Trash Talk

How to engage kids with household chores.

Mom checked the overflowing trash can again. “Jon, you need to empty the trash. How many times do I have tell you?”

Does this scenario sound familiar? As parents, having your kids take responsibility for doing chores may not be easy. But it is an important part of raising children.

Running a happy and healthy household requires many chores and tasks. And teaching your kids to complete some of the chores offers many benefits. “Kids learn responsibility, follow through and a work ethic from chores,” says Tina Tessina, Ph.D., psychotherapist and author of Money, Sex and Kids; Stop Fighting about the Three things That Can Ruin Your Marriage (Adams Media).

Realize Young Kids Can Help

Small children love to work with their parents. When you are doing dishes, push a chair up to the sink and allow your child to stand next to you and provide assistance. A young child can assist with washing dishes and drying plastic dishes, pots and pans. As you do the chore together, tell your child how valuable his or her work is to the entire family. Young children can also help tidy up. They can fold towels and washcloths. They can carry their clothes to their rooms, though young children may need an extra hand when putting away their clothes. Having young kids aid in housework “is often more complicated than doing it yourself,” says Tessina, “but it’s a great time to give the kids the idea that they are part of helping the house to run.”

Consider each child’s age when assigning chores. You do not want to frustrate your kids by giving them too difficult a chore. However, most children can do more than their parents expect.

Make Assignments

When a child is learning a new chore, walk the child through every part of the chore, step by step. For example, to teach a child to empty the trash, divide the chore into small incremental steps. Have your child pull out the trash bag as you stand next to him or her. Instruct your youngster to tie up the trash bag, and show how to put a new trash bag in the garbage can. Ask your child, “Why do you think you need to put another trash bag in the can?” Take out the garbage while aiding your child in putting the full trash bag in the appropriate spot. You may have to stand alongside your child during these steps more than once. Consider it time well invested in your child and his or her future.

A family chore system can be as simple as assigning daily and weekly chores to each child. It can also involve an elaborate chore chart. Certain chores, such as sweeping floors, vacuuming and feeding pets, can be rotated on a weekly or monthly basis to cut down on the monotony of the tasks. Have a family meeting and discuss the importance of teamwork as well as how each chore is an integral part of family life.

You and your spouse might want to make a list of the different chores necessary in maintaining your household. Then have your kids select the chores they would like to perform. Some chores can be directly assigned to a specific child. You can also determine if there are any chores above and beyond the standard chores that your child can do to get paid, if you are not already offering an allowance for chores. Keep a list of these tasks for a motivated child.

Some families opt to set up a reward system or give an allowance based on completed chores. A possible reasoning for this, many parents say, is that they do not get paid unless they work. If chores are completed well by your children, consider bestowing additional privileges, like allowing your child to stay up later or have more computer time.

Talk About Chores

Family chores demonstrate that everyone is responsible for helping the family to function, says Tessina. Discuss how crucial it is to have a clean house. When a room is clean and toys are picked up and put away, the home environment is calmer and less stressful for everyone. Explain this concept, along with the need for other tasks like cooking. While you and your child prepare a salad or another nutritious meal, discuss how healthy meals help bodies to grow.

If you have older children, share with them that some chores are difficult or boring. Add of course that such chores are still a necessary part of life.

Give Praise

One of the hardest parts of teaching kids chores is that you need to check whether the task was completed properly. While you would like to think your child will complete a task promptly and completely, it is not always the case.

Studies have continuously shown that positive reinforcement changes behavior faster than negative reinforcement. Congratulate your child on how well he or she unloaded the dishwasher. Let your child know that you appreciate the work he or she does around the house to help the family.

Expect Excuses

You will hear many different excuses when it comes to your children avoiding chores. Remind your child that if you or your husband didn’t cook dinner, then the rest of the family would go hungry. You can say things such as: “When you finish the dishes, then you can go outside and play” and “when you wipe the bathroom counters, you can go play your video games.” If a child constantly complains about a certain chore, determine whether the chore is too challenging or the child is trying to get out of the responsibility.

Initially, coaxing kids to do chores seems like more work than it is worth. However, as Tessina says, “chores prepare kids for living in a college dorm, with a roommate, alone or with a future mate.” Eventually, your child will thank you for it.