There are dozens of strategies for teaching our children that we do not exist solely to wait on them.
Some are more effective than others, but none are guaranteed to work every time. Here are some of the more common strategies, along with a rating (out of 5 stars) for how effective they will be in most circumstances.
Refusing to do it anymore (0 stars)
From time to time an article will appear online praising the courage of the parents who stopped doing the housework until their teens realised they would have to take on some of the responsibility. Dishes sat in the sink. Clothes festered on the floor. Food failed to cook itself. And eventually the teens couldn’t stand it any longer. Perhaps it works in some situations. However, I suspect that the mess, the need for yelling and threatening, and the poor modelling make this about the least effective strategy for teaching children to pull their weight.
Yelling and Threatening (1 star)
It’s true, yelling and threatening will get things done. If you make yourself big, loud, and scary enough, you can usually force just about anyone to do just about anything. But this approach comes at a cost. The kids stop listening unless you sound really angry. The relationship between you and your children suffers. And everyone feels lousy. In spite of these drawbacks, this 1-star strategy is very common.
Nagging (2 stars)
The softer version of yelling and threatening is to nag, harass, bother, badger, carp, prod, and urge our children to “please, please, please do as I have asked.” Nagging and pleading discourage initiative, put children into a position of power, and rarely aid in getting things done. When children respond to nagging, they generally don’t do a particularly good job. Again, this strategy leaves everyone feeling ordinary. But at least there’s no shouting and less anger or passive aggressive behaviour compared to the previous strategies.
Payment (3 stars)
Paying children for completing chores can provide minor motivation in some circumstances. Children know that they have pocket money if they do their chores, and they’re broke if they don’t. It’s a strategy that may, in some cases, reduce nagging or yelling. But research tells us that such a strategy may actually reduce motivation for those tasks UNLESS the payment remains (and sometimes even increases). Take away the payment, and you take away the motivation. Additionally, many parents argue that doing chores is simply part of being in the family. Parents don’t earn income for work around the home, and nor should children.
Chore Charts (3.5 stars)
Chore charts can be effective in mapping out clear expectations for children. One quick glance at the poster on the wall or fridge and children know what is required of them, and on what day. Parents can direct their children to the chart and ask them to mark off the chart when tasks are completed.
Democratic discussion and divvying (4 stars)
When families talk about responsibilities and each person takes on tasks willingly through a consultative process, the likelihood that chores remain undone will be greatly reduced. This process can help ensure that everyone is understood, that chores are divided according to ability and capacity, and that there is appropriate accountability and follow up. Used in conjunction with a chore-chart, this kind of approach is proactive and reduces pressure and stress around chores (although there is usually still some need to gently remind some family members to do their share).
Working together (4.5 stars)
Perhaps the best way to get chores done is to work together. While talking it through, taking on individual responsibilities, and following a chore chart can have a positive impact, parents who offer to spontaneously help their kids while they complete those chores will find that working together is highly motivating for everyone, and it strengthens relationships. Children who were already willing to work get the bonus of having parents help out so chores are completed faster. And helping one another promotes positivity!
You’ll note that there are no 5 star options. There’s a reason for that. There is no fool-proof solution. Children are people, and they have real feelings and desires that can be complicated and challenging to deal with. Sometimes chores are a pain, plain and simple. Sometimes kids are tired, hungry, sick, or not in the mood. When this happens, the best strategies can vary based on any number of factors. Sometimes the best strategy is tough love and assertion, and other times, compassion.
No, parents are not the maid.
Yes, our children can and should contribute.
But what they do is less important than how and why they do it. The way we invite their contribution will have the most significant and important impact on their involvement in the family