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 household 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 feeling overwhelmed with everything.
Except any attempt to get them to do chores leaves you drained. You end up nagging, pleading, yelling, and even threatening them with punishments if they don’t listen. It’s reached the point where they don’t even take you seriously, ignoring your requests for them to do their chores.
What to do when kids refuse to do chores
You can imagine how getting kids to do chores is one of the biggest struggles for many parents. We know they 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 friend, 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 by not teaching important life skills). 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 kids 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 the behavior you want to see encourages the behavior to keep going, and shows him that 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 and get them excited to do chores? Join my newsletter and grab your Printable Chore List templates! A fantastic chore chart to help you and the kids organize your tasks:
2. Focus on team effort
It’s tempting to separate chores according to whoever made the mess. You tell your toddler to put the toy 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 they’re 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 parents—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 kids didn’t learn to hang their laundry by me dumping the whole pile on their beds. Instead, I started by hanging their clothes right alongside them 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 wipe in the bathroom. Dance while you load the dishwasher together. Chores don’t always have to be a drag.
Read the benefits of giving kids responsibilities.
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, they’re more likely to listen. For instance, tell your kids to clean up their building 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 before bedtime, then that’s a sign that they’re not responsible for their building pieces yet, 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, they’ll catch on.
Instead, follow through with your actions, no matter how difficult, and despite the power struggles. 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 revoking privileges to be effective.
Instead, act like you’re stating facts, not abusing your authority. With fewer power conflicts, they’ll tie their actions to consequences and not because you said so.
Read more about how to stop nagging kids to get things done.
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, they’ll 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, they 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 them to be so focused on the reward that 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.
Learn how to motivate children to do their best.
Kids should pitch in around the house, so to see them doing otherwise is frustrating.
Chores shouldn’t be a request—treat them as a task or habit they have to do, like brushing their teeth and eating dinner. And as you’ve seen, it doesn’t always have to be a struggle to get them 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 values like doing a job well done and helping others.
At some point, all kids 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: Join my newsletter and grab your Printable Chore List templates:
My kids are 10, 9, 5, and 8 mo. My 10 and 9 yr old will do anything I ask but with sighs and groans and the job is shoddy at best. They spend more time trying to hide that they didn’t clean than the time it would take to really clean. I’m at the point of throwing in the towