As parents, we are often looking for simple and creative ways to get our children to help out. Having everyone pitch in to complete household chores helps the house run smoothly. But it’s more than that; children who help out at home feel valued, purposeful and competent. Studies have shown that children who have jobs at home and are held accountable for doing chores feel as if they are an integral part of their family. This makes them less susceptible to peer pressure. Doing the actual jobs themselves teaches them to be self-reliant and responsible.

Parents understand the value of chores but it seems as if kids never got the memo. When asked to do their jobs, children rarely say, “Sure Mom, I’d love to!” They generally put up a fight; there are lots of complaints and negativity.

Don’t despair. We can find ways to bypass the protests by learning effective communication techniques and understanding our children’s capabilities. Here are 5 ways to help your kids help you:

1. Give choices:

Choices are one of the best parenting skills out there. Choices are effective because they empower children while still maintaining a parent’s authority. Parents decide what needs to be done and then they give their kids the choice of how they do it. Children often feel powerless when they are constantly told what to do. Choices give kids some level of the control that they crave in a safe manner.

When giving choices it’s best to offer two options, both of which work for the adult. As we mentioned above, this way the child feels empowered but can work toward the expectation set by the adult.

We can give choices about:

Object or activity:

“Would you like to peel carrots or set the table?

“Do you want to put out the plates or the cups?

Timing:

“Dinner is in 30 minutes. Do you want to clean up the family room now or in 5 minutes?”

“The living room needs to be vacuumed for Shabbos, do you want to do it tonight or when you get home from school tomorrow?”

Location:

“The yard needs to be cleaned. Do you want to start in the front or in the back?”

“The vegetables need to be cut up for the salad. Do you want to do it at the kitchen table or the sink?”

2. Let them know “how many” and give them an ending time:

It is helpful for kids to know “how many“ tasks they are going to be asked to complete, and “how long” it will take them to complete the task.

If we think about our own mindsets when we’re reluctant to complete our own chores, exercise or go to our doctors appointment, it helps us to have the end in sight: we have 10 dishes to wash, 10 more sit ups, our appointment will take one hour. It motivates us to focus on the task at hand and stay calm and push through to completion. Chores that have no end point can be discouraging to tackle.

Examples:

“I need about 15 minutes of your help. It is now 2:00 at 2:15 you should be ready to go and play.”

“There are about 10 towels that need to be folded. After that you are free to go.”

3. Attractive Activity Once Done:

When asking a child to do their chores we can outline our expectations for them and then offer them a preferred activity. This strategy works because the promise of an attractive activity (baseball game) can increase the child’s motivation to complete a less attractive activity (work). This also provides structure and clarifies the expectation; showing what must be done now and what will happen next.

For example, if a child is complaining about having to clean their room we can remind them: “After you finish cleaning your room, we will head out to your baseball game.” “After the dishes are cleaned we will head out to the mall.”

This is much kinder and more effective than threats: “If you don’t clean your room, I am not taking you to your baseball game!”

“If you don't do the dishes, I am not taking you to the mall!”

Ultimatums engender a lot of anger and negative feelings. It doesn’t set the groundwork for cooperation.

4. First/Then:

Similarly, with young children, we can use “first/then.” For example, if a child does not want to clean up, but wants to get his video time, we can say, “First clean up and then video.” If the child wishes to go outside we can say, “First clean, then outside.”

5. Help at every age:

Parents often need guidance as to understanding what children are capable of doing and at what age. Below are some suggestions:

Help from 1-year-olds:

  • Putting the diapers away and in the trash.

  • Picking up toys (lots of modeling and mirroring).

  • Cleaning up messes with wipes.

  • Kissing boo-boos better and offering a hug when someone is hurt or feeling bad.

Help from toddlers:

  • Buckling their car seat (or at least trying to).

  • Stirring the mix for muffins (even cracking eggs).

  • Getting themselves dressed, starting with pajamas (they will likely need help with zippers, buttons, and snaps).

  • Clearing their dishes from the table.

  • Putting toys away.

  • Pushing buttons on washer and dryer.

  • Folding laundry (starting with washcloths and socks).

  • Pushing the stroller (or at least attempting).

  • Carrying groceries (make sure to pack a couple of light bags).

  • Looking for groceries in the store (for example, asking for help finding the milk, bananas, or bread).

  • Sweeping and cleaning (having supplies made for little hands, such as a kid-sized broom, or little spray bottle filled with water helps them feel like they’re contributing to the chores).

  • Trash (toddlers love to throw stuff away).

  • Washing their bodies and hair in the bathtub.

Help from elementary age:

  • Help creating grocery lists.

  • Help with preparation of meals.

  • Folding and putting laundry away.

  • Bringing up trash cans from the end of the driveway.

  • Cleaning their rooms (this one requires the use of many Positive Discipline tools).

  • Clearing dishes at mealtimes.

  • Unloading dishwasher.

  • Vacuuming.

  • Raking/sweeping leaves.

  • Wrapping gifts for birthday parties.

  • Creating paper bags of goodies for the homeless.

  • Decorating for every season.

References:

(Ainge et al., 2016) Ainge, B., Nelsen, J., Nelsen-Tamborski, M. (2016). Positive Discipline Parenting Tools. Harmony Books. NY.

Blome, L. (2018). Practical Strategies for Supporting Emotional Regulation in Students with Autism. Jessica Kingsley Publishers. London, UK.