3 Mistakes and 3 Tools for Inviting Our Kids to do Chores

Does any of this sound familiar?

Nobody picks up their clothes.
Nobody puts away their dishes.
Personal belongings are left all over the house.
Nobody cleans up after a spill.
Wet towels pile up on the floor of the bathroom.

They ignore my requests for help…

Now, these statements aren’t true all the time, but there are days when all I can think to myself is everybody expects me to do all the cleaning!  I’m not their maid!  How can they do this to me?  It’s so disrespectful….  Blah, blah, blah.

I know what you’re going through.  Talk to any parent and they will share their woes around getting their kids to help our around the house.  It is a continuous source of angst in many families - for kids and grownups alike.

Here are the three mistakes parents make when it comes to chores:

·      Assuming grownups and kids have the same priorities

You kids will be grateful that chores were a part of their life growing up, once they are taking care of a place of their own.  However, they can’t project themselves into the future and right now they do live with their mother.  Parents get into mischief when they make the assumption that a clean room/house is as important to their kids as it is to them.

·      Dictating what should happen

Parents often use a top down approach when it comes to chores and house cleaning.  Because it tends to be a place of tension, we get rigid and dictate what our children have to do and when.  Adding to that, we mistakenly think that tagging on rewards and punishments will motivate our reluctant cleaners – and sometimes, for some kids, in the short term, it does.

·      Taking it personally

This is probably the mistake I am the guiltiest of…  When our kids don’t follow through with expectations around chores or cleaning up, we make it about us.  As if they are doing something to us.  And yes, we do tend to be the one that cleans up the mess, but to assume that our kids are thinking “I’m going to fling my clothes all over the floor and really stick it to mom” leads us down the emotionally triggered path, no longer able to connect or be helpful to our kids.

Ok, great.  So now our mistakes have been highlighted – and we still believe it is important for our kids to do chores!!

At our house, we refer to chores as “family work.”  The idea is to use this language as a way to highlight that we all live in a space together, and it is a shared responsibility to help out with taking can of the space.

Family Work teaches our kids life skills for when they do eventually need to take care of their own space (yes, one day they will move out).  How we manage and negotiate Family Work teaches them so much more…

Here are three tools for engaging your family in Family Work:

·      Co-Creating Systems and Visuals

Your kids are so smart.  They have so many creative ideas.  Work with them to create systems for getting family work done in a way that works for everyone.  Some things are nonnegotiable, right?  Like whether or not they do chores?  Invite your family into a conversation about chores.  Why is it a problem for you?  Why is it a problem for them?  What is the goal?  Create a system to try for a week, then see how well it worked and revise it.   This kind of conversation lets your kids know that what they think matters.  Their voice is needed in this conversation.  They are learning the art of communication through negotiating, brainstorming, and compromise in a truly authentic setting.

An example of this occurred at our family meeting last night.  We had been doing a big “Family Housecleaning” on Sundays, but really the kids took so long to do their rooms that my husband and I ended up doing the rest of the house.  We then modified by adding one job a day to the kid’s afterschool routine – that way the work was less on the weekends.  My son, however, didn’t like having to do a job on Fridays, so he wrote it down in our family meeting book.  Last night everyone has a chance to share their opinions about this, and the kids decided that they would pick an extra job to do on Sunday, before their cleaned their room, so that they were still helping with the overall “housecleaning” but could take Friday afternoon off.  We will assess how it went next Sunday, and make changes if the solution wasn’t helpful.

·      Take Time for Training

As our kids get older, we expect more of them.  But taking time for training remains important.  Doing chores with the kids will ensure that they are not only learning how to do things, but also how to meet our expectations.  Taking time for training isn’t only about the specific job that needs to be done, but its also teaching and supporting our kids in how to manage their time and their things.

One example of this is the laundry basket I recently bought for my son.  It has two sides, one for dirty clothes and one for clean clothes that he doesn’t want to put away.  On Sundays both sides get emptied – clean clothes are put away and dirty go in the laundry.  Another example is my daughter now uses a white board to map out her what she needs to get done in the afternoons during the week.  She picked two days a week to “pick up the clothes on the floor.”  Providing space and encouragement for our kids to create and try out different systems increases the likelihood of cooperation and engagement.

·      Focus on Relationship

The most powerful tool you have for influencing your kids to participate in chores and family work is the relationship you have with them.  Kids who feel a strong sense of belonging and connection to the rest of the family are much more likely to be willing to help out.  No one really likes to clean, so you can’t fault them for the huffing and puffing or the eye rolls, but even if its reluctantly, kids will engage in chores when they feel a strong connection to you.

In our home, when I notice one of my kids really pushing back against helping out, I reflect on how we have been connecting.  More likely than not, I find that I have fallen into a pattern of being over critical and distracted, and that it is affecting our relationship.  When I shift the way I show up for that child – biting my tongue is a big part of it – things seem to fall back into a more cooperative place.

You are not alone, dear reader.  We are all trying to figure out the best way to motivate our kids.  I would love to invite you to shift your mindset a bit and try out some of these tools.  You are the expert on your kids, yes, but stay open minded.  And remember, it’s about improvement, not perfection.

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