Ask the Experts: Chores Without Nagging
How can you encourage kids to complete chores without having to nag?
To find more answers to other common parenting questions, check out our collection of Ask the Experts.
Courtney Chandler: “I already asked you to clean up your room.” This is a statement I’m sure most parents have said to their children on more than one occasion. Chores are an essential part of home life and aid in the overall productivity of a household and to develop independence. Inspiring children to do chores is not an easy task and often results in parents asking multiple times.
What types of chores your child does matter. Chores should be age-appropriate and be within the limits of what each child can and cannot accomplish. Don’t expect perfection! Chores are a time for children to learn. Be specific when assigning and modeling how to do them. And, only give one task at a time. It is very important to be consistent with reminders and deadlines.
Make chores fun by engaging your children in a parent versus child challenge or let your child choose a short activity to do after chores are completed. Consider giving options on which chores they would like to complete.
Courtney Chandler is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapy and play therapist working for Sunbeam Family Services, a non-profit organization in Oklahoma City. Courtney is passionate about the power of play therapy and enjoys working with children, adolescents and their families.
Dr. Anne K. Jacobs: If you find yourself constantly nagging, there are several steps you can take. Practice giving direct commands rather than diffuse suggestions like "Please put all of your dirty clothes in the hamper," instead of "Your room's a mess, how can you live like that?"
If your children struggle with initiating the chore, try setting a timer and playing "beat the clock." Let them know that once the chore is completed to your satisfaction, they may engage in an activity they want to do. It helps to phrase it in a positive manner like "As soon as you finish vacuuming the floor, you can get on Minecraft" instead of, "No screens until your chores are done."
If your kids start the chore but get distracted along the way, consider using a whiteboard where they can list and check off their duties or even a visual reminder such as a picture of a clean bathroom. Break chores into smaller steps to allow you to check their progress more frequently to praise their work or help them redirect back to task.
Finally, consider reframing chores as family responsibilities where everyone pitches in to help the family. For teens, try tying chores to life skills that fit their interests. Does your teen love clothes? Then, it is important for them to learn how to do laundry properly. Interested in driving? What a great time to start washing and vacuuming the car. Reframing might not make duties fun, but sometimes a sense of meaningfulness can go a long way.
Anne K. Jacobs earned her Ph.D. in Clinical Child Psychology from the University of Kansas and enjoys serving children, adolescents and their families. In addition to her private practice in Edmond, she holds an adjunct faculty position at Southern Nazarene University. Her family includes: husband, Noel who is also a child psychologist; twin daughters, Keegan and Sarah; one dog, two cats, and five tarantulas.
Greg Gunn: Consistency and clear expectations are key when it comes to teaching your kids to be responsible. Plan out and put on paper the benefits and the responsibilities that come with being a part of your family. Let your kids know exactly what it is they are responsible for and exactly when you want the jobs completed. Confusion and inconsistency can result in a frustrated child and parent. Everyone involved should sign the declaration. From that point on, the natural course of consequence will teach kids to get their jobs done, on time and in full.
Letting natural consequences teach is incredibly difficult because, first, it does not work immediately and second, none of us want to see our children miss out on fun things. If you follow them around reminding them to do their chores, you are preventing them from learning how to remind themselves. You have to let them fail if you really want them to learn. And when they do fail, you have to be ready to follow through. Your child may get mad at you in the moment, but they will be incredibly grateful when they are getting to work on time and completing tasks because they learned natural consequences at a young age.
Greg Gunn, founder of Family-iD, is a life coach, pastor, author and speaker from Oklahoma City. Married for 30 years, Greg is a father of seven kids, a father-in-law and a grandfather of two. For 17 years, Greg has led Family Vision Ministries, a ministry that helps families put their purpose on paper and pass it on to future generations.
Dr. Lisa L. Marotta: I make my bed every morning. My made bed sends a signal to my whole self that the day has started. Can’t hop back in if it looks so nice! This habit was years in the making, beginning when my children were school-aged and I wanted to provide a good example. It also kept me (most days) from driving through the car pool line in my pajamas.
What habits have you created for yourself? Tooth brushing, meal planning, house cleaning, email checking. If you are like most adults, you build your habits into a routine so it can almost be done automatically. The reason why parents remind (a.k.a. nag) is because they have forgotten that an important goal is to develop a habit which requires ownership, discipline and follow through over time. When we parents disrupt the natural cycle of habit, we are undermining the process. Instead of your child noticing that the chore needs to be done (i.e. ownership), your reminder becomes the signal to do the chore. Psychologically, it is natural for them to resist.
Use your super power of habit experience to help your child develop healthy habits for themselves. Take the chore list and a calendar and have your child assign when the chores will be done. Tie the time of chore to something else that is already scheduled: like before school, before lunch or before bedtime.
Now comes accountability, a very important part of forming healthy habits. This is when you get to say something! Once the chore calendar is set, you get to check to see that it is completed. Remember developing your habits? Flossing, taking a vitamin/supplements, were you perfect at this? Your child will not be perfect either. As soon as the chore is observed to be undone, it must be done. Nothing else happens until it is done. There will be an occasional melt down but don’t let that be yours. Be pleasant, patient and persistent because anything else will backfire and you will be back to nagging.
Healthy habits are tricky but well worth the extra steps to build capable and responsible young people.
Dr. Lisa L. Marotta is celebrating 22 years of private practice. She is a clinical psychologist in Edmond with a special heart for women, children and families. Dr. Marotta enjoys writing, public speaking and blogging. She and her husband Sal have two young adult daughters.
Trudy Ruminer: Ah, the age-old struggle of how to get children to do their chores! There are many varied strategies employed by parents. Starting as young as 2-3 years of age children can start learning to pick up their toys, help sort laundry by color, throw trash away, put their dirty clothes in the laundry hamper, help set the table, etc. Many parents find fun ways to incorporate learning to do these tasks such as singing the infamous “clean up” song while picking up toys, and/or lavishly praising their child for throwing away their own diapers as soon as they are old enough to toddle to the trash can. The following are a few suggestions that may also help:
- Families that develop a balanced, structured plan for completing chores on a regularly scheduled basis seems to do better overall and appear to get less resistance from their children.
- Having the same weekly/daily assigned chores that are routine and predictable allows for a feeling of mastery which in turn should decrease resistance.
- Make sure chores are developmentally appropriate. If chores are too challenging children can become frustrated and may want to give up.
- Help your child feel that they are part of the family team by asking for their input as to what they would like to do.
- Choose wisely when it comes to your expectations of a job well done. Children who believe they are doing a good job and feel appreciated for their efforts are much more likely to enjoy doing whatever tasks they are asked to do.
- Model an attitude that completing chores is not a fate worse than death- Play music, sing, dance your way around the house, or whatever other light-hearted shenanigans you can come up with to make things fun.
- Reward, reward, reward. Whether it be with words of praise, allowance, stickers, trips to the local ice cream shop, bragging to all in front of the child about what a great helper they are, charting progress on a fancy graph, rewarding wanted behaviors should produce more of the same.
Last but certainly not least, there are a multitude of wonderful family friendly Apps emerging these days that make chore tracking and rewarding a breeze! For more information on which Apps have the best ratings and reviews, visit https://www.bestappsforkids.
Nichole Mentzer: For our family, it was a challenge to determine when our 4-year-old daughter was able to take on a few household responsibilities. I think determining which chores are appropriate for your child is important. We use a magnetic chore and behavior chart in our home. There are two chores and one behavior on her chart. This makes it easier for her to manage. She earns her magnets and adds them to the chart the following morning. She earns a special something weekly or she can save her points for a larger item. When she asks for a toy or dress, we can refer back to her chart.
Nichole Mentzer is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) accepting clients for individual, couples and family therapy. She is passionate in helping women reach their full potential and assisting growing families in achieving a place of peace and gratitude. Nichole primarily practices Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Strengths Perspective and Trauma Focused therapies. As a mother of a spirited child, she has come to fully appreciate the transformative experiences birth and motherhood has to offer. Nichole enjoys traveling and finding gratitude in the small moments in life.
Adam Zodrow: Our oldest son is 4, and we are still in what I call the “golden age” because he takes great pride in helping out around the house. Chores are a way that he considers himself a “big kid.” I’m trying to cultivate a love of hard work, not only with chores but in all avenues of life. He and I have a simple little phrase that I like to repeat anytime we are doing anything, from drawing a picture or washing hands to doing chores. “No matter what you’re doing, do a good job.” It’s simple, but it has been effective. I want him to tie hard work not to an allowance but to the satisfaction of a job well done. This is not a trait that I grew up with. I am still learning it myself. The other big idea that if it’s hard, it probably means that it’s good. My hope is that these ideals will travel with him throughout life, and he won’t have to learn it the hard way like I did.
Adam is a writer and content strategist for Traction Marketing, here in OKC. He also travels as a National Teacher Consultant for Catapult Learning, serving schools all over the world. Adam spent 11 years working in public schools as a classroom teacher, administrator and library/media specialist. He and his wife Lindsay own Collected Thread in the Plaza, and are the proud parents of Noah (4) and Finn (1).
To find more answers to other common parenting questions, check out our collection of Ask the Experts.