“Just wait a minute. I promise – I’ll do it later.”
“Aw Mom, do I have to?”
“Angie doesn’t have to do this; why do I have to?”
How many times have you heard these refrains or something similar when you ask your children to do a chore around the house? Chances are it has been often. Children and chores seem to be an uncomfortable and unnatural mix. When it comes to completing assigned tasks, children can be pros at procrastination, excuses, resistance, and refusal. Such reactions cause concern, conflict, and more than a little annoyance on the part of parents.
FROM THE CHILD’S POINT OF VIEW
Why do children so resist doing chores? Part of the explanation rests with the very nature of children; they LIE – not in the sense of not telling the truth, but rather they are:
L = lacking in judgment. Most young children have no idea how much work is involved in running a household.
I = impulsive. Young children want what they want when they want it. Working at activities that are not immediately gratifying to them is not inherently on their agenda.
E = egocentric. Young children (and teens) are self-absorbed and concerned mainly about themselves and their own needs. They do not naturally consider the needs and expectations of others.
Doing chores willingly requires mature judgment, less impulsivity, and more awareness of others’ perspectives and needs. Children are not born with these traits; they develop gradually as children grow and mature. Part of your job as a parent is to socialize your children during the years they live with you. So it should not be a surprise – and perhaps you should expect and accept – that they will resist helping out at home.
IS IT WORTH THE STRUGGLE?
Insisting that chores be done can feel like a never-ending battle. After more reminders, nagging, grounding, or consequences than you are prepared for, you may get worn down and decide to let chores slide. It becomes easier in the short run just to do the work yourself.
In addition, you may be reluctant to engage in continuous struggles for fear of damaging your relationship with your children. Or you may feel guilty asking them to help out. After all, children are so busy with all the other demands on them from school, peers, and extra-curricular activities that you may be reluctant to add to the pressure. Or, believing your little ones are too young to take on responsibilities, you may not realize how capable they can be.
THE BENEFITS OF CHORES
Even though it is more difficult on a day-to-day basis to persist in having children do chores, research indicates that those children who are expected to help out in the home with chores while growing up have higher self-esteem, are more responsible, and are better able to deal with frustration and delay gratification – all of which contribute to greater success in school and in life. Doing chores gives children the opportunity to see themselves as important contributors to the family. Holding them accountable for their chores makes them more responsible. They will feel more capable for having completed their tasks.
As you look back on your own childhood, do you think you were over-indulged? One of the most frequently cited causes of over-indulgence from people who answered “yes” to that question stems from their parents’ doing too much for them and not expecting enough of them. Not being taught the skills of everyday living can limit your children’s ability to function at age-appropriate levels in the world. So Sara goes to college and is one of the few students who has no idea how to do her laundry. Or 10-year-old Rachel goes to overnight camp but does not know how to make her bed. Or Sam, age 6, goes to a friend’s house for dinner but does not know how to pour his own juice.
HOW TO EASE TENSION AND INCREASE COOPERATION
Having the right attitudes and skills in your tool belt can help you encourage cooperation in your children when it comes to doing chores.
- Be convinced of the importance of chores in developing your children’s character.
- Consider how you look at your chores. If you do your chores with a sense of graciousness, patience, and humor, your children will have a model to do the same.
- Give your children choices and options; they are more likely to be responsible when they have had a say in determining what they do or when they do it. Joey might have to take out the garbage, but he can choose whether to do it after school, after dinner, or before bedtime. You can discuss with your children their preferences.
- Have a list or a chart of weekly jobs that need to be done and give the children a say in who will do which ones.
- Take into account your child’s interests, temperament, and ability if you assign chores. If your daughter is very active and has a lot of energy, outdoor chores may fit best for her; for a child who is more sedentary, folding laundry might make the most sense.
- Make chores a regular part of the family routine – it should be expected that everyone over the age of 3 will be responsible for certain tasks to keep the household functioning.
- Listen with compassion to your children’s complaints about chores, but only up to a certain point. Then help them to find the time to complete their assigned and agreed-to tasks thoroughly and responsibly.
- Use humor to lighten the mood and to engage cooperation. A note from the wet towel left crumpled on the bathroom floor could say: “Bring me down to the laundry. I want to be with my friends.”
- Use a “ten-minute pick up” exercise – everyone in the family spends a focused ten minutes cleaning or straightening up or doing chores. Playing upbeat music while you work will make the activity more fun.
- Engage in a process of problem exploration if your child fails to meet his responsibilities. Be clear about how he feels about the problem, how you feel, and what options there are to resolve the difficulty; then choose a solution and follow through with it.
The exasperation, conflicts, and concerns over chores seem to be a universal issue in families. There are no quick fixes and your children cannot mature overnight. But if you have the appropriate expectations that come with understanding your children’s nature and abilities, you can begin to decrease the tension around chores in your home. With a positive attitude, unwavering determination, and the right parenting tools at your disposal, you are on your way toward helping your children become responsible and contributing members of your family.By Audrey Krisbergh, Certified Parenting Educator
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