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7 Motivations to get Kids to Do Their Chores: What Works and What Doesn’t.

August 20th, 2009 · 23 Comments

For someone who didn’t think they had a lot to say about chores and could never raise the energy to even think of a chore chart, turns out I have quite a lot to say, after all. Last week I wrote a post: Se7en Things I Would Like My Kids to Learn From Doing Chores… As I finished that post I knew I had more to say, particularly about motivating our kids to do their work.

Getting kids to do chores seems to be the ultimate bane of many of my friends lives. For me there seems to be a battle raging in the literature between motivating them with a reward or motivating them with punishment. There seem to be few books about that recommend motivating your kids from within themselves. I know this is idealistic but my goal with jobs around the house is that if my kids can learn to do chores and work from their heart, being self-motivasted and self-disciplined then they are quite a long way down the road to growing up.

I want jobs around the house to be done for three primary reasons: because a job needs to be done, because it is an act of service to a friend or family member and because there is a certain amount of satisfaction from a job well done.

So here are se7en things people use to motivate their children to do chores – and as usual I have an opinion as to what works and what doesn’t:

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  1. Punishment as Motivation: My problem with punishment and the classic: “If you don’t do your chores you are grounded” is that it is not the greatest motivator in my life! Why would it work for my kids. Negative motivation doesn’t seem to be the most encouraging way to get things done it seems to bring the whole tone of the home down. It inevitably echoes into every aspect of our lives. Even down to regular things like getting to the car on time and getting into car seats happily can totally spiral out of control when I threaten with punishment and if I follow through: “There will be no fun outing at the end of these errands” can fall really flat and takes away from my “joy in giving” to them. Doesn’t work in the long or short term!
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  3. Natural Consequences as Motivation: Natural consequences aren’t always that natural! When I was a new mom I asked a mom of older kids, who were really well behaved, how she got her kids to listen to her and she said: “I yell a lot!” And isn’t that the truth and a natural consequence to most infringements. Yes I yell, but I would rather settle my kids down and talk about natural solutions. For example: “If you don’t bring the laundry in by 4pm (it is winter here and any longer the laundry gets damp) then it is too late. We have strictly one on and one in the wash clothing policy round here, so if the washing isn’t done we will all be in trouble! The natural consequence would be no-one has fresh clothing the next day and a natural solution would be a 4pm reminder for the person who is on laundry. Well we usually have a snack at 4pm – nobody ever forgets that, and usually it is enough of a trigger to remind everyone time to dash and do their chores just before then. Natural consequences don’t work, natural solutions do.
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  5. Rewards as Motivation: While I see this working for many friends, their kids get stickers on their chart, extra pocket money for washing the car… and so on. I am a bit weary of this tactic, that feeds on our already over materialistic minds. Firstly I think it is unrealistic, I don’t get extra pocket money if I clean the toilet every day for a week, but I do get a sense of satisfaction from a clean bathroom. Secondly rewards need to get bigger and the incentives more interesting to keep them motivated, five stickers and you get a toy, ten stickers and an outing and so on. I don’t get a special outing for having dinner on the table every night but I do get a sense of satisfaction from having dinner on time and the kids in bed and leaving things ready for the next day! The natural reward is obviously our morning will go smoothly if everything is cleaned up the night before. Don’t even think about the natural consequence of not getting this done! Not to mention that if I am dashing around dolling our rewards I would need to employ someone to just keep track of se7en kids and their stickers. I think this is a dangerous habit to begin, another thing to ease our children off later – I don’t go for it!
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  7. Excessive Praise as Motivation: I guess my major issue with excessive praise is that firstly my kids see right through it! And secondly, my kids will expect praise for all the jobs they do. Where is the self-respect in that, lurking deeply under cover I’m afraid, especially when a task was performed with less than a best effort, and is still getting praised for a good effort. It is just like the entire class getting individual prizes at the end of the school year… it appears to be fair, but lets face it every kid will see right through this ploy! The expectation of lashings of praise is totally unrealistic… what happens on the day that you forget to praise them. Praise is hardly team building, in fact it is more likely to stir up some hectic competition!!! I really want their tasks to be part of the smooth running of our home. That being said, I am all about the heart and will offer praise to the person who does a task with a happy disposition. Is a very short-term solution and won’t help your kid in the long run.
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  9. Responsibility as Motivation: I am all about giving ownership of the chore over to them, if I have to stand and say: “Do the chore, do the chore, do the chore…” Then the chore is still mine! I have found that if I ask and expect it to be done that goes a long way to the job actually being done! Ownership of the job really does go a long way to getting it done. That being said I need to have taught them how to do the job according to my (very exacting – wahahaha!!!) standards. Otherwise that chore will return “home” to roost, so to speak!!! For example, there is no point in expecting a four year old to pack away the cutlery if he doesn’t know to sort it first! I do expect older children to serve younger children, not in a menial way… but if a small person needs help with their shoes and needs help getting a drink then I expect that if they asked nicely they will be helped appropriately. Small people that are unable to serve themselves need help and it is our responsibility to serve them so that they can learn how to serve others when they are able to. This works for us, their is a certain pride in “Doing my job well” – especially if someone else notices and acknowledges it.
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  11. Working Alongside Them as Motivation: A lot of chores get done because I expect them to be done. More get done because I ask for them to be done. But most chores get done because I do them with them. There is nothing like having someone to work with you to make a job seem to go so much better. I can sit at my computer and say: “Tidy up for supper.” And honestly, even though my children are totally perfect (!!!!), absolutely nothing will happen. Easily an hour later I will still be at my computer and not a single chore will be done. If I say: “Lets get our jobs done” and go down onto their level everything can be done in fifteen minutes. Just being there seems to help. If I am vague, then I get vague results. If I am specific, I get specific results. If I make a request: “Would you like to tidy-up?” I get, well not a huge reaction, but if present an instruction, say: “Can you pack the Lego away, Please.” to a specific person then that task will generally get done. I guess it is all in the way that I ask and all in the way that they understand – I know that, they know that and we can all use it to our advantage. This really works for us, working together really is the key.
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  13. Right of Passage as Motivation: I think it is important to honor their work, the one year old gathering towels and the eight year old peeling carrots are both equally important to the smooth flowing of our house. No one is belittled for a task – even if it is a little task! I want them to grow up knowing that the work they do is valuable. Some tasks are extremely sought after and they have to wait to do them… For instance car maintenance, every one loves the chance to help clean the spark plugs, everyone wants to help jump start the car – EVERYONE (there is a common theme here and I really should do a car maintenance post!!) But they have to wait to be invited! So those are the big jobs. However, most of our chores are broken down into teeny tiny steps. For example, clearing the dishwasher, packing away the non-breakables and then the breakables and the cutlery are four different tasks done by different kids. Likewise the laundry is broken into many small jobs. I am not trying to burden any of my children with laundry for nine people on a daily basis. But certainly every person can put their own washing into the washer. Some kids are better at some chores than others, and I am all for going with their strengths!!! I had one kid that was not able to master a broom, I let it be and suddenly it’s mastered. These really are some skills that just take time. This works for us, our kids enjoy the “honor” of achieving their tasks.

