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"I'll Do It Later!"6 Ways to Get Kids to Do Chores Now

by James Lehman, MSW
I'll Do It Later!6 Ways to Get Kids to Do Chores Now

Getting kids to do chores is one of the most common arguments families have. Who can’t relate to this picture? You’re yelling, “Why haven’t you cleaned your room yet?” while your child is on the couch watching TV, shouting back, “I’ll do it later!”

 

The reason kids don't like doing chores is the same reason adults don't like doing chores: household tasks are generally boring. Let’s face it; the satisfaction of getting the dishes done is not a very big reward in this day and age of video games and instant gratification. While that doesn't mean kids shouldn't do chores, it does help to partly explain why they resist them.

The choice shouldn't be “excitement or chore.” The choice should be “boredom or chore.”

Another big reason is because children feel like they're being taken away from something they’d like to do in order to do something that’s not exciting or stimulating. And most kids don't solve that problem by using their time more efficiently to complete tasks quickly. Instead, you’ll see them showing disinterest and dragging their feet. I think it’s also important to understand that children don't have the same value structure as adults. Most parents feel it's their child's responsibility to get their chores done, not only to help out around the house, but also to share in tasks and responsibilities as part of their role as members of the family. Certainly, kids understand on some level that they should do chores simply because they are part of the family. But as every parent knows, children have a difficult time relating that concept to action.

In my opinion, getting your child to do chores becomes a battle when you allow it to grow into one. If you’re standing over your kids telling them over and over again to “empty the dishwasher, mow the lawn, clean the kitchen”—and they’re digging their heels in and still not complying—you are in that battle, make no mistake about it.

Nag, Nag, Nag—All I Ever Do is Nag My Kids!
Frankly, I don't like the term nagging because I think it puts a negative spin on what parents are doing—when in reality, it’s not negative at all. When we’re “nagging” our kids, we’re prompting, reminding, and encouraging them to fulfill their responsibilities. And as a parent, it's well within our responsibilities to make sure our children do tasks around the house. In fact, I believe that part of the chore system in your home should include the rule that your child doesnt need to be nagged. (I’ll explain more about that later.)

Parents generally get caught in a nagging cycle out of habit; we get stuck in repetitive behaviors just like kids do. Personally, I think giving a general reminder is fine. It's perfectly okay for parents to say, “All right guys, let's get to work now.” But after that, they need to get started. The problem with nagging, of course, is that it doesn't work. Far too often, parents continue to do things that don’t work because they don’t have any other options. Once you turn your back on your child, they stop doing their chores—and then you have to get back on top of them, and the whole cycle repeats itself.

Related: How to disconnect from your child’s attitude

If you feel like you’re constantly on top of your kids, trying to get them to do their household chores, here are some effective things you can do to give yourself—and them—a break.

6 Ways to Get Your Kids to Do Their Chores (Without Going Crazy)

1)

Stop the Show: I believe that parents really have to learn how to stop the show. What does this mean? If your child is not doing his chores, you simply stop everything, tell him to have a seat and talk to him about it. Ask him what he thinks is going on and what's getting in his way of doing his assigned tasks. Find out what his plans are after he’s finished and try to motivate him toward getting the work done so he move onto what he really wants to do. Appealing to a child’s self-interests—rather than explaining the abstract concept of responsibility or duty—is generally much more effective for kids.

   

2)

Time Your Child’s Performance: Timing is a good way to get your child to comply with doing chores. You can say, “All right, the dishes have to be done in 20 minutes.” If they're not done in 20 minutes, then your child’s bedtime is earlier. Now there’s a cost associated with his foot-dragging. The beauty of this system is that you're not constantly nagging anymore, you're just keeping time. The next night, you can say, “Let's not repeat what happened last night—because remember, you didn't enjoy going to bed earlier.”

   
 

Another timing strategy parents can use is a technique where you motivate kids to compete with themselves. You can say, “Let's see if you can get it done in 15 minutes tonight. But remember, you have to do it right. I'm going to check.” You can even give them an incentive: “If you get it done within 15 minutes, you can stay up 15 minutes later. Or you can stay online 15 minutes more.” So then it becomes more exciting and stimulating for the child. And while your child won’t lose anything if he or she doesn’t get it done, they’ll gain something if they do. That kind of reward system is always preferable to one in which the kid loses something, because it’s more motivational and less punitive—you’re giving your child an incentive to do better.

   

3)

Consider Giving Kids an Allowance: I think if parents are financially able to give kids an allowance, they should do it. Your child’s allowance should also be hooked into their chores—and to the times when your child fails to complete his tasks or has to be reminded to do them. So for example, if your child has to be told more than once to do his chore, he would lose a certain part of his allowance—let’s say a dollar. And each time you remind him, he loses another dollar. It is also appropriate to give that part of his allowance to a sibling who does the chore instead. This way, you're not working on the chore, you're working on the communications process, as well as your child’s motivation.

   

4)

Use Structure: Structure is very important when it comes to completing household tasks. I believe there should be a time to do chores in the evening or in the morning. Personally, I think that evenings are best during the school year, because doing chores in the morning just adds to the stress and intensity of the schedule. Summertime is easier in some ways because you’re not contending with homework. So in the summer, chores should be done first, before anything else gets done. For example, before the video games or any electronics go on, make it a rule that your child’s bed has to be made, his clothes should be in the hamper and his room is tidy. This way, he’s starting to learn that before he can have free time, his responsibilities have to be met. Again, you never want to be pulling your child back from something exciting in order to do something mundane and boring. Rather, you want to get them to work through the mundane and boring things to get to something exciting.

   
 

Sometimes as a parent you have to ask yourself, if my child isn’t doing his chores, what is he doing? You really have to be aware of how your child is using his time. If he’s not doing his chores because he’s playing on the computer or reading a comic book, you've got to stop that pattern. The choice shouldn't be “excitement or chore.” The choice should be “boredom or chore.” What I mean is that kids have to understand that they can't go listen to music in their rooms or just hang out until their chores are finished.

   
 

I also think it’s a good idea to set aside time during the day when all the kids in your family are doing their chores at once. So your 15 year old might be unloading the dishwasher while your 11 year old is taking out the garbage. That way, no one feels as if they’re missing out or being punished by having to complete their tasks. It’s just chore time.

   

5)

Don’t Turn Chores into Punishment: I tell parents not to use chores as punishment. If somebody misbehaves and does something wrong, don't give them a consequence of doing the dishes, for example. The only time that's appropriate is if your child does something wrong to another sibling. And so in order to make amends—in order to right the wrong—they do that person's chore for them. That's a physical way of saying, “I was wrong to do that and I'm doing your chore to show you that I'm sincere.” That’s the only time when I advocate that parents use chores as something more than an assigned task.

   

6)

Use a Reward System: It’s pretty simple: If you want kids to take responsibility for their chores, integrate their tasks with some reward system that has to do with allowance, as we mentioned, or in some other observable way. I recommend that parents have a chart on the refrigerator with each child’s name on it, with their chores listed next to their names. If they make their bed promptly and do it right, they get a check. When they get five checks, they get some reward. Maybe it's staying up an hour later. Maybe it's having more computer time one night. In my opinion, the computer, video games and television don’t have to be on every waking hour. Just because the computer is there doesn’t mean the child has to be using it—especially if your kids argue about it. Each child should get an hour of computer time, and then computer time is over. If they want more than that hour, they should have to earn it. This allows you to use computer time, TV time, and video game time as a reward. Of course, this doesn’t apply to schoolwork or projects that they have to do on the computer.

Related: Learn how to set limits with your child.

Kids might understand that doing the dishes is part of their role in the family but they're not going to feel it in some significant way. Chores are work, and in that sense very few of us like to work unless we're getting rewarded for it. And the reward has to be something we like. If my boss had paid me in carrots I wouldn't have worked much at all—because one or two carrots and I'm all set. Kids have the same motivating principle. They want a reward that's in currency they like. The idea that they should learn to do chores for some abstract reason—like duty or responsibility—sounds good on paper, but has very little practical application in a child’s life.

 


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James Lehman, MSW was a renowned child behavioral therapist who worked with struggling teens and children for three decades. He created the Total Transformation Program to help people parent more effectively. James' foremost goal was to help kids and to "empower parents."

