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?
Now though, not only do they not want to do chores, they’re outright refusing them.
What to do when kids refuse to do chores
An SSBE reader asked me about getting her kids to do chores. The nagging, pleading, even the punishments weren’t working. It reached the point where they didn’t listen and ignored any request to do chores.
What can parents like our fellow mom do when their kids refuse to do chores?
1. Praise your child for good behavior
Praising your kids when they do chores 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.
But your kids will behave well at some point, no matter how tiny the action. The trick is to spot anything you can highlight as positive behavior. Even if he whined as he put dishes in the sink, you could say, “Thanks for setting that down gently.”
Drawing attention to behavior you want to see does two things:
- It encourages the behavior to keep going, and
- It 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 your kids’ attitudes will be.
2. Focus on team effort
It’s clean up time at your house. You’re telling your toddler to put the cars away and your seven-year-old to clean up his puzzle, all while not pitching in yourself.
It’s tempting to separate chores according to whoever made the mess. 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.
See 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 mom and dad—does their fair share to keep the household humming along.
Your kids will take to chores more if they feel like you’re working together as a family unit. I won’t dump my son’s laundry and expect him to finish the whole pile (at least, not yet!). Instead, I hang his clothes right alongside him.
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 chores need to be done
Kids respond well to reason, rather than “because I said so.” When I follow a request with the reason, my kids are more likely to listen. You might tell them to clean up their blocks 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 blocks then, so you’ll have to put them away until tomorrow. Tie in the consequences to their actions (or their lack of actions).
Then, follow through with consequences. Don’t say you’ll put away the blocks 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. 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 want to seem like the Big Bad Mom doling out punishments.
Instead, you’re stating facts, not abusing your authority. With less 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. Kids find motivation to do chores when they know a reward awaits them.
The problem? Four things:
- Bribes and your standard rewards are external. They don’t tap into the internal reward we feel when we do a good job—the pride you feel whether anyone was there to witness it or not. You want to encourage this inner drive, or intrinsic rewards, to motivate your kids 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 your kids to do the same chores for the same rewards again.
- Offering rewards also 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.
- And finally, 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, such as effort, a job well done, and pitching in to help the family.
Kids should pitch in around the house, so to see them doing otherwise is frustrating.
Chores for kids shouldn’t be a request. Treat doing chores as something they have to do, like brushing teeth and eating dinner. And as you’ve hopefully 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 kids 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)
Struggling with getting your kids to do their chores? Want to develop good habits from the start? Download your Printable Chore List templates to help you and the kids organize chores!