Chores? Ugh.


So far, much has been talked about on BehaviorBandAid about getting your kids to do something they might not want to do: The Premack principle (a must read), “sitting practice”, and the most recent post simply titled “how to get your kids to do what they should” are a few examples you might want to review.  Topics of reinforcement have been covered, even the one where I confronted the issue of some who say “he is just doing that because he gets an ice cream” and the difference between bribery and reinforcement.

But I think it is appropriate to be direct and specific about a four letter word around most families: CHORES (wait, that was 6 letters…you know what I mean).  How to get kids to start doing them, how to be more successful with a “chore” system, and the important question of “to pay or not to pay?”  Here are my thoughts.

  1. Plan ahead – Don’t wake up one morning and decide you are sick and tired of the house being a mess and “its about time those kids learn some responsibility.”  This is a process to teach your kids how to do chores and learn some responsibility, NOT to keep your house clean.  Think it out.  Where do you want to start?  When?  Choose a day when you will start and let your kids know.  Be prepared (AND in a good mood).
  2. Start small – “Clean your room” is NOT small.  It is also not specific enough.  When you start out (or restart after reading this), make the chore short and sweet, give guidance and have a very clearly defined measure of “done.”  I can’t tell you how important this is. For example, “Shoes in a line…just like this…under your bed…just like this.  You try.”  For now, that is all.  They have to know and it has to be appropriate to their age, NOT your desires for a clean room.  
  3. Be there to begin – Think of this as a delegation and you need to make sure you are there at the beginning of the process to make sure everything starts off correctly.  I recently heard on a Podcast with Steven M R Covey something that I thought was directly linked to this: “You cant expect what you don’t inspect.”  Put that on your refrigerator.
  4. Resist reacting poorly to resistance-  You are likely to get some resistance, especially if you go too fast or expect too much.  Use this as a bit of a barometer for how much you are asking, how well-defined and specific your criterion are, and fade back/move forward based on this.  DO NOT slide on the requirements directly after whining or add incentives AFTER the whining.  For example, you ask him to make sure his clothes are put away (as you have specifically defined that) and he whines, then you say, “How ‘bout we get some ice cream if you do it right” or “OK, just put away your shirts and I will do the rest…stop whining.”  Bad timing.  And please, dont get angry and FORCE it.  You will make chores more punishing than they already are.  Dr Glenn Latham said in his book, The Power of Positive Parenting, something to the effect of “a clean room is not worth a dirty relationship with your child.”  I highly recommend this book, by the way. 
  5. Gradually increase the demand – but make sure you are still very specific (even write it out if you have readers) about what the expectation for completion is.  Slowly but surely, “clean your room” will be an OK “chore” to require because you have, over time, defined it very clearly and have successfully increased the demands over time.  You might even have a checklist by this point that you can refer to when checking on things (ex.: shoes under bed in a line? Bed made with pillows under sheet and sheets not showing under the blanket, clothes off floor, etc.).  This length of this process depends on the age of your kid AND how successful they are.  The usual fault here is asking too much too quickly.  Be slow.  Remember, you are teaching them, not hiring them.
  6. Payment for services rendered? – There are a bunch of opinions about whether to pay allowances or not, or to pay for chore completion.  I will not lead you one way or the other, but will suggest there might be some benefit to using some reinforcers/rewards other than “because you should do it.”  For some families, I suggest simply having a “chore” a day (planned and following the rules above) and preferred activities (iPad, Nintendo, computer, etc.) will be available after that chore is completed.  Click here to see a post about that or  my thoughts on token systems/sticker charts if you want to learn more about that.  Some families do quite well with an allowance system.  I will suggest there is also something to be learned from the money management side, and for that, I suggest Dave Ramsey’s insight on this (if you are unfamiliar with Dave Ramsey, check him out at

A good plan and a good attitude will go a long way with this process.  I am sure there will be more to be said on this, but for now, let me know what you think, either here or on the BehaviorBandAid Facebook page.

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