8 strategies to help your child go from "Disaster to Master" at chores
"Children by nature, want to make their parents proud. The better they feel about what they did, the more they will be willing to keep doing it"
Getting children to do chores can be like pulling teeth. You want them to help out around the house, but you may spend the entire time reminding them of what to do or re-doing the chore later. Here are 8 simple strategies to consider that could help your child become more willing to do chores and more independent in the process.
1. Teach The Skill:
“Without clear expectations humans tend to conserve energy by doing bare minimum effort”
Children are not born knowing how to make a bed or do the dishes, they need to be taught and to know what their parent's expect. Consider taking five minutes to slowly teach your child the steps of the chore and how you want them to complete it. Children tend to respond better when they know what is expected of them; without clear expectations, humans tend to conserve energy by doing bare minimum effort.
If it is difficult for your child to complete the task correctly or without distraction, consider breaking down the chore into small steps and have the child complete the steps one at a time. This allows the child to feel successful and practice doing the chore correctly with your supervision.
3. Make a Chore Check-List
Having a visual checklist may help the child become more independent in the task. It also decreases the amount you have to remind them to complete the task and provides a visual reminder if they get distracted. If a child is able to show you their completed check-list of chores, then the focus can be on celebrating their accomplishments vs. reminding them every minute to complete it.
4. Start Little & Build-Up
"Small wins help prepare your child for success and boosts self-esteem"
Start small and easy. Begin with 1 chore you know your child can easily accomplish. Small wins help prepare your child for success and boosts self-esteem. Over time you may want to add more chores, more difficult chores, or chores with multiple steps.
5. Make it Fun
"Children learn best through play, so consider making the chore more playful"
Children learn best through play, so consider making the chore fit more playful. Here are some ideas for how to make doing chores more “fun”; Listen to music while you work, sing or make up a silly song, talk in funny voices, wear a costume or a hat, etc.
Bonus Tip: “Superhero cleaning” and zooming around the room to pick up items might be more fun than regular cleaning. Other variations include “Fairy/Magic-trick cleaning”, where you wave a magic stick over the item as you clean it up, pretending the magical powers cleaned the item instead of you.
"Using a timer may not only help make chores more fun, but they may get completed more quickly, and with less distractions"
Many children love to race and see what they can accomplish, but they get distracted easily. Using a timer may not only help make chores more fun, but they may get completed more quickly, and with less distractions. Some examples include using a prompt like, “How many things can you pick up in 1 minute?” Consider putting a timer on your phone and count out-loud with the child each thing they pick up. "Wow, you picked up 10 things, this time can you do 15?". Another possible prompt is, “Can you clean your whole room in 5 min? On your mark, get-set, go!”
Bonus Tip: If you are using a timer, consider giving time warnings throughout and especially at the last 1 minute or 30 seconds. You might be amazed at how quickly your child will start working in the last minute!
It is crucial to make a "big deal" about what your child has accomplished when they complete a chore. Children by nature, want to make their parents proud. The better they feel about what they did, the more they will be willing to keep doing it. Some examples of praise include, "I see you made the bed all by yourself!", "Wow, you took out the trash without me having to remind you!", "I'm impressed, you cleaned your room so fast!"
Bonus Tip: The most effective praise is "specific" vs. "general". "Good job" is too vague. What exactly was good? Often children are not entirely sure. When praise is specific the child is clear about what you liked and what you want them to do more of next time.
"Build 'internal' motivation to be a helper vs. only when it's 'externally' rewarded".
For many families rewards may not necessary, but they can be a highly effective tool. If you plan to use rewards, it is important to pair it along with verbal praise. You want your child to build "internal" motivation to be a helper vs. only when it's "externally" rewarded. Consider starting with small rewards that you can easily provide or find around the house. An effective rewards doesn’t have to be big or cost any money to be motivating. Some simple reward examples include; a sticker on a board, writing their name in a fun font, printing out a coloring page of a character they like, providing a small treat, giving 5 minutes of cuddle time with you, letting them pick a song to listen to, etc.
Bonus Tip: The best rewards are immediate vs. ones they have to wait until later for. Depending on the age of the child, waiting even 5 minutes for a reward can be too long. The danger of waiting too long is that the reward loses its power and connection to the positive behavior.
Consider using these 8 simple strategies to help your child become a master at chores; teach the skill, go step-by-step, make a chore check-list, start small and build up, make it fun, time it, provide praise, and if needed use a reward system.
For more simple parenting tips, check out the Myers Family Therapy parenting blog!
Laura Myers, LMFT
Myers Family Therapy