Struggling with getting your children to do chores without nagging or complaining? Learn what to do when your kids refuse to do chores.
Remember when kids couldn’t wait to clean up? When they demanded, “Me do it!” to brush their teeth or put dishes in the sink?
That now seems like a long-ago dream, especially since you can’t seem to get yours to so much as pick up a sock off the floor. Not only do they not want to do chores, they’re outright refusing them at all.
It doesn’t help when you still feel compelled to do everything for them, from tidying their rooms to hanging their clothes. But after a while, the lack of time and the added exhaustion gets too much, and you’re left overwhelmed with everything.
Except any attempt to get them to do chores leaves you drained. You end up nagging, pleading, and even threatening them with punishments if they don’t listen. It’s now reached the point where they don’t even take you seriously, ignoring any requests to do their chores.
What to do when kids refuse to do chores
You can imagine that getting kids to do chores is one of the biggest struggles for many parents. We know kids should be doing more than they currently are, but aren’t in the mood to fight about it. Never mind that doing it ourselves takes much less time than having them do it (and do it wrong, too).
Rest assured mama, you don’t have to be stuck with either extreme. You don’t have to—nor should you—do your kids’ chores for them (this would be doing them a bigger disservice down the line). Nor do you have to fight and nag to get anything done, either.
If your kids refuse to do chores, take a look at these tips below to turn things around. I hope they’ll come in handy as it has for this parent:
1. Praise your child for good behavior
Praising your kids when they do chores—however imperfectly—works far better than correcting the times when they don’t.
You might think it’s impossible to praise them because they don’t do any chores. I had, after all, finished describing kids who outright ignore your requests and need to be nagged and bribed.
But I’m willing to bet that, at some point, they’ll do something, no matter how tiny the action. The trick is to spot anything you can highlight as positive behavior.
Let’s say you asked your child to put his dishes in the sink. He whined about it the whole time, but perhaps you can say, “Thanks for setting the plate down so gently!”
Drawing attention to behavior you want to see does two things:
- Encourages the behavior to keep going, and
- Shows your kids you’re on the same side.
No one, kids included, wants to hear reprimands all day long. It doesn’t feel good to have someone nag or remind us of our mistakes. Keep the tone friendly and matter-of-fact, and the better their attitudes will be.
Free printables: Want to develop good habits from the start? Download your Printable Chore List templates to help you and the kids organize chores!
2. Focus on team effort
It’s tempting to separate chores according to whoever made the mess. You tell your toddler to put the cars away and your seven-year-old to clean up her puzzle. After all, it’s their cars and puzzle pieces to clean up. You might even think this teaches them accountability or responsibility.
Except this division of labor leaves out a key component in family life: team effort.
Be mindful of whether you’re framing chores as something only they must do. You cook, clean, drive and otherwise do the majority of the housework, but kids are more receptive to doing chores if they see it as a team effort.
Focus on everyone pitching in to get the job done. Everyone—even moms and dads—does their fair share to keep the household humming along.
They’ll take to chores more if they feel like you’re working together as a family unit. My eldest didn’t learn to hang his laundry by me dumping the whole pile on his bed. Instead, I started by hanging his clothes right alongside him at first.
And make it fun! You don’t need to make chore time a downer. Play a “clean up time” song. Make it a game to see how many surfaces they can find to wipe. Dance while you hang and fold laundry. Chores don’t always have to be a drag.
3. Explain why they need to do chores
Kids respond well to reason, rather than “because I said so.” When you follow a request with the reason, your kids are more likely to listen. For instance, tell them to clean up their Lego pieces so they know where to find them the next day.
You also need to hold them accountable for certain behaviors. If they don’t clean up, tell them they must not ready to take care of their Lego pieces, so you’ll have to put them away until tomorrow. Tie in the consequences to their actions (or their lack of them).
Then, follow through with consequences. Don’t say you’ll put away the pieces with no intention of doing so. Empty threats might work the first or second time, but after a while, your kids will catch on.
Instead, follow through with your actions, no matter how difficult, and even if they whine or throw an epic meltdown. They need to know you keep your word, not only with consequences but with anything you say you’ll do.
And throughout the conversation, keep your tone matter-of-fact. No one wants to be talked down to or scolded. You don’t need to be the Big Bad Mom doling out punishments to be effective.
Instead, act like you’re stating facts, not abusing your authority. With fewer power conflicts, your kids will tie their actions to consequences and not because mom said so.
4. Don’t reward or bribe
Many parents resort to rewards or bribes to convince their kids to do chores. And, like empty threats, it works in the short-term, especially since an awaiting reward will motivate kids to do their chores.
- Bribes and your standard rewards are external. They don’t tap into the internal reward your kids feel when they do a good job—the pride they feel whether anyone is there to witness it or not. You want to encourage this inner drive, or intrinsic rewards, to motivate them to action.
- With typical rewards, your kids will expect something material in return every time. Once they’ve had a taste of one reward, you’re faced with upping the ante each time. The pizzazz of that first reward won’t convince them to do the same chores for the same rewards again.
- Offering rewards tends to produce poor quality. Without intrinsic rewards driving their actions, your kids aren’t focused on the work itself. They want the end result in the quickest, least painful way possible. You might end up with shoddy work because they wanted to check it off their list quickly.
- Rewards and bribes focus on the reward. You don’t want your kids to be so focused on the reward they’ll do anything to get there by any means necessary. Instead, focus on other values like effort, a job well done, and helping the family.
Kids should pitch in around the house, so to see them doing otherwise is frustrating.
Chores shouldn’t be a request—treat them as something they have to do, like brushing teeth and eating dinner. And as you’ve seen, it doesn’t always have to be a struggle to get kids to do chores.
Praise them for good behavior you see, no matter how tiny. Focus on the team effort and contributing to the family. Explain why chores are important, and follow through with consequences.
And avoid bribes and rewards as a way to get them to do chores. Focus instead on other values like doing a job well done and helping others.
At some point, all kids will refuse to do chores—they’ll stop saying “Me do it!” like they did as toddlers. But how we respond and encourage them otherwise can make all the difference.
Get more tips:
- The Real Reason Kids Should Have Chores
- How to Get Your Kids to Clean Up After Themselves
- Teach Your Child the Value of a Job Well Done
- What to Do When Your Child Says No to Everything
- How to Get Kids to Do Chores (Without the Constant Reminders)
Don’t forget: Download your Printable Chore List templates to help you and the kids organize chores: