Making chores fun: Essential strategies for parents

Start 'Em Young by Randen Pederson For kids, chores might as well be torture, but it’s often through chores that children first learn responsibility and accountability.  Dr. Martin Rossman at the University of Minnesota, in his study of childhood development, concluded that one of the most reliable indicators of a child’s later success in adulthood—use of drugs, excellence in education, and quality of relationships—was his or her dedication to chores by age 3 or 4.  Those children who did not partake in chores or had none at all were more likely to have poorer experiences in the aforementioned categories.

This does not mean that your child, who may be older than 3 or 4 and have no chores to do at home, will lead an unfulfilling life, but the sooner you start your kids on chores, the better.  Still, forcing children to do things they don’t want to do will only make them feel disrespected, powerless, and indignant—a recipe for unmet expectations.  Chores can be something to make kids feel empowered, helpful, and excited.  Here’s how.

Starting Out

Start now but when the kids are in a good mood.  Thrusting responsibility and chores into their arms when they feel victimized or frustrated will only exacerbate their bad mood.  Schedule a family meeting on a relaxed weekend after breakfast or supper and explore the possibilities of chores with your whole family.

It’s important to while you’re exploring the idea of chores with your kids to keep an open mind.  Listen to their concerns and even if it sounds to you like a bunch of whining, don’t say so and try to look at it from your kid’s perspective.  Don’t cut off any sentences and don’t let your temper get the best of you.

Keep in mind that some younger children won’t like the idea of responsibilities and some older ones will claim enough responsibilities like homework, school sports, or jobs.

It’s a good idea then to start a master list of chores.  By getting on the table what needs to be done and how from the get-go, you avoid confusion and loopholes.

Try to let the kids decide amongst each other (as a team so they build interpersonal skills) who does which chores so everyone can come to an agreement rather than a forced-upon decision.

Establish expectations—if a clean room means a made bed, clear desk, and clear floor except for furniture, say so now.  Remember also that words are more powerful when written.  Try writing up job cards with the family to decide upon what constitutes a well-done chore.  Each chore gets its own card.

Making Chores Fun

To make the job easier and more fun for the kids, make some cleaning kits.  Look on for DIY green cleaning recipes (since many store-bought household cleaners contain phthalates, parabens, bleach, and other chemicals that have been known to cause health complications in children) and make a day out of making the cleaners with the whole family.  Each recipe only calls for things already in your pantry (baking soda, white vinegar, lemon juice, and the like).  Put some cleaning rags or newspapers, a scrub brush, and a spray cleaner in a basket or box and have the kids decorate it according to its purpose as the window-cleaning kit or the bathroom-cleaning kit, etc.

To make the chores worth doing, it’s important to have some kind of reward system.  As unlikely as it may seem, using food directly for reward for some children can contribute to eating disorders later in life.  Instead, the child who finished his or her chores first may get to decide what’s for dinner on a certain night, or may choose a family activity like a trip to the park or a pick of a Friday night movie.  Also, consider using a child’s favorite game or gaming system as a motivator—chores well done throughout the week means two hours of the PS3 on the weekend after homework.

Rewards don’t need to be the only motivation for chores well done.  Making chores fun can make doing them a less dreaded experience.  Try playing music in the kitchen when everyone’s in it cleaning up after dinner.  Make a chore chart to help kids remember tasks and give them an activity to signify that his or her chores have been done.  For example, in winter months, you can make a paper or felt snowman (use magnets or Velcro) with a chore on each snowball, limb, carrot nose, hat, and scarf.  As each chore is completed, the child adds to the construction of a snowman.

Setting the Example

As a parent, you must motivate your child through encouragement like providing these rewards and fun activities, but also through example.  If the kids see you slacking on your chores, they won’t have any reason to do theirs.  It takes away your credibility and their motivation.  So, take a deep breath, put your back into it, and remember that anything with kids takes time.  Your efforts in teaching the kids now the important of responsibility will mean mountains to them later.

Maria Rainier By-Line:

Maria Rainier is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She is currently a resident blogger at the Online Degrees site, where recently she's been researching different online music degrees and blogging about student life. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.

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