How Do You “Make” Kids Do Homework or Chores?
Here on the parent coaching team, we frequently get questions like: “How do I make my daughter do her homework?” or “How do I get my son to do his chores around the house?” This can be a hard question to answer, for a few different reasons. First, short of actually putting the pencil in your daughter’s hand or placing the broom in your son’s hands and moving their arms for them, you cannot physically make anyone do anything. That can be a really hard fact to accept as a parent. After all, you’re supposed to be in control of the house, right? These are things that need to get done, and you’re supposed to be the person who makes sure they get done, correct? Not exactly.
Here’s the truth: It’s going to be an exercise in frustration if your ultimate goal is to have your daughter want to do her homework, or your son to get excited about doing his chores. I know very few adults who say “I can’t wait to go home and do the laundry—sorting socks is fun!” or “I’m really looking forward to paying some bills tonight!” In general, these things are not fun and exciting. So your goal here is to have your kids learn that there are tasks that need to get done, regardless of the entertainment factor.
How can you get them to understand this? Debbie Pincus talks about looking at responsibilities in terms of boxes. In other words, what’s in your box, and what’s in your child’s box? What can you control, and what is ultimately out of your control? Actually doing the chore (or getting the math problems done) is in your child’s box. It’s also your child’s responsibility to make sure that he or she is bringing everything home from school to get homework or other school projects done. You are responsible for ensuring that your child has what he or she needs to get the job done: Is there a quiet space in the house to do homework? Are there adequate cleaning supplies to get the chores done? In addition, you control holding your child accountable if he or she chooses not to participate in your structured homework or chore time. Examples of this may be suspending cell phone use until the chore is done that day, or withholding electronics for the evening if homework is not worked on during a specified time after school. In addition, some tasks have built-in consequences. For example, if your daughter refuses to do her homework, she will be held accountable at school. If your teen son refuses to do his laundry, he will not have clean clothes to wear.
I realize that this can be scary to parents; it can sometimes feel like your son or daughter is “winning” the power struggle over chores and homework if he or she chooses not to do it. If the homework doesn’t get done or the dishes remain dirty, it can make you feel like a failure as a parent because you are supposed to be the authority in your house. As Debbie notes, “You are put in a weaker position when you need someone to do something, because he or she can choose not to do it.” By giving up this fight for control and instead setting limits and giving consequences when your child fails (or refuses) to be responsible for his or her box, you as the parent end up in a stronger position—and you ultimately have the power of holding your child accountable for his or her choices.