Are you constantly asking your child to tidy their room, to put away their washing, or to help clean the car? You’re not alone! Getting kids to complete the chores is hardwork. Here at the Quirky Kid Clinic, we’re familiar with the frustration of parents who regularly ask: how can I get my child to help more around the house?
As children move through their developmental stages, involvement in domestic duties can be challenging in various ways. Research suggests, however, that your perseverance in engaging kids in household chores may yield considerable benefits for them. Your child/ren will gain a sense of responsibility, basic life skills and team-building experiences (Coppens et al., 2014). The less you do for them, the more they will learn.
The following article will discuss some of the common challenges faced by parents when encouraging their children to be involved in chores, some suggestions for how to overcome these, and the considerable benefits that children and families can experience from working together.
#1 Build up your child’s skills
As parents, we need to remember that we’ve had a lot of practise when it comes to particular chores, and over time we have refined our understanding of what is required for each task. If your child is struggling to start or complete a chore, you may consider: is there a skill deficit here? If you think there may be, allow some time to support your child in building their fine and gross motor skills, or their organisational skills in relation to the task.
One simple way to build new skills is to break a task down into easily-manageable steps, and assess whether your child is actually capable of performing the task. Pair each step with praise and parental attention. If a child is struggling with how to do the task, try teaching the skill in a practical way with visual guides, role-modelling, prompting and sometimes physical guidance.
Lancy et al. (2010) explains that a key way children learn is by first observing others, building their skill repertoire in this way. Provide opportunities for your child to observe you completing tasks. As your kids start to show interest, actively encourage them to join in at a developmentally appropriate level. For example, if you are folding the washing, your child may take charge of finding matching pairs of socks or picking out the clothes that belong to them and sorting these into an organised pile. Eventually, they will acquire the skill to also fold them. During these activities, remember to praise and reward your child with attention, to show them how much you appreciate their contribution to the shared task.
#2 Adopt a team approach and foster family cohesiveness
Let’s face it, many adults don’t enjoy doing chores. However, we often enjoy it more when doing them with someone else. Coppens et al. (2014) describe the concept of “learning by observation and pitching in (LOPI ).” LOPI increases the child’s collaborative initiative by feeling part of a shared purpose. The earlier a child can be encouraged to participate in the household activities or chores, the more likely the child is going to willingly participate and be interested in contributing to the family activities long-term. Children as young as 2-3 years old are able to help when given the right task!
By encouraging an environment of shared purpose and teamwork, children learn that chores are part of being in the family unit and they are a shared responsibility for all family members. Hold regular family meetings to discuss fun activities you can engage in together, and plan for team chores to be completed just before an exciting family event. For example, if the children are excited about a day out at the beach with ice-creams and surfing, ensure that before the beach day starts, everyone has tidied their rooms and sorted their washing for the week. Children will be less likely to express resistance to chores if completing a job signals transition into fun activities.
Completing chores as a family, particularly when children are younger, helps the child to share in a sense of accomplishment and unity as a family. This is especially important if a child’s skill level requires support, in which case chores may be broken down into small tasks relevant to the child’s developmental age. For example, when cleaning the bathroom, the youngest child could wipe the vanity benchtop and check the toilet paper is well stocked, an older child might scrub the bath, while the parent cleans the toilet. Setting a time limit and making a game of the task, or making up a silly song together while you’re cleaning may also help support comradery.
#3 Understand and develop your child’s motivation
The behaviours of toddlers are motivated and reinforced by parental praise, affection, attention and anticipatory games such as peek-a-boo, tickles and chasing games. In most cases, simply joining in with their parents during household activities is deemed fun by a young child, and the positive responsiveness of the parent to the child’s participation will ensure that the child continues to want to join in.
To successfully engage young children, parents should provide encouragement, minimal teaching, and allow the child to freely explore the task. Doing so helps the child to develop a sense of accomplishment, whilst utilising their ‘intrinsic motivation’ skills. Areepattamannil et al. (2011) describe ‘intrinsic motivation’ as the child’s internal satisfaction with a task, without reliance on external factors. If a parent tries to “take over” and show the child what they are doing wrong, the child is more likely to view the interaction as less fun or rewarding, and they will be less likely to willingly join the parent in such tasks again in future.
Support participation from young children by praising the child’s effort, rather than the success of the task. As the child increases their fine and gross motor skills, and their organisational skills, increase parental reinforcement around the outcome of the task.
