This is the million dollar question:
How do I get my kids to do their chores?
Ready for the million dollar answer?
OK, you asked for it.
You lock them in their room and threaten them with no food, no water, no toys, no friends, no life until their room is clean.
You still feed them – through a slit in the door.
Fine – I’ll stop kidding around and tell you what I do.
First of all, there’s no ONE way to get your kids to do their chores. If there was, we’d all be doing it, right? There’s no magic pill, magic bullet, magic chore fairy, magic one-size-fits-all way. Wish there was, but then we wouldn’t be stretched as parents. We wouldn’t be pushed to the next level; we wouldn’t use our brains to come up with ingenious ideas that somehow excite our children into cleaning their rooms.
Wait. Does that ever happen?
But there are options. And experiments. And trial-and-error ideas. There are things that work for a while then stop. There are things that don’t work at all. And there are things that continue to work for reasons unknown to humankind.
Counting is an example of one of those things.
I don’t know why on earth this still works with my kids, but it does. After asking them to do x, y, or z, if they pretend to not hear me, blatantly ignore me or just plain refuse to do it, all I have to say is, “Do you want me to count?” Inevitably their response is, “NO!” Then they get up and do what it is I’ve asked them to do.
It’s amazing and completely baffling, really. But I love it.
Sometimes I do have to start counting. And then they really jump up and do the “dreaded” task. I usually only make it to 3 or 4. And I only count to 5. They know this. They know I don’t slow down as I get closer to 5 either. And they know there are consequences if they don’t get up and do the thing I’ve asked them to do by the time I count to 5.
Maybe that’s why it works. I’m consistent. I follow through. When I finish counting, I don’t sit there and start counting again. I get up and follow through with whatever consequence I’ve warned them about. And of course it’s something they don’t want to face. They don’t want their toy taken away, or computer time revoked or not being able to have a friend over or watch a movie or whatever. You get to name the consequences.
Just make sure your kids know what it is before you do it. Give them a fair warning. But make good on following through.
Get in the trenches with them
I think this is a huge one. And one that a lot of parents don’t do. They say, “Go clean your room!”
And then the poor kids are left to their own devices. They go into their room and what do they do? They start playing.
Well, what do you expect them to do? They’re not adults. Shoot – most adults don’t even know what to do when they go into a messy room. And instead of playing, many adults turn right around and walk out.
So get in there with your children. Yes. Go into their room with them. Get down on the floor if you have to. Show them how to clean their room by modeling it. Help them see it’s not so overwhelming.
The same thing applies to other chores. Do it with them until they’re confident in their own abilities.
Focus on one thing at a time
Back to the ‘Clean your room’ example. I help my kids by having them only focus on one type of thing at a time.
Here’s what I mean:
#1. Go into the room with them. Look around the room and notice what types of toys and things are lying on the floor. Ask your kids what types of toys they see.
#2. Assign each child a different thing or have them choose what to clean up first.
Noah – you clean up just the Star Wars toys.
Seth – you pick up all the stuffed animals.
Ian – see those cars? Let’s put the cars away.
Luke – you put away the towels.
Noah – what do you want to pick up first, the Star Wars toys or the Bionicles?
Do the same for each child.
Then each child somehow only “sees” that one type of toy and it’s much more manageable to clean. Before they even know it, their room is looking 10x better and they’re not so overwhelmed.
I’m sure there’s some scientific explanation for this; I just don’t know it.
#3. Praise, praise, praise. Tell them what a good job they’re doing. Compliment them. Be sincere and happy for the progress they’re making (without overdoing it). Even for things like untangling cords.
Yes, this even works with teenagers. Just don’t talk to them like they’re 3; they hate that.
How does this apply to other chores? Same concept.
Dishes – choose plates, cups, silverware, etc. Have them only put that type away.
Laundry – fold all pants first. Then shorts. Then pajamas, etc.
Whatever the chore is, see if it can be broken down into smaller things.
Give them a number
I also really like this one. When things are crazy and I’m not able to go into their room with them, or I want a different part of the house cleaned up, I’ll give my kids a number. Example:
Gather all the kids. Tell them each to go pick up 20 things in the living room and put them away. Or unload 15 dishes. Or clear 10 things off the table.
I don’t care if it’s 5 things. Or two or 50. But make it manageable. They know they’re done after that and can get back to whatever it is they were doing before I interrupted their lives.
Like putting books away. Thanks, Luke!
So those are some of my ideas. I have some more I’ll share later. And they work.
Except for when they don’t.
Like when the kids are exhausted and just need to go to bed. That’s when we make a pathway from the door to their beds and call it a night.
And that’s OK. We all have days or nights like that when we just need to go to bed.