READER'S COMMENTS

this is good when your child is young but when you child reaches 16, 17 I feel they should be more resposible do as they are asked and get it out of the way. Taking out the garbage two times a week should not be a big deal and should not in my opion be rewarded.

Comment By : Elaine

the teaching we've recieved from James has really opened our eyes in a new way and though our blended family remains a challenge, my wife and I are not blaming each other. Instead we keep trying. I appreciate the e-mail updates, and encouragement from other parents too.

Comment By : jay H.

This really works! We have put into practice the timing technique and had great results. Also the allowance being tied into expectations of regularly scheduled chores has been great too! Thanks James!

Comment By : Kim M

A year ago me and my gf blended families and how have 5 kids (8-15) between us.. Getting the kids to do chores was an involved practice. We started up a ticket system, where through chores and behavior they earn tickets. They are tracked every day on a chart. They could earn anywhere from 3-6 tickets a day, and extras for extra stuff (like genuine sharing, extra chores, getting water instead of pop at a rest.).. Everyweek they get their tickets to either redeem on things (ie: 5 tickets to rent their own movie, 15 tickets to go to the movies, couple tickets to sleep in the LR, or cash in 25 tickets for 10 bucks).. For the older kids who like cash, it's an easy way to track exactly how much allowance they get..

Comment By : Tom

I don't negotiate. You need to do your chores. Then you can do what you want. You don't do your chores then you don't do what you want to do.

Comment By : cherry

I'm a very, very big fan of "Empowering Parents" and "James Lehman" and can't say enough great things about them. This article was no exception. Fantastic!!! There was only one point made that I'm not too sure I completely agree with, and that was #3. Both my kids always got an allowance but I made it perfectly clear that their allowance was not payment for doing chores. I explained to them that their allowance was given to them because I was able to do so, I wanted to, and it was a way to help them learn to manage money. I further explained that I may be in a position some day that I can not afford to give them an allowance. If and when that day ever comes it wouldn't mean they didnt have to do chores anymore. They would still be required to do household chores. I also explained to them they don't get paid for doing chores. They have to do chores around the house because they live here, not because they get paid for it. Great job James Lehman! Keep those articles coming! It was only by God's grace and your articles that helped us turn our teenage son around and repair our relationship with him.

Comment By : medic157

I have and still do all of these things listed and still having problems with them I have 2 teenagers they are pretty tough they hate doing chores they say because I'm a slave driver they should have been raised when I was a kid if you wanna talk about slave driving I don't have them do 1/2 of what I had to do. I still agree with making them do chores I have 2 older kids that had to do them and they both have called thanking me for making them do chores they love me for it.

Comment By : the slave driver

I'm with cherry- there isn't any negotiation! And I believe morning chores are important, even during school season. If your child isn't able to put 15 minutes in for chores (bedroom, animal care) then they need to go to bed earlier!

Comment By : Joan M

As the father of three very young children, I found this article to be very helpful with getting them to do their chores.

Comment By : Lars

This has worked wonders for our 5 year old. YES 5! We use good behavior for more story time. If he remembers to feed the cat/ take a nap/ insert whatever we need him to do without prodding, he gets more story time at bedtime. This program has helped a Dad with two young kids regain our home from the howling/ whining that needed to be stopped. He is 1000 times better at daycare. I haven't had to spank in months now. Thank you J. Lehman

Comment By : Joel B.

I can remember when my daughter was 21 and I was still having to chase her down to do her chores that I turned to her one day and said maybe you should move into your own place and pay your own bills and do your chores when you want to cause I'm sure as hell sick of still parenting you on this. She agreed it was a good idea and moved out! Anyhow, she moved back 6 mths later when she became engaged and needed to save money. But really, just how long do parents think they need to parent or bother with this? We've always used the system of chores first, free time later. We've found in the last school year that the 13yr old twins have not bothered with TV afterwards anymore. At times we have tweaked things as we found that if they were racing to do dishes before a TV show or something that the job was often shoddily done. So I declared that they couldn't watch a TV show the next night because it wasn't acceptable to do a bad job because they wanted to get it finished in time for their show. They also had to go back and do the job properly. We also believe that everyone contributes to the household by doing their chores and that any money they get is not earned so much as given.

Comment By : khar59

At first, I thought it was a good idea to give kids an allowance tied to chores. However, I've read that that may not be such a good idea. Why? Well, house chores are family responsibility. After all, we don't get paid to do chores (e.g., dishes, laundry, vacuuming, etc.); we do them because they need to be done anyway. It may be better to give an allowance for other chores that may not be done regularly (e.g., mow the lawn, wash the car, etc.), or to give allowance for an extra chore done that was supposed to originally be done by another sibling.

Comment By : transformer

I remarried into a home with a 16 yr old step son and his father lets him get away with whatever. And me on the other hand, of course is step mom, and he disrespects me. All his father does is say "don't do that again" and nothing done - still has a cell phone and plays his game system when he wants all day; no chores but he asks for $ and his dad gives it. He goes and comes as he pleases and when asked to be home at a certain time he says I'll try to be... so i just want to know how to do things as a step parent to him bc he is showing my kids - 6yrs old and 3yrs old - to disrespect and they get in trouble about it and he doesn't; at least not in front of them. His father just tells him its not nice but doesn't do anything and they want to know why he doesn't and they do... so please advice will help...how to deal and appropriately discipline him...I want to show him I mean business...

Comment By : mommyof3girls

* Dear ‘mommyof3girls’: Being a step-parent can be very challenging and it’s a very natural feeling for you to want to show your step-son that “you mean business” when you set limits. But the problem is not your step-son. He is listening to a parent. The problem is that your husband does not agree with you on how to parent his son. The best place to start with this issue is to find common ground with your husband around house rules. It can be challenging to successfully communicate with your husband when you discuss discipline goals in blended families. One thing we recommend is to start your conversation by talking about where you agree instead of where you disagree. James Lehman wrote some articles that will be very helpful in your situation: My Blended Family Won’t Blend—Help! Part I: How You and Your Spouse Can Get on the Same Page and My Blended Family Won’t Blend! Part II: What to Do When Your Stepkids Disrespect You Remember you are welcome to call the trained specialists on the Support Line for more ideas on how to implement the Total Transformation in your situation. Keep in touch.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

I have a 9 year old who hates doing chores I just say to her that if you don't do them then you cannot watch television that sometimes works and she continues to do what she wants

Comment By : robertaharris

I am a stay at home grandparent of 4 full time and 2 part time children aged 10 mos to 11 years, and getting any of them to do chores is a battle not just with the kids but with their parents. I don't ask that the baby does anything, but I feel that the two 8 year olds and one 5 year old can and should do some chores to help pick up after themselves. Any ideas on how to get mom and dad on board?

Comment By : grandmakim

how should you work with a 24 ODD adult.She is disrespectful, abusive language, etc,. she lives in our home. I am about to go crazy. She has been ODD her entire life. She does no chores.

Comment By : doghunter

* To 'doghunter': It can be very frustrating to have a person in your home that does not help out, and is disrespectful as well. James Lehman recommends treating an adult child much like a guest in your home; that is, looking at what behavior is considered acceptable, and what is not. He recommends sitting down with your adult child and making a living agreement-basically the standards of behavior for the privilege of staying in the home. You may decide that in order to continue living with you, she may need to do certain chores everyday to help out. I am attaching the series he wrote on living with adult children to guide you:
Rules, Boundaries and Older Children Part I
Rules, Boundaries and Older Children Part II
Rules, Boundaries and Older Children Part III
Good luck to you and your family as you continue to work through this.

Comment By : Rebecca Wolfenden, Parental Support Advisor

Great ideas! always looking for ways to get the kids more involved!

Comment By : Kate

Thanks for the helpful tips!

Comment By : Melissa A

I use a great iPhone app called Quick Kids - it links a neat interactive countdown timer to a star chart. You can set any amount of time, your child presses start, they rush off to do their chore, desperate to beat the clock and press stop before the timer counts down to zero so that they get their star - a really cool idea and it really works!

