Getting kids to do their household chores is a challenge that crosses cultures and the solutions appear just as varied.
According to the BBC, Spain's parliament is considering a law that would require children to help out in the home. “Along with doing chores, children would also have to be respectful to their parents and teachers, and have a positive attitude towards learning,” the BBC reported.
“Wow. Good luck with that,” wrote Randye Hoder at Time. “Back here in the United States, I can barely get my 16-year-old to take out the trash. Sometimes, it feels like Middle East peace talks must be easier.”
There are good reasons to have children help out around the home, wrote Eileen Kennedy-Moore at Psychology Today. “First, there's the issue of competence. Housework may not be glamorous, but it's necessary, and knowing how to do it efficiently and effectively is a life skill,” she said
Kennedy-Moore explained that chores instill values of being part of a family and “doing things for the greater good.”
Finally, she said doing chores help children have a greater sense of well-being. “Research tells us that children actually feel happier when they make a meaningful contribution to the family.”
But try convincing children that pitching in around the home will benefit them. That's not to say, however, there is a shortage of advice and tips on getting kids to help out.
The “Family Coach” at the Wall Street Journal, Catherine Pearlman, gives one idea on how to get teens to help out: “If your child continues to refuse doing her part, try some tough love. Gently ease back on doing your daughter's laundry or 'forget' to pick up her lacrosse uniform from the neighbor's house. When your lack of 'help' finally frustrates her (and it will — without question — frustrate her), have a frank discussion about how you feel when she doesn't help.”
James Lehman at EmpoweringParents.com explains why getting the kids into action is hard: “The reason kids don't like doing chores is the same reason adults don't like doing chores: Household tasks are generally boring.”
To get kids going, first “stop the show.”
“If your child is not doing his chores, you simply stop everything, tell him to have a seat and talk to him about it,” Lehman says. “Ask him what he thinks is going on and what's getting in his way of doing his assigned tasks.”
Giving a time limit also helps, Lehman says. Tell them they have 20 minutes to wash the dishes or they have to go to bed earlier, for example. Or, if they do it faster, they get to stay up longer.
Lehman also says to never use chores as punishments. The only exception is if a kid did something wrong to a sibling. Then, the kid might have to do the sibling's chore.
Focus on the Family asked parents for their techniques.
For really small kids, one parent recommended making up a song about doing the chores.
Another parent had deadlines for chores. If one kid missed a deadline, the other kids could do it for money that came out of the pocket of the one who missed the deadline. Another parent used chore time to work with the kids — building relationships in the process.
Cynthia Ewer at Organized Home says ambivalence is the culprit. Parents are not really committing to having their kids do chores. “Too often, we announce a new regime of household chores in a moment of anger and frustration,” she says. “Elaborate chore charts are made and ignored after the third day.”
The solution, Ewer says, is to be like a slow-moving, but inevitable, glacier. “Make changes gradually, involving children in chores slowly. This month, decide that one child will assist with pre-dinner preparation, the other help with cleanup. Next month, begin a Saturday morning family clean-a-thon. By the end of the year, teach the eldest child to do his own laundry, and put the younger child in charge of collecting newspapers, bottles and cans for recycling. By the following summer, teach them to help you weed and prune in the yard.”
She also recommends giving kids options of what chores to do.
Christine Carter at Parents magazine says to inspire kids to do chores by leveraging their “natural, intrinsic drive to be productive — even creative — contributors to the household.”
So, for younger kids start, with simple tasks like setting the table or putting things away. Even toddlers can wipe things down and dust. Parents can also turn chores into playtime for young kids by, for example, doing laundry while pretending to be robots. And don't be afraid to make the task more complicated, Carter says. Difficult can be interesting. Easy can be boring.
In any case, there is a lot of room to improve. Hoder at Time says, “Kids ages 6 to 12 now do less than half an hour of housework a day on average, according to Sandra Hofferth, a professor of family science at the University of Maryland.”