How I get my kids to do their chores

BigGuy vacuumingMy blog post on allowances was posted to Facebook and someone asked me “what happens when they don’t do their chores?”

Fair question… because that happens.  So here is how I handle it at my house…

When my kids don’t do their chores, there is USUALLY no shortage of opportunity for me to say:

“I’m sorry–mama can’t (insert child’s request) right now because I have to do these chores.  But if you want to help me by doing them, then I will have time to do what you’re asking!”

OR “I’m sorry, but you have chores you didn’t finish and they come before (insert routine activity here–like regularly scheduled electronics time). You don’t have to finish your chores but then you can’t do (electronics time) until it’s done.”  I’m huge on trying not to create “pay for play” kids, so this is said more in the tone of “this is the order in which we do things” than a “you have to perform this to earn that”.  I’m not perfect, obviously.  I’m sure that my oldest might see this a pay-for-play on occasion, but there is a lot of clarifying about the order in which we do things vs. something being held hostage.  Attitude (in more than just that instant) and tone help a lot here.  Even so, this stuff can and does go wrong, but so far–it’s been largely helpful in my house.  Probably because my family has some loose routines in place.

I will warn you never to make it so that you’re in a position to cancel or forego something that cannot be canceled or foregone… like a meal or a doctor’s appointment.  😉  In my household, these must-dos only help my cause.  Because if they don’t manage to get their chores done long before we have to eat dinner, they’re going to potentially eat up all the time we have for whatever they wanted to do.  Sorry, dude, but if you wait until 4pm (which in our house, is electronics time) to do your bathroom chores and you take so long to do those chores that it’s now dinner time–well, you have no time for your electronics.  Sorry.  And no, you can’t finish early tomorrow and make up today’s electronics time tomorrow (on top of tomorrow’s electronics time).  Yup, I have that kid.  He’ll make for an excellent lawyer or hostage negotiator someday.  I keep reminding myself of that…

To be certain–I’m not mean about these things at ALL.  There is no nastiness or sarcasm or harsh words.  In fact, I’m sympathetic with their plight and sometimes we talk about the ripple effect of stuff not getting done or how mommy has to do all of these things if they don’t do them–not to guilt or shame them, but in a tone that makes them understand that I’m not mad or sad it’s just that someone has to do it and we can work together as a team and get it done quicker or we can choose not to do that.  We also talk about feelings and how it feels when one person has to do everything or how it feels when someone doesn’t help you… what makes a “family” or “community”, what kind of life we want to have, why we need things to be done… there is no end to the conversations we have that initiate in doing chores.

If you think that I just raised my kids this way and there is no hope for you turning the tide with your kids–YOU ARE WRONG!!!  My kids are now 6 and 10.  Although the 10yo was WELL trained in the Montessori style of “everything has a place, everything in it’s place” when he was 4 or 5 years old, we then embarked on the most hellacious, disruptive and transient journey that has eaten up the last 4-5 years of our life.  Read: almost all of the youngest’s life, and almost half of the oldest’s.  Anything the oldest knew is long out the window.  Those are serious habit-building years; and my children are STRONG. WILLED.  They are also suffering the repercussions of that lifestyle and parents that didn’t weather any of it well.

But currently I’m typing this and the beds are made, BigGuy did his daily bathroom chore AND emptied the dishwasher (he had negotiated out of dishwasher duty a few months ago) and Girly collected all of the laundry, brought it downstairs, put it in the washer and started it.  It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s an enormous help.  They also set the table for meals and clear the table when meals are done.

(the kids are currently in the basement and Girly has to go to the bathroom up here.  I heard BigGuy complaining that she is “ditching” him by leaving him alone in the basement and she assures him she’ll be quick by saying “BRB!!!  BRB!!!”… holy moly…)

On Fridays, she dusts and he sweeps or vacuums the first floor.  Papa then mops down the first floor and takes out all the garbage in the house and Mama is supposed to clear off the horizontal surfaces… which is a joke because they are just unbearably overloaded.  Most Fridays, all of this happens.

Start small.  We’re not done.  This is not all of what my kids will be responsible for long-term, but I’m a big fan of the idea that change implemented in baby steps will be lasting change.  I learned this more through my business than through life.  But it’s been very successful in both places.  ❤



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