Comment By : LouLoueee

I have also written on this topic: http://raising2tweens.wordpress.com/2011/11/07/cinderella-lives-at-my-house/ My daughter is supposed to do the dishes, keep her room clean and clean the kids' bathroom every other week. She is almost 13. My son, who is 10, is supposed to keept he kitchen table clean, take out the trash, keep his room clean and clean the kids' bathroom every other week. They are both expected to help with the yard and other things as asked. Although my son might mumble about it, he is very good about helping. My daughter will put it off to no end. The dishes will stack for days (we have a dishwasher) until I threaten to not let her do anything and take her phone or break down and do them myself. I appreciate the tips...

Comment By : gina5620

my boys are 13; 12; and 7. They have a list of daily; weekly; monthly chores. They each given a color to follow on the family calendar. I write down the chores that I want each of them to do on any specific day in their color. It is then their responsibility to get it done before I get home from work. They mark their chores in RED so that I know they have said they have it done. I then spot check their chores and if I agree they are done then they get their alloted allowance for the week. IF the chores are not done then I do the work and they have to pay me at the end of the week. In the beginning they had to pay me alot because they thought that I would pay them for doing nothing around the house. Now it is very rare that they don't get their chores done. If they have ALOT of homework and don't get their chores done prior to me coming home from work; then we discuss other alternatives. Works for our house.

Comment By : ddkmom3

I have a daughter of 15. I used to give her an allowance every month, as a general rule for a number of years. While the father was in the home he used to direct and make sure kids did their chores. Now that we are divorced, and my daughter is expected to still help do chores, but a while back when dropping my daughter after a weekend with him, i got told "the kids are not your slaves". has discouraged my daughter to help around the house. i do not have domestic help, and i seem to be doing all the work to keep the home clean, i battle as i have a full time job, come home , cook, do the dishes, washing etc. etc. when asked to help with anything, there is always an excuse about she is busy with homework, and dont have time. I have now drawn up a list of chores that needs to be done on a daily basis, with an amount of what will be to her credit for every task , should she wish to earn some money. If she does not help out , then by the end of the month there is also no pocket money. Before she got pocket money regardless of helping out or not. I have stopped . She will earn when she does something. If she was supposed to clean up a mess she created , i will remind her twice. It has happened that by the next day she has not responded. I then go ahead and clean it. An amount then gets deducted off what she has earned in credits for me having to step in and do it

Comment By : ES

I have to admit I do not believe in rewarding for chores. Helping mom should be reward enough. I remember when I was a child I was responsible for the laundry at 6. Sure I do not want my children to be so responsible so young but I do want them to be responsible. I do not want to teach them that there is always a reward for doing what you should, as adults, we are not rewarded for being responsible only the satisfaction of a job well done. I think back to "pioneer days" children helped out of responsibility- if they didn't gather the eggs then no one got to eat eggs. Where are we going wrong in this generation

Comment By : Lissa

The article is good but my 14 year old son refuses to do chores even when I am doing my own. He shouts at me and acts out when I tell him that he has to do his chores. If I switch off the television he switches it on or goes to his room to play guitar or puts on his headphone to listen to music. I can't snatch his cellphone or other things all the time & it's not the proper way to deal with kids. For the past 1 year his behavior has changed drastically. He doesn't study on a regular basis but only when there is a test & his grades have fallen a lot. Should I consult a counsellor or an adolescent psychiatrist? I'm very worried & tired with this as his father has to tour a lot on his job & I have to deal with our son alone.

Comment By : Suparna, India

* To “Suparna, India”: I’m sorry you are having a difficult time getting your son to follow through on chores and other tasks. I can hear how frustrated and exhausted you are right now. You ask an excellent question. It can be helpful to consult a professional if you believe there may be an underlying issue that is having an impact on your son’s behavior. A professional would be able to determine what, if any, assessments or evaluations would be necessary. His doctor would probably be in the best position to determine if a referral would be the best approach. If you decide you would like to have him see a specialist, we would suggest talking with his physician and asking about a possible referral to a counselor or adolescent psychologist. We appreciate you taking the time and sharing your story with us. Good luck as you continue to address these challenges

Comment By : D. Rowden, Parental Support Advisor

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