Tired of nagging your kids to do their chores? The first step is to stop calling them "chores"! Damon Korb, MD, a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics and author of the book Raising an Organized Child, joined us to share how to get kids to help around the house without a battle. Dr. Korb says "chores" conjures up a negative connotation. Instead think about them as developmental lessons that your children need to learn--that “we all help out” and it doesn’t matter whose mess, everyone helps. Helping out also helps children acquire new skills, such as learning about order, time management and being helpful.
With that said, Dr. Korb says to start by making a “to-do” list instead of a “chore chart.” Or make a “today’s task” sheet, or poster of “family jobs”—put a new spin on things to help normalize that age-appropriate household work and helping out is just something we all do. Make sure the tasks assigned to your child are age appropriate:
- Toddlers & Preschoolers love to imitate their parents, so providing toys that model chores allows kids to “work” side-by-side with their parents. Begin giving them simple tasks like putting socks in their drawer, folding washcloths, watering a plant, or sorting silverware, which will make them feel accomplished and proud for helping the home team. Showing them that every task has a beginning, middle, and end: you take out a toy, play with a toy, put away a toy. So for young kids, activities that involve cleaning up in order to finish an action are important, like clearing their plate or putting dirty laundry in the hamper.
- Ages 5 & 6: Emphasize the value of helping others. We want our children to grow into helpful teens and adults. A great way to teach this lesson is by having them help feed a pet, because it is obvious that the dog or fish needs their love. You can have them join you during tasks, like fixing the toilet or doing yard work. Other appropriate chores include emptying the dishwasher, and helping with yard work or meal prep. Also, teach that Everything has a Place. When we come home our shoes and jacket go here. We put clean clothes in the drawer. Our backpack hangs on this hook.
- Ages 6-9 year olds: School age kids can learn multiple-step routines. Meal prep, for instance, also offers valuable lessons. There is inherent order in following a recipe, and making your own meal further develops independence. By the third grade, most children are capable of making their breakfast and packing their lunch for school. Parents can encourage this behavior by keeping simple food supplies on-hand and accessible in the pantry and refrigerator.
- Ages 10-13: Tweens and teens are learning to manage time, so help your child understand how certain chores are time sensitive. This also helps them to learn a bit about planning ahead. For example, plan to unload the dishes before dinner so that after the meal, the dishwasher is ready to be loaded. Take the trash out by dark on Tuesday.
- Teenagers: Teens need to be prepared for adulthood. They need to learn to do laundry, prepare a meal, and responsibly take care of their things, like washing and maintaining their car. Remember that teenagers are busy, so be flexible. A teenager that is volunteering, working hard at school, and holding a job, may need fewer chores than a teen who chooses to play video games after school.
So what happens when your kids don't help out like they're supposed to? Try not to get frustrated, instead use this opportunity to help them brainstorm new strategies to be successful in the future. If your child struggles with a task, break it down into simpler steps or make lists until they find a strategy that leads to success. Remember as parents we are teachers, we are teaching them how to be successful. Praise young kids for their effort, not just the outcome.
If your child refuses to help out then you can remind him or her about the Need to’s and the Want to’s. Need to’s are things like their health, hygiene, homework, and household chores. The need to’s have to happen before the want to’s. If they do not do the need to’s then they do not get the want to’s.
Routines are always helpful, but even more so while sheltering in place. Routines keep kids occupied and reduce the frustration of boredom. Make sure you child’s routines include creativity, learning, exercise, free time, family time, and helping out. By choosing developmentally appropriate tasks, children learn to participate in household tasks hores, without really thinking of them as chores--they are just things that we do.
For more information, visit Dr. Korb's website.