How do you get kids to do chores?

by renegademama

Actually, how do you get them to do anything useful? When I announce that we are going to, for example, “clean the living room,” then ask one of them to take something to his/her room, they do one of the following, or a combination of the following, or, if we’re really having fun, ALL of the following:

  1. ignore me;
  2. ignore me until I freak out;
  3. complain, roll around on the ground in agony, blame the other kid for the mess, complain – listen to me yell, threaten, demand action – whine (possibly cry), finally do it, complain again;
  4. do it, then disappear strategically, forever;
  5. act like they’re going to do it, start walking away like they’re going to do it, only to stop mid-way, distracted by fuzz on the carpet or some other spellbinding item, then ignore me again or repeat #3 sequence;
  6. tie stuff together (we’ve been over this).

Almost never do they simply arise and do the task.

And I find myself asking, once again: what am I doing wrong? How have I blown this one? Do other kids do chores? Why don’t mine do them? Are mine just lazy? Entitled? And if so, how did they get lazy and entitled?

Then I reflect on all the hundreds of ways I could have contributed to the development of lazy, entitled children and I either start feeling generally inadequate and full of self-pity or I develop a weird, fierce determination to change the way things are happening in this house!, and I make deep, serious resolutions, delineating my plans in great detail to Mac and maybe even the hoodlum children.

They look at me respectfully, agreeing, because clearly I’m serious this time.

They’re not really concerned, though, because they know I’ll forget about these vast serious momentous plans in exactly 2 hours.

Or until the next time I freak out, at which time we’ll start the whole thing over again.

And I will be reminded of the story of my life: GREAT IDEA. INEVITABLY POOR EXECUTION.

yeah. try to reign this in and get it focused on chores.

P.S. No, really. How do you get kids to do chores? Totally open to suggestions.

  • Shan

    Dude, you find the answer to this and you’ve found the genie in the fricken bottle! I will tell you what has worked sporadically around here… finding *that*one*thing* and not allowing it until the job is done and done well. Unfortunately, my son has a high tolerance for not getting things, so it has to be really good. Like, “You can play the XBox once the girls are down for their nap IF XYZ, but only IF I don’t have to make you redo ANTHING.”
    However, my son was given the boot about two months ago, so now he *really* doesn’t do anything around here. Sometimes I want to bring him home just so he can do the dishes, buahaha.
    As for my toddler, suggesting that she do something or I will do it for her (good god, NO!!!) has worked. But it can’t be overused or she’s quite good at saying, “You do it!”

    • renegademama

      Really good ideas, Shan. I’m going to try to “no _____ until ____” approach. Although I think with these two, at least for awhile, I’ll have to say “No movement whatsoever until ___.” because it seems that walking around doing nothing is better than chores in their opinions. Lil shitheads. (oh wait, was that my outside voice?).

  • Anna

    Obviously, this probably wouldn’t work retroactively, but…..IDEA: Always, from babyhood on, refer to chores as signs of maturity. As in: “When you’re a bit older, you’ll be big enough to help Mommy with the dishes. Then maybe one day, you’ll be old enough to do them all by yourself.” And etc. Chores become proof that child is growing up and a source of personal pride and responsibility. Or something like that. Basically just trick ’em into thinking that chores are fun things that only big kids get to do. Worth a shot….

  • Melanie

    I don’t know why I’m just now seeing this, but I love it. My kids are teens now, and our household has always run by the process you outlined. So frustrating. I am also a professional cleaner and have observed lots of other families with kids and their habits. Here is what I have concluded: we teach our kids NOT to do chores, because our time for housework is so limited. It’s easier to do it ourselves. Little kids love to help, but we don’t have time to fix it once they’re done. So we tell them not to, that we’ll do it. Plus, we’re usually stressed out when we do chores, which doesn’t really give the impression that chores are just a no-big-deal thing we do. Because all I have to do at work is clean, I don’t mind the occasional 2- or 3- or 4-yr-old “helping”. But when my kiddos were little, it was a different story. Now that our life isn’t running at the frenetic pace of little kids, I’m more chill and so are they. It definitely seems to work better when I present tasks as “stuff I need help with”, and not “stuff they need to do”. As long as I don’t load them down, they generally do what needs doing with no hesitation or complaint. I find this baffling, after years of the above behavior, but I’m afraid to ask them about it or call attention to it, in case they stop.

  • Dominique

    I’m reading this and have no right to because I don’t have kid yet, but figure knowledge is power, right? That and you’re really freaking funny. Anyway, I went to a summer camp for a week every year from the age of six, and chores were mandatory and (gasp) fun. Do if coffee hone and make my bed or sweep the floor, and my mom would ask “WHERE is my whiny daughter???” So yeah, camp. Or maybe Grandma’s house

  • Dominique

    Lol, I did not have a stroke in the comment above, I’m on my phone. What it’s supposed to say is, So I’d come home and make my bed or sweep the floor…” Sorry for typo.

  • Marie

    This was the only useful written piece about getting my kids to do chores when I googled “how to get my kids to do chores”

    Thank you.

    I feel like a failure every time I say, “time to pick up the playroom” and they commence to do everything on your list. Exactly that way.

    I love your blog. Inspired me to write myself!

  • Kate G

    My children have grown and flown the nest…but I will share with you how I got them to help with chores as 13 and 15 year olds. I offered to swap their list of “things to clean” with mine…they refused, because mine was MUCH larger. So I sat down and figured out what really needed to be done on a weekly basis. I came up with 21 tasks; I sorted them by the effort needed to accomplish them. Then the 3 of us would pick 7 chores each and do them. There were two rules: no one could choose all 7 of the “easy” ones and no one did the same chores two weeks in a row. I printed out a chart with the tasks and our names; we check off the chores we were doing each week. Guess what? The house was clean, the dishes were washed, the bathroom had been scrubbed, carpets vacuumed…and I hadn’t done it all. Since we did our clothes at the laundromat, that was an “outing” for us, with each person responsible for their own clothes. (I paid.)
    That worked. If I were starting now, I’d have worked out some sort of similar chart and gold stars as rewards, with other rewards achievable at hallmarks, like 10 chores done, 20 chores done, etc. The other rewards were not always an item, but things like dessert without eating dinner, having first go at the video game console, and so forth. I used the gold star method for each night dry while potty training…and consistently rewarded output with 1 M&M for #1, 2 M&Ms for #1 and #2.
    (Incidentally, that’s pretty much the same process I used on my dog. LOL)
    I like the idea of careful verbiage: “Things for you to do” and making it a step towards growing up. And that part doesn’t just count for chores…teach your kids real life skills, like cooking, balancing a budget and keeping finances in order, how to use a hammer/pliers/etc and do basic home repairs (if you are able to teach them), and etc.
    I’m a grandmother now…and grandchildren are God’s way of rewarding you for not killing your children. 😀