For older children, competing priorities such as playing with their toys, devices, time with friends, interest in extracurricular activities and completing homework means extrinsic rewards are often required to promote continued participation in household chores. ‘Extrinsic rewards’ increase the motivation to do the task based on externally-regulated contingencies (Areepattamannil et al., 2011).
Provide extrinsic reward systems such as sticker charts or pocket money to show the child that by participating in the household chores they are working towards earning items of their choice. Ensure that the reward items are relative to the size of the chores, and continue to emphasise a team approach to chores involving all of the family. Tasks may be picked by the child based on their preferences and swapped within the family at times to ensure that all family members are role-modelling the duties. Fun approaches to chores may include a “chore of the week” that is turned into a game, has a larger reward attached to it, or is completed with a whole-family approach to include fun, laughter and togetherness.
Just like adults, children need to understand the task (what it is and why it is necessary) in order to want to engage with it. In the absence of a meaningful purpose, the task can seem pointless to a child, and they are less likely to be motivated to complete it. For example,; to some children, making one’s bed seems like a waste of time, as the bed is simply messed up again at bedtime! Explaining a rationale to the child in relation to the chore will support their engagement and motivation. Ideas may include:
“We make our bed because it feels warmer when we get into it at night,” and
“it helps the room to stay organised and an organised room helps you to know where your favourite toys are,” or,
“wayward pets will be unable to make themselves cosy in your bedsheets.”
Encourage children to take ownership of tasks, inspire a sense of pride in the completion of chores and provide lots of positive reinforcement (praise and recognition) for completing the task. Taking a photo and sending it to Grandma from time to time, or printing out a photo and putting it up on the fridge as a “great work example” may encourage children to feel more positively about a task.
#4 Lead by example and reflect on experience
Parents’ expectations of their children and chores are guided by their own experiences. Take some time to think about what you were expected to contribute to the household as a child. Were you expected to participate in all of the chores around the home? Were you provided rewards for helping with the chores? Or did you actively try to avoid participating in chores, and manage to get out of helping around the house? Your own childhood experiences with chores will shape your expectations for your child and influence the ways in which you try to engage your child. If you had, or still have, a generally negative approach to domestic duties, take the opportunity to reframe your own thinking and consider your positive motivations for completing chores. Remember your positivity as a parent about the task will also support the child to see the task in a positive way. If you are dragging your heels and trying to avoid chores, your child will naturally adopt this same attitude.
Conversely, if you are frustrated by your child’s opposition to chores that you believe you didn’t express as a child, reflect on what motivated you. (Or check with your own parents to get their perspective on this!)
Lastly, the type of day you have had and the stress you may be under as a parent will affect your expectations for your child in relation to helping around the house. Remember to consider the type of day your child has had too, as they may be just as tired as you are and, depending on their age and school year, they may also be under considerable stress. As calm and positive parents, allowing yourself to accept the stresses in your day and the emotional thoughts in your head without battle or negativity will help you be present in the moment with your child (Coyne et al., 2009).
Generally if you:
- Encourage your child to participate in the household chores from a young age;
- Build up your expectations slowly in accordance with your child’s developmental skills;
- Reward the chores with praise and attention for younger children and extrinsic reward systems for older children;
- Allow children to choose their preferred chores;
- Approach chores as ‘teamwork’ and ‘being part of the family collective’; and
- Acknowledge stressful time periods in your child’s life when chores may need to be delayed you will have more success in encouraging your child to participate in household chores with motivation, engagement, effort, and with less resistance.
If you would like some help learning how to implement these strategies, please contact us on 9362 9297 to discuss the ways in which our team could assist.
For a unique approach to extrinsic rewards, try our Quirky Kid Tickets. Check them out here.
Areepattamannil, S., Freeman, J. G., & Klinger, D. A. (2011). Intrinsic motivation, extrinsic motivation, and academic achievement among Indian adolescents in Canada and India. Social Psychology of Education, 14(3), 427.
Coppens, A. D., Silva, K. G., Ruvalcaba, O., Alcalá, L., & López, A. (2014). Learning by Observing and Pitching In: Benefits and Processes of Expanding Repertoires. Human Development; Basel Vol. 57, 150-161.
Coyne, L., & Murrell, A. (2009). The joy of parenting: An acceptance and commitment therapy guide to effective parenting in the early years. New Harbinger Publications.
Lancy, D. F., Bock, J. C., & Gaskins, S. (Eds.). (2010). The anthropology of learning in childhood. Rowman & Littlefield.