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.

Should do??? Won’t do!! – How to get your kid to do what they should


Just because you think your kid should be doing something does not mean that he will just up and do it one day…”just because he should.”

Look, there are a lot of things parents think their kids should do, but ultimately the question remains: IS he doing it?  If the answer to that question is ever “NO,” lets talk about it a bit more.

The source of this comment is usually about getting up in the morning, going to bed at night, completing chores, taking a bath, following general directions and simply being “respectful” to parents and other adults.  Here is the thing though…it has to have some benefit to the kid for him to do those things without throwing a fit, complaining, or pouting as he takes out the trash.  

Why most kids do what they should

Yes, some kids do such things so they can avoid making you mad, keep access to the game system, or simply preserve the ability to sit down without wincing (have a sense of humor…I am not saying spanking is a good idea).  There are also kids who do these things because they have sufficient experience with these things resulting in positive things such as praise, high fives, parental acceptance or even access to a little extra time in front of the TV or computer that night.  For a lot of kids, these two things are enough.

For some, it isn’t.  Here is the help:

To turn the should do into did do you need to begin with a three step shaping process:

1.  Arrange certain things to make the behavior more likely to occur.  This might mean shortening the task, making it less effortful, less time consuming or more interactive with someone fun (like YOU, for example). 

“Clean your room” becomes “pick up those socks, put those shoes under your bed and throw me that towel and we will get out of here!”  “Clean the bathroom” turns into “squirt some of this weird blue stuff around the inside of the toilet, flush it and lets go…”  “Get dressed” gets done by you going in, putting everything on but the socks and then saying “put your socks on and meet me in the kitchen for those awesome PopTarts.”

2.  Reinforce the completion of the task since you just made it much more likely to happen.  Be nice.  High five. A pleasant, “I appreciate you getting that done this morning.” 

Rewards have not been successful up to this point because the task was too aversive or too difficult.  The reward did not work because they never got access to it.  Now they have…now the reinforcer can begin to work.

3.  Slowly fade into higher levels of demand: “Here is your shirt, now all you need is your pants and socks…see you in a second,” “Make sure you get that towel off the floor too, please” or “rub that brush around in that blue toilet stuff before you flush then spray the shower while I get the movie going.”  

You see…to make sure something happens, whether or not YOU think it should, it sometimes means taking a few steps back to make it more likely to happen so you can reinforce it.  

You should do this…

“Get me outta here!” Lesson 1: Escape behaviors.


Lets talk about one of the reasons why behavior occurs.  Lesson 1: Escape. 

Let’s take the example of a kid that wants to leave the store (an hour in Bed Bath & Beyond has taken its toll).  He begins whining, “I wanna leave.  I wanna leave!”  You think, ”I really wanted to check out those PedEggs before I leave, so I’m going to try to stretch this out a bit.”  

He screams more and you get embarrassed.  You grab him by his arm and say “If you don’t calm down I am gonna take you outta here and you will not have dessert when we get home.” 

He thinks,

“Sweet!  I would rather get out of here than have some lame fat free cookies any day.” 

At this point, the value of the escape (leaving the store) FAR outweighs the value of anything else.  This includes, by the way, the embarrassment of being yelled at in a store, being carried out by you, or sitting in “timeout” in the parking lot.  Wrenching him up and taking him out is what he actually wanted!   

Leaving a store is an easy example of an “escape” behavior because we automatically think “escape = leaving,” but other common culprits of escape behavior are chores, homework, baths, going to school, getting ready in the morning and going to bed at night.  Kids engage in a lot of behavior that is motivated by escape from something aversive or undesirable.  We have all done it…we call it procrastination (e.g., cleaning the house to avoid doing your taxes).  We identify it sometimes when we say they are “stalling” or “avoiding.”

This is important to talk about because strategies we use to respond to behavior depends a lot on why the behavior is occurring in the first place.  

Very simply, if your kid wants to escape something or somewhere, there is something aversive about that something or someplace. This is important because sometimes the answer is to initially make those things less bad so it is more likely to happen.  If you have figured out what is so bad about a chore or part of a routine, try by reducing the effort, helping, or defining the parameters of success more clearly (i.e., socks off the floor, shoes in closet, books in shelf).  Don’t be such a stickler…if you are having problems with this, you need to do something to make it more likely he will do what you want without yelling and screaming at him.

For actual physical escape (stores, Grandma’s house, or the Christmas parade) listen to your kids’ behavior and, yes, sometimes their words when they start acting funky and giving you signs that you are on borrowed time and want to leave. You might be mad that your calloused feet will have to go another week without the incredible “smoothing action” of the PedEgg, but at least you won’t have to drag your kid through the appliances section yelling and screaming.  

Please remember: not all escape behaviors can be overpowered by the reward at the end, so you have to face it from the front.  Reduce the difficulty, the effort or the time needed to actually do it so it is more likely.  Reward that, then slowly fade back to where you started now that you have created some success.