    That’s it!!! I will post our list of chores/life skills next week, it is taking longer than I thought it would, because I have never given it really careful consideration before!!! But it is what you friendly readers asked for so I am watching what we actually do before I post it! If you have any chore questions go ahead and ask and I will pop the solutions (if I have them) into the next chore post.

    I popped this post onto the Works For Me Wednesday Site – go and have a look there for all sorts of tips on absolutely anything.

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Tags: Organizing Se7en

23 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Stina // Aug 20, 2009 at 7:06 pm

    I have a three and one year old (almost four and two). I wonder what you believe are appropriate chores for their ages. My three year old does pick up her things (unless there is a huge mess…then it is overwhelming and we do it together) and the one year old loves to throw things (everything!!) away. Are there other chores you have thought of that I could start working on?

    I can’t tell you enough how much I love your blog. You are a wealth of information for our growing family. 🙂

  • 2 Bonnie // Aug 20, 2009 at 7:08 pm

    I have to say I learn quite a bit from you! Everyone always assumes because my kids are so well behaved that I am perfect, the fact is I just happen to have pretty good kids! I read all your post, and the ones on the chores have helped me in so many ways! I too want for my kids to take something with them from doing chores when they go to college or what ever they choose to do in their lives! I love your blog, thank you for sharing your opinions with us!

  • 3 Kate // Aug 20, 2009 at 7:35 pm

    I’d love to hear more about this: “We have strictly one on and one in the wash clothing policy round here”

  • 4 se7en // Aug 20, 2009 at 10:11 pm

    Hi S, Thanks for your comment! I will post a list of what each of our kids do next week! There is nothing as helpful as a one year old – eager to fetch and carry and do almost anything with great enthusiasm!!! Hope you all have a great weekend!!!

