I was dining with a friend recently and she posed the questions: How do you get your children to do chores? And What do you do when they don’t follow through? Since the same topic came up with another friend today, I thought it might be good to share our experiences with you as well. First, we (my husband and I) have always agreed that children should have chores that fit their ability according to age and maturity. Likewise, they have privileges that also meet their ability according to age and maturity. Responsibility and Freedom go hand-in-hand and this is how we pass that knowledge on to our children. We are a family and as a family we have to work together as a team. When someone gets sick or is unable to fulfill his/her duty, the rest of us jump in to take care of that member of the family and cover their chores. Everyone will be in a position of needing family support and every person will also be in a position to offer service to benefit the other members. The family is the Domestic Church. That means it is a place to experience God’s love through our parents, offer service to others, receive the support we need, as well as put into practice being virtuous, while pruning our vices.
Living out our vocation as parents is always a work in progress. As Karen has told me, “We get to get up and make our bed again every day.” I think that is a wise and merciful insight to the old saying, “You made your bed, now you can lie in it.” Once we realize that we are all humans who make mistakes, we can begin to be more patient with ourselves, our spouses and our children. Having realistic expectations is a concept that I am continuously working towards. So, how do we get our children to do chores? We begin when they are little. Toddlers naturally want to help us. Capitalize on that natural desire by letting them help. Yes, it will take longer to complete the task in the short term, but we are working towards a long term goal of raising independent adults. A three year old can easily sort silverware into the drawer, or set napkins at each place at the table.
If, like my friend, your children are past the toddler stage, it is not too late to make them a team player! In order to be a team player, they will need to know the rules of the game, who is on the team, and how you win the game. Everyone wants to be on a winning team. Every August, just before we start back to school, we have a family meeting. This is a natural time to come together and review how we are doing as a team and what changes we can make to improve. Our children are growing and so are their abilities to serve and their need for more independence. Here are some guidelines for the meeting:
- Have a husband and wife meeting to get on the same page before presenting ideas to the kids
- Acknowledge each person’s contributions to the family over the past year
- Ask what kind of family everyone would like to have (do we need to spend more time together, less fighting, more family meals, etc)
- Guide the discussion towards positive solutions to make your dream family a reality
- Allow the children to choose the service they wish to provide (this can be done in a very structured format with gentle parental guidance)
- Make this a time for berating or discipline. If there are issues they should be done in private with the particular child.
- Undermine the other parent in front of the children.
- Announce what chores each child will do without allowing their input in the discussion
- Be negative
After a short discussion on the kind of family you want to be, explain how each person’s contributions to the family are critical to making that dream come true. This is where I post all the chores and allow the children to begin volunteering. This is a guided exercise and some chores are “assigned” if there is only one child who is truly able to complete the task, or only one task a child is capable of doing. The point of the exercise is for the children to feel empowered, to feel that he or she is a part of the team. After this, state your expectations clearly. For example, “I will post the new chore assignments on the board. I will remind you one time to complete your task. There will be no play time, video games, going out with friends, etc. until your chores are completed.”
In my post last year, I explained in detail how our positive incentive system works. I stand by this system 100% and we still continue to utilize it with much success. In fact, it has had the added bonus of teaching fiscal responsibility (ie. purchasing quality items for the long term vs. cheap toys that last less than a day). The combination of allowing the children to be a part of the process and acknowledging their contributions and effort is the HOW in getting our children to do their chores. Now, what do we do when that isn’t enough? Well, I have screamed, threatened, grounded, fought, pleaded, whined, and cried. None of that worked with much success. Then my logical, even-keeled husband reminded me that we already established consequences. I ask once, maybe give another gentle reminder of the consequences, but when that fails to get the job done, I simply and calmly say, “I’m sorry. You can’t do ________ because you didn’t do “x”.” If the child continues to argue, I simply and calmly state, “This is not up for debate. We agreed that you would do “x” before you could do “z”.” Then you have to learn how to allow them to be upset with you. In fact, they are not really upset with your, they are really upset at themselves for not holding up their end of the bargain, but it is easier to take it out on you. The reality is that you have just earned their respect. You set a boundary. You set clear, realistic expectations and you followed through. You were honest and just. If you are consistent it won’t take long before your kids will be team players and you WILL have a winning team. Now get out there and win, win, WIN!