also freakishly and cumbersomely large AND poorly insulated thereby requiring enormous amounts of every day cleaning. So household help is not just a luxury… okay, it is but it is also a sanity-saver). I would guess that 97% of all household help do NOT make your kids clean up after themselves. So they are already undoing what you are trying to do, if that makes sense.
How do you motivate your kids to do chores? Oh sure, you can resort to blatant bribery, but actually that doesn’t work as well as other methods (read: less-frowned upon and more socially-acceptable in the parenting world methods). What’s that, you ask? Something better than bribery. In fact, the best methods for getting your kids to do chores and to take responsibility around the house is by modeling the behavior yourself and also by sparking that intrinsic motivation for them to want to do it themselves. Depending on the age and interests of your child(ren), the method you chose may vary. Sticker charts, contest and races, or just lists on a fridge, you will find the best way to motivate them. You know your kids best. Do prizes work well? Trips to the ice cream shop? Positive consequences are as much of a motivator as negative consequences can be for demotivating. What doesn’t work? Threats and nagging. This will only make you feel angry and stressed.
Modeling? I don’t just mean do it yourself and let your kid watch you. No, do it together. Do it as a team. Show them what you expect and let them try it on for size. One of the most powerful motivators for your child is the gifts of your attention and your time. You want to spend it with them doing yard work? I really think they will respond favorably. A lot of their response depends on how you sell it to them, no doubt, but … here you are offering to spend time with them AND accomplish a task at the same time. Kids REALLY like and respond positively to that sort of thing.
Set up a schedule. And do this when you all – parents and kids alike – are ready and receptive to talk about it. This isn’t something you should just announce when you are fed up and frustrated; get the kids together and have a conversation about it. Be prepared to have some give and take on what you want them to do and what they want to do. Giving up a little on your end will help the kids take ownership in what they do end up with on their to-do list. Giving them a choice will make them feel as though they really are taking part in deciding what they will do to take part; just be prepared to accept whatever choice they go for.
Real life vs Facebook-life – okay not really Facebook-worthy, probably, but doing chores is part of your ‘real’ life. Not doing chores? That's not a reality, not in the real world. Sure, when we are overseas, we often have help, but not always, and not back in the States. So … help your kids realize that when (and as) they grow up, chores are a part of life. Doing them and doing them well is a good thing. Isn’t it great to have a clean and orderly house? Isn’t it nice to have a well-trimmed yard? Isn’t it awesome to not have trash overflowing every bin? Clean dishes to eat off of? Well, those things don’t happen without someone to do it.
Give them good examples. Do chores yourself. You can’t honestly expect your kids to do something that you aren’t willing to do yourself. If you keep assigning the kids the nasty jobs (because you'd rather not do them), trust me on this: they will notice and they will rebel. And it will totally back-fire. So ... it's not going to be 50/50, but divvy things up fairly. Only you can know what that looks like in your house.
Also of note in regard to my boys’ conversation: age should be a factor when determining what chores your kids should do, but not in a you-are-younger-therefore-more-like-slave-labor sort of a way. Rather, developmentally, kids are ready for particular levels of responsibility. Should your 4 year old be walking the dog? Probably not. But they could very well be responsible for making sure your puppy gets fresh water. Sure, it’ll be a little maddening at first because how they do chores won’t be the same as how you would do them; don’t redo them, though. Keep your expectations real. Let them take ownership and point out what they did well. If you’re not sure what they might or might not be ready for, there are a ton of resources online that can help.
Why are chores even important? Chores are a part of responsibility. Responsible people are generally those with good character, and will the ones who be accountable for their own behaviors. They are the ones who will be given more trust as they show they are dependable and honest. Responsibilities are a part of growing up, and maturing. Those individuals who lack the ability to be responsible often have tendencies to break rules potentially causing harm or injury to themselves or others. Confidence and self-efficacy can improve as kids learn and use their abilities to achieve a goal, in this case related to a specific chore, but this skill is adaptable to other areas. Additionally, kids can learn to feel pride in their work when they are reminded that their chores help everyone in the family. Work around the house and tackling new chores also teaches children life-skills that will help them stay on task and be productive for the rest of their lives.
Beyond learning responsibilities, chores benefit children and parents alike. They are an important way for you to help your kids feel like they are contributing members of the family household. This, in turn, helps them to learn a sense of belonging and the value of being a contributing member of a group. This value can grow as they do. So, whether through a school project, neighborhood cleanup, showing up to soccer practice on time, or serving lunch at the local soup kitchen, all of us benefit from kids taking part in chores.