  • 5 se7en // Aug 20, 2009 at 10:25 pm

    Hi B, So glad you have enjoyed our chore posts, thank you so much for your kind comments! It was never supposed to be a couple of posts it just grew as I wrote!!! I hope you have a fabulous weekend!

  • 6 se7en // Aug 20, 2009 at 10:40 pm

    Hi K, Boy did you pick up on that quickly! Yup we have very little space for stuff and we live in a part of the world where you are never far from someone who has absolutely nothing. Needless to say in a major purge a couple of years ago I got rid of everything except the absolute essentials… We never looked back, when it comes to clothes our kids each have two pairs of short trousers, two pairs of long trousers and similarly for tops. Boy this changed our lives, no hassle with decision making. You just wear what is in your drawer! Not to mention they really have to look after what they have – it has been a good life lesson for all of us. Hope that covers it!!! You have a good weekend as well!

  • 7 S // Aug 21, 2009 at 12:19 pm

    Hi Se7en, I think the earlier one learns the lesson that ‘nothing is achieved in life without hard work’, the better! My husband had to help around the house (both inside and out) when he was growing up. And you know what, he is very domesticated and handy around the house/garden. Hard work (read chores) doesn’t scare him. So your children are going to make excellent spouses one day! And you will get 8 ‘thank yous’ from 8 daughters/sons-in-law for your excellent child rearing. Thanks for the food for thought on this subject.

  • 8 se7en // Aug 21, 2009 at 5:39 pm

    Hi S, What a lovely comment!!! You can stop by our site anytime!!! I hope you have a fabulous weekend!!!

  • 9 gracie // Aug 23, 2009 at 12:33 am

    oh i really need to instill the one one and one in policy!!!!!! actually as i sit here that is a very good idea i’m gonna see what i can do with it……

    as for chores, each of my 3 have a list, and a time to complete them by, if they are not done then the extras in life just don’t happen: ie – computer time, tv (wish we didnt’ have), play with friends…..

    funny thing our very old dog has figured out who is responsible for feeding him and will bark at that person when it is feeding time — so no need for me to yell !! the dog does it for me – lol

    for Stina — my 4 year old is responsible for opening the curtains in the morning, turning off lights that aren’t being used in the morning, putting the silverware in the drawer (sorting will come later – just as long as it’s in the drawer i don’t mind) — and soon dumping laundry down the laundry chute — her older sister doesn’t want to give up this job — it’s fun!

    i got this somewhere: children do what you inspect not what you expect — i like it, it reminds me i have to do my job too 🙂

    se7en — thank you for this post, it was really helpful!

  • 10 se7en // Aug 23, 2009 at 1:29 pm

    Hi G, Glad the post helped… Oh I can understand hanging onto the laundry chute, goodness a whole lot of things beside laundry would land down there though!!! Have a good week!

  • 11 Paula@Organizing Tips 4 Moms // Aug 26, 2009 at 11:35 pm

    I love this post! Thank you so much for sharing it. It really gave me a lot to think about. I really see chores as helping build independence and responsibility for our children. You have provided a great resource!

  • 12 se7en // Aug 27, 2009 at 7:56 am

    Hi P, Glad you liked it! How to get kids to do their chores is a common question I get… of course it is often a lot easier to blog about it than live it!!! Hope you have a great week!

  • 13 shehnaz // Mar 10, 2010 at 1:50 pm

    hello i am trying to find an apprpriate reward chart for my ywo children who are 4yrs and three yrs old. do i need to buy stickers as well???
    can u help????

  • 14 se7en // Mar 10, 2010 at 10:37 pm

    Hi Shehnaz I have never managed to get a chore chart going… always forget to do the whole sticker thing!!! What works for us is just to make sure that everyone knows exactly what is expected of them and then we go with that… Think about it you probably don’t get a sticker for getting dinner on the table!!! Really chores are just part of being part of a family they have to be done and our attitude to them makes all the difference!!! All the best!!!

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  • 20 Marcia (123 blog) // Aug 18, 2014 at 3:24 pm

    Love this post!!! We use the star charts, and lately I said to someone, “of course I can do everything but then you’re going to wait until MUCH later to have your lunch because I only have two hands.”

    Well, the dishes got packed away and the table tidied for eating very quickly.

    (my kids love to eat!)
    Marcia (123 blog)´s last blog post ..Party posts wrap-up!

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