Dear Dr. Bill,
We have three young kids, and we’re trying to get them to help with some simple chores around the house—such as keeping their rooms clean. Unfortunately we’re not having much success. Do you have any suggestions for us?
When it comes to kids and chores, it’s critical to consider the age of child. At first, very young children are going to need lots of direction and specific, step-by-step instructions when it comes to cleaning up their stuff.
For example, with a three-year-old, you might say, “Bobby, I need you to pick up all of your Legos and put them into the Lego box in the next 10 minutes. I’m going to set the kitchen timer and when it rings, all of the Legos need to be in the box. If they aren’t, you won’t be able to play with them tomorrow.” Then set the timer and follow through.
Assuming that Bobby gets his Legos put away to your satisfaction, then you can move on to another task, such as having him putting his picture books on the shelf or putting his dirty clothes in the hamper.
Although this approach will demand more of your time and attention, it’s much less frustrating and anger-provoking than repeatedly yelling “clean up this room or you’ve had it!” You’ll also find that giving specific, step-by-step instructions, backed up by consequences, will yield much better results.
With older kids who can read and write, it can be helpful to write their daily chores on a small white board that you hang on their wall or to give them chore cards that spell out the specific actions they need to take in order to complete a task. Again, be specific about the deadline for completing the task and what the consequence will be if they don’t get the job done.
Many parents have found that sticker charts can be a great motivator—each time a child follows through with a task he gets a sticker, and if he earns a certain amount of stickers, he earns an special privilege or treat for his efforts.
Thanks for writing Darcie. If you have a question for me about family issues or Christian living, click the “Questions” link on the Culture Connection page.