Does It Have to Be a Chore to Get My Daughter to Do Chores?

Filed under: Expert Advice: Big Kids, Expert Advice: Tweens, Expert Advice: Teens

Dear AdviceMama,

How do I get my 7-year old daughter to stop trying to get out of chores? I have tried everything except spanking. I do not believe in physical punishment at all for any reason. Thanks.

Signed,
Wanting Help!


Dear Wanting,

Having just finished up tax season, allow me to ask you a question: Did you start working on your taxes well in advance, or was there a bit of procrastination involved?

Did you work on your taxes with enthusiasm, or did you put off the task as long as possible, choosing to watch a good movie or chat with a friend instead of organizing your paperwork?

In other words, did you avoid doing your taxes for as long as possible so you could do things that were more ... fun?

Unless you're a passionate accountant or a lover of numbers, it's likely that when faced with something unpleasant, such as tax preparation, you find yourself struggling to motivate yourself to get to work. Similarly, when your daughter is presented with the option of cleaning her room or playing with her toys, chances are she'll choose playing with those toys.

Just as adults tend to put off unpleasant tasks, most children don't like chores and will do whatever they can to squirm out of having to do them. While there are ways to make them a bit more fun, it's wise to recognize that your child isn't naughty for not wanting to do chores; she's normal.

If you scold or lecture your daughter in an effort to convince her that she should care about tidying up the bathroom or sweeping the patio, you're not likely to get a cheerful response. Similarly, if you use sarcasm or a voice full of criticism, it's unlikely that she'll want to be helpful. You can resort to bribes or threats, of course, but there are better ways. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Write 10 things that need to be done onto slips of paper and drop them into a hat. When it's chore time, invite her to reach into the hat to find out what she's responsible for doing this week.
  • Creating rituals is important; in my house chore-time was Saturday morning; by the time my son was 16, he had two hours of chores to take care of before he set out on his day. By establishing this as a ritual when he was younger -- starting with 20 minutes when he was 5 or 6 -- he came to see it as non-negotiable.
  • Give your daughter a clipboard and let her walk around the house to write down things that need to be fixed, cleaned or organized. By encouraging her to develop the eyes to see what's needed in keeping the apartment or house in good shape, you'll be helping her develop important life skills.
  • Allow her to vent about how "unfair" it is that she has to do chores, or how she's "the only one of her friends" who has to help out around the house. Don't engage in long-winded explanations about her complaints. Simply let her offload her frustration with what I call "Act I" responses: "It sounds like you're pretty mad that you're having to clear the table." Or, "I guess it seems unfair that Julie and Carrie don't have to help out, and you do." Resist the urge to justify your requests. Allow your daughter to express her upset, and let her know that you hear and understand her feelings.
  • Create a bit of fun when it's chore time. Play loud music and have your daughter tidy up the living room for the duration of one or two songs. Or make a contest where you give everyone in the family a paper bag to toss in trash or items that need to be put away. Whoever has the fullest bag after 10 minutes can be crowned the Triumphant Trash-Nabber!
I appreciate your frustration -- parents do things endlessly for their children, and it's easy to feel shortchanged when they resist helping out. But I commend you for recognizing the importance of teaching your daughter to take responsibility for helping maintain the family home. And I'm especially glad that you understand how terribly harmful physical punishments are to a child's sense of safety, connection and self-esteem.

Make requests of your daughter in a friendly tone, create rituals for household tasks, rotate what you ask her to do and allow your daughter to be mad without negotiating or engaging in power struggles. Once she sees that doing chores is part of life, she'll come around. Just don't expect her to like it any more than you like doing those taxes!

Yours in parenting support,
AdviceMama

AdviceMama, Susan Stiffelman, is a licensed and practicing psychotherapist and marriage and family therapist. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in developmental psychology and a Master of Arts in clinical psychology. Her book, Parenting Without Power Struggles, is available on Amazon. Sign up to get Susan's free parenting newsletter.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.