If you’re like most families, chores are probably one of the most frequent causes of family disagreements. Children whine and complain, adults nag, arguments break out, and nothing gets accomplished.
Sometimes it feels like taking the trash out yourself would be much faster than arguing with your children about having them do it.
In those moments, we need to remember there are many benefits to kids doing the chores.
- Chores help our kids develop important life skills: responsibility, cooperation, and teamwork
- Chores foster a sense of self-worth and belonging
- Chores prepare children to be self-sufficient in the future
So, how can we reap the benefits of chores without engaging in constant arguments? Here are 5 effective tips you can start using today.
1. Don’t Call them “Chores”
Reframe chores by calling them “responsibilities,” “ways to be helpful,” or “family contributions.” A name change may seem simplistic, but language is powerful and can make a big difference in the way children view helping around the house.
Emphasize it’s every family member’s responsibility to help take care of themselves and one another. Explain that each member of the family makes important contributions to keep the home comfortable and safe.
Creating a family manifesto (inside the Positivity & Connection Kit ) is a fun way to internalize these values. A family manifesto is a great activity to foster connection within a family. Manifestos help express a sense of unity and togetherness.
Children are much more willing (and sometimes even eager) to help around the house when they view these tasks as a meaningful way to contribute to the family. You can also refer to your family as a “team” to help children understand that you function as a unit.
2. Set a Positive, Cheerful Tone
It’s often difficult to be patient with children when it comes to helping around the house. However, it makes a big difference to ask for help in a positive, cheerful tone.
Before you address your child, if necessary, take a few deep breaths and shift your focus from the negative ‘Why don’t you ever pick up your toys?’ to a more positive ‘Please help me pick up these toys so it’s safe for everyone to walk around the living room.’
When reframing chores, remember to set a good example. If you grumble about your responsibilities and family contributions, children will likely do the same.
Looking for more ideas on setting a positive tone in your home or classroom? Our 50 Positive Phrases to Build Resilience in Kids, available in our Resilience Kit, is a helpful guide for parents and teachers. Hang it near your desk, on your fridge, or anywhere you need a reminder.
3. Set Reasonable Expectations
Sometimes, children don’t do what we ask of them because our expectations are too high. Be sure you’re asking your children to complete age-appropriate chores.
If they’re consistently struggling to meet your expectations, ask if there’s anything you can do to be helpful: “It seems like you’re having trouble getting started. Is there something I can do to help?”
Complete the chore with the child the first several times, if necessary, to make sure they know how to do it. Even if your child doesn’t need help with the chore, the fact you offered to help instead of moaning at them or scolding them can be a powerful motivator. It also reinforces the idea family members have a responsibility to help one another.
4. Create Visuals
In addition to asking children if they need help, creating visuals is an excellent way to provide support so they can be successful in fulfilling their household responsibilities.
If you were going to put together a new piece of furniture, would you want someone to tell you how to do it, or would you prefer to look at a set of instructions with pictures? You would probably prefer the pictures, and so would children.
In fact, children find visuals even more helpful than adults; 50% of their brain is engaged in visual processing and 70% of their sensory receptors are in their eyes. This means they can get the overall sense of a picture in 1/10 of a second.
The internationally recognized social and emotional program Conscious Discipline suggests using the M.A.P. process: Model, Add Pictures, and Practice. Demonstrate how to do a task, then add pictures to serve as a visual reminder. Finally, give the child opportunities to practice before expecting them to regularly complete the task successfully.
What kind of visuals can you use? Here are some suggestions:
- “Ways to Be Helpful” visual. Preferably, these will be images of your children doing age-appropriate, helpful tasks around the house (e.g. vacuuming, folding laundry, picking up toys) or even demonstrating positive social behaviors (e.g. sharing or giving hugs).
- Step-by-step picture instructions for how to complete a task. Similarly, you can take a picture of what the bedroom, bathroom, or toy area look like when clean so next time your child is asked to clean the bedroom, they can make it look like the picture. This helps you avoid disagreements over what constitutes “clean.”
- Pictures depicting where items belong in the house. This can also serve as helpful visual reminders for children.
And while YOU might get tired of repeating yourself, pictures never do. Supporting your children with visuals helps them successfully manage their responsibilities and makes life less stressful for you.
5. Offer Choices
Offering choices often increases a child’s willingness to help around the house. Children like to feel they have some degree of control in their lives, and making choices is an important life skill.
For young children, limit this to two choices, as more can be overwhelming.
You might ask, “Do you want to take out the trash or sweep the kitchen?” or, “Do you want to fold the clothes or put them away?” or, “Do you want to clean the bathroom now or after dinner?”
The key is you’re offering two (or more for older children) choices that are acceptable to you. Whatever your child chooses, a task gets accomplished and your child is able to practice responsibility.
BONUS TIP: Praise effectively
When children help around the house, offer encouragement to reinforce the behavior. You might say, “You set the table so we could all enjoy a meal together. Thank you, that was helpful!” or, “You picked up your toys so we could all walk around the house safely. Thank you, that was helpful!”
This type of praise puts the emphasis on HOW the child contributed to the family, rather than on your judgment (positive or negative) of the child. It’s also specific enough to reinforce exactly WHAT helpful activity the child did, making it more likely that you’ll get a repeat performance in the future! And don’t forget to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ when asking or praising so children feel respected and learn to model polite behavior.
If you’re tired of fussing over chores, try the following:
- Reframe chores as “responsibilities” or “ways to be helpful” and model this mindset.
- Ensure chores are age-appropriate and provide support as needed.
- Offer choices and encouragement.
Your child won’t be delighted overnight to take out the trash. But these strategies can help your family gradually shift from grumbling about chores to cheerfully making household contributions.