Dear Mr. Dad: My kids never help around the house unless I berate them into doing so. I know this is my fault as much as theirs, but I want to turn it around. How can I get my kids to carry their weight?
A: Parents have been complaining that their kids don’t pull their weight around the house for as long as there have been kids. I heard it from my parents who heard it from theirs, and so on all the way back to some Cro-Magnon relative of mine who complained that his children spent all their time drawing on the cave walls and refused to clean up their mastodon bones. And, as in previous generations, today’s parents find themselves saying things like, “Kids these days….” or “When I was a kid…”
Recent research, however, seems to indicate that kids these days actually are qualitatively different than their parents and do fewer chores than we did. But why? Is it that we’re pampering our children because we felt overworked ourselves and don’t want to subject them to the same horrors we experienced? Have children somehow developed an exaggerated sense of self worth and entitlement? Or is it that by the time the kids get home from swimming and soccer and karate and piano lessons, eat, and do their homework, there’s no time or energy left for chores?
Doesn’t really matter. What’s important is that we as parents require our kids to hold up their end of the household responsibilities. It’s good for the household and it’s essential for their own developing sense of responsibility and self-confidence.
Here are a few tips to get the process started.
- Start as soon as possible. As with any family habit, starting them young is the easiest way to establish and maintain the practice of helping around the house.
- Make your expectations reasonable—then insist that they be met. A short list of daily chores and a separate list of once-a-week jobs is reasonable. Make sure the tasks are age-appropriate and otherwise manageable, then make sure they get done before any privileges are enjoyed. Early and careful monitoring is crucial.
- Praise a job well done. Let them know when the expectations have been met—and when they haven’t.
- Make your own “chores” visible. Sure, the kids see us doing laundry, washing dishes, mowing the lawn, etc. But do they understand that those are your chores? It’s easy for our everyday household work to become invisible to our kids. So write your chores down and put them on the fridge right next to theirs. A cursory comparison will quickly silence most complaints and make it clear that everyone really is contributing.
- Put systems in place. Designate a specific chore time—the half hour before dinner. Post lists and regularly verify that results are up to snuff..
- Don’t tie allowances to chores. Everyone in the family has to pull his or her weight. Paying children for doing basic chores can make them feel entitled to compensation for anything they’re asked to do.
- Create rewards and consequences. That said, there are many perfectly appropriate reward systems—a pizza on Saturday night if the week’s chores were done well, a family movie night, or something similar. It’s even more important to have consequences if expectations are not met in a given week or chores will quickly fall into the category of “things I do if Mom and Dad nag me enough.” Creating natural consequences, such as a loss of privileges, prepares the child for the natural consequences and responsibilities of adult life.
So start as soon as possible, be consistent, and make it a priority. By learning to give back to the family, your kids will learn countless skills for the long run.