Chores: Your Child’s “Job”

As parents, sometimes the demands of our careers make doing household chores look easy. Perhaps we’d rather be taking out the trash or putting our clothes away than listening to an irate customer tell us how horrible we are or have to submit a 40 page business plan by tomorrow or we’re fired.

As adults, regardless of what the actual task is, most of us do it. Why? What is our payout? Is it self gratification? Attention from others? Money? Maybe we just do it so we don’t catch any grief from the higher ups. Whatever the reason, there is something that we need or want that makes completing our tasks worthwhile.

Same thing applies for children. You may be thinking, “When I was a child, I just did what my parents said and that was that. I didn’t get any reward for helping out around the house, it was expected”.  For some families, this is how it is in their household. However, if your children did what you asked all the time, chances are, you wouldn’t be reading this!

From a parents perspective it all seems very simple: you ask Billy to walk the dog and Billy does. From a child’s perspective, it may seem a little different: why do I always have to walk the dog? Why can’t sister do it? I’m watching my favorite TV show, can’t I do it later?

Depending on the age of your child, you may be experiencing different types of excuses, and different levels of defiance. Here are some things to consider when tackling the chore issues that so many of us have when it comes to our children:

  1. Be clear in what your expectations are.

Saying, “Go clean your room”, can be very vague. If you want Billy to clean his room, be specific in what tasks you would like to see completed. For example, saying, please put your dirty clothes in the hamper and put your clean clothes away in a drawer or closet is clear and concise and should leave no room for interpretation.

  1. Praise, Acknowledge, Thank.

Although some children do not seem to be motivated by a simple thank you, they may be motivated by some sort of recognition. If Billy completed a chore you asked him to do, make sure you acknowledge that it was completed. Let Billy know that his effort was not unrecognized and that you appreciate it when he helps out around the house. Sometimes this can come across as a ‘high 5’ or a hug.

  1. Timing of request.

It may be difficult at times, but observing your child and paying attention to what he or she likes to do, routines they may have afterschool, and what they are doing in the moment can be beneficial for a parent. If a child feels respected as an important part of the family, he or she may be more willing to work for you. This respect may mean giving the child some flexibility with deadlines. Is your child in the middle of watching his favorite TV show? Is your child on the phone? Perhaps asking Billy to walk the dog when his TV show is over would be more effective rather than expect him to leave in the middle of his show. Something else to consider is if Billy comes to you and asks if he can go ride his bike for a while, feel free to make a request to be completed before he goes.

  1. Anticipate.

Is the chore something that Billy does not like to do? Is there a specific chore that never seems to get done? If so, try starting with the tasks that Billy will or likes to do. Perhaps Billy is willing to help out in the kitchen, but does not like to take the trash out. Maybe Billy always clears his plates after dinner and helps out with washing dishes. As he is doing these things, be sure to do #2 (Praise, Acknowledge, Thank). Then, you can go for it: try to seize that momentum and ask Billy if he would take out the trash. If he does, make sure to lay on #2 thick! If he doesn’t, refer to the next tip.

  1. Provide Incentives and create motivation.

Depending on the age, collaborate with your child and find out what he would like to earn. Allowances are a traditional way to motivate your child (kind of like our paychecks). If you can create a system with your child that works for both of you, you’ll be in good shape! For some children, money is not a motivator, in that case, you can use ‘points’, ‘stickers’, ‘happy faces’, etc…or perhaps you would have to provide the actual item (especially if he or she is very young (5-7). Set up a system that enables your child to earn what he or she wants by ‘cashing in’ the points. If you choose to go this route, here are some important things to consider:

  1. Provide the money, sticker, or points within a reasonable amount of time. If your child is younger (5-7), you may want to give her the sticker immediately after the task has been completed. The older the child (8+), the more delayed the gratification can be, but not too delayed! If your child has to wait indefinitely for his points or reward, he may not be as willing to participate in this arrangement.
  2. Make sure that what they want to earn is feasible and available. You could lose some trust as a parent if you promise to provide something when they cash in and not have it readily available.
  3. Another thing to consider is making sure the desired item or activity is in proportion to how many stickers or points they cash in. For example, don’t set it up so that it takes your child a month to earn 100pts when all he wanted was an ice cream cone.  The larger, more expensive items should take longer and require more effort, but the smaller, easier to earn items should be provided sooner.
  4. Keep a mental note of what activities and items your child has access to at any given moment. If you find your child is hard to motivate, chances are they have what they want at their fingertips. Consider revamping your house to make the Wii and Playstation unavailable. Favorite foods could be put in a hard to reach spot, and DVD’s and computer time can be earned.

*Something else to remember: try to refrain from taking items away from your children. As a parent, this can feel very effective initially, however, over time, taking items away constantly may cause an apathy in your child. He or she may not be as motivated to earn anything because they feel it will just be taken away. Rather than take the item away, try limiting the time allowed with it and encourage them to try harder the next day to earn more time.