How Do I Get My Kids to do Chores? Letters from a Parent Coach

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My ten-year-old doesn’t want to do his part.

Dear Alison,

We’ve got a debate in my house…kids and chores. What are your views? I understand and agree with both sides. 1. Let kids be kids while they can.  2. They should be doing chores to learn responsibility. Is there a happy balance?

Our kids are between 2 and 10. The two-year old loves to help. Not the most productive but I never discourage her.

I want my kids to view chores as something that just gets done because they are a member of this family. I don’t want chores to be a battle. How do I engage my oldest son in work around the house?


Jesse McTaskmaster

Teaching Life Skills

Dear Jesse McTaskmaster,

Great questions we’ve debated in our home, as well. I’m glad to see this topic of chores being highlighted online in recent years, as important to child development. So often, we feel like we’re caring for our kids by doing things for them. Hey, everybody likes a favour right? Though well-intentioned, are we doing our kids a disservice?

When we consider our “long game” as parents, we realize that household responsibilities are teaching our children important life skills, like responsibility, teamwork, time management, and empathy.

So, don’t be afraid to start with small tasks as young as two years of age. They absolutely love to help. Capitalize on that! It will take longer and likely won’t be to your standard, but this is about more than a spotless rug, right? (Which is exactly what I had to repeat to myself when my toddler vacuumed the same spot on the rug the entire time.)

Tips to Get the Entire Family Involved

Here’s an example to get everyone working together. Your youngest could start by finding matching socks. Older one rolls them up and separates by person. One of the adults puts them away.

Other possibilities for the ‘Under 10’ crowd: Load or unload the dishwasher, sort recycling, move laundry from washer to dryer, vacuum, dust, weed, tidy toys…lots of options but you’ll need to teach each part of a chore one or two at a time. Over time, you supervise less and less, as they get better and better.

At these ages, make it as fun as possible–upbeat music, timers, racing a sibling, play soldiers with sergeant’s “inspections.” Get a bit playful with it. They’ll have plenty of time to have chores be boring later, once they’ve developed the good habits! We want chores to be equated with good feelings at this point. If the whole family can do, start and end their chores at the same time, even better. All of this will increase feelings of contribution, connection, and teamwork.

Choice goes a long way with kids. Have them try out some different tasks and see which they’d like to choose for the month. Make sure they feel the workload is fair between them, and age-appropriate.

Have a set routine for when chores should be done, such as after supper. With consistent routines, they won’t need as many reminders. The less we have to talk and remind, the better for everyone.

Remember that in the younger years, this is more about learning skills plus and the value of contribution, than perfection. Have high standards of course and don’t hesitate to have older kids redo a sloppily done job but avoid nagging. If we make chores drudgery, it may set us up for greater resistance down the road.

Please, keep me posted on your progress!

Alison Dirty-Laundry-Basketball Smith

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