Many parents want to teach their kids to do chores. Before coaching, every time I tried to give my kids a new chore, I failed. Chore time always meant lots of complaining and begging. I would ask my 6-year-old son to “Pick up all the cups and bring them to the kitchen.” He would find one cup, bring it to the kitchen, and then get distracted by the Lego-build on the table. I would have to ask him to do it again, and again, until he finished, or I got too frustrated and did it myself.
COVID turned our world upside down. Suddenly, this full-time working mom was juggling work and distance learning with two kids by myself because my husband’s essential job required him to be away from home for 12 hours a day, 5-6 days a week. It wasn’t long before the house was in complete disarray. I realized I was going to have to teach my 5- and 6-year-old kids to help. As in actual, real help. And fast.
My husband and I talked with the kids for a few minutes after dinner one night and asked if we could rely on them to help take care of the house. I gave them each their new chore lists and explained how it would work. Twice a day we would spend 15 minutes working on chores so that the house would not get as messy as it has been. They agreed to help. I don’t think they fully comprehended what they were in for.
We had been in coaching for several months by then, so I relied on the principals that had helped us improve in so many other areas of our life:
- Set clear expectations.
- Show what “done” looks like.
- Be consistent.
- Recognize effort, not outcome.
- Keep it interesting.
Set Clear Expectations.
Before I asked the kids to do anything, I had to decide specifically what I wanted them to do and make a plan that they could follow. My other attempts had ended in frustration because I had never set clear expectations for them. I just gave orders when something needed done with no consistency. How could I expect my kids to hit the target if they don’t know where to aim or even how to aim?
Show them what “done” looks like.
Even though I didn’t feel like I had the time, the three of us completed the chores together for the first couple of weeks. As each task was completed, we looked at the end result so they knew what “success” looked like (and most importantly when they could stop).
Before long, they were able to complete the lists on their own with minimal prompting. And it was paying off. The house was looking better which helped us all.
I set an alarm for every day at 8:00 AM and 1:00 PM. I was no longer barking orders and telling them it was time to do chores, Alexa took some of that pressure off. There was certainly still complaining, but they still took their lists and got to work. My only requirement was to work for the full 15 minutes and complete as much as possible in that time frame.
Recognize effort, not outcome
We are wired to view an outcome as a success or failure. But for this to work, it is critically important to recognize the effort your child puts into a task. This was perhaps one of the most difficult parts for this perfectionist. I fought an internal battle against all of my natural instincts and managed to genuinely see the effort the kids were putting in, whether it was perfect or not. If nothing else, the relationship with my kids wasn’t damaged by criticism and I started to see them become more independent and confident.
Keep it interesting.
Despite our hectic new life, I managed to inject some unexpected twists that kept chore time from becoming too mundane. One day I announced that it was hat day and we had two minutes to find a silly hat to wear while we did our chores. Another day, we listened to music and played freeze dance while we straightened up (we didn’t get much done that day, but it was fun). Several times around Easter, I hid plastic eggs where they would find them during their chores.
The perfectionist in me would love to say the outcome was two kids that readily and happily completed their chores every day. That’s not real life. We still have our fair share of complaining and threatened mutiny, but they are learning new skills. They learned that pride in a job well done is not reserved for perfect outcomes, but they can be proud of progress towards a goal. They did something every day that they received gratitude for, and I could see that changed the way they saw themselves.
If you’re curious, here is how I created the chore lists that worked for my kids, look below.
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This is how I created our “Care” cards.
- I made a list of tasks that they were capable of doing.
- I listed all the areas in the house where these tasks needed to be done.
- For each area I listed all of the tasks that needed to be completed. Like this:
- Printed two copies.
- I enlisted the kids to cut the lists apart and paste them on index cards (one area list per card).
- I punched a hole in one corner, put the cards on a key ring, and strung a ribbon through the ring. (I made sure they were wearable otherwise these would have been lost the first day).
The kids each have their own portable chore list that we called “Care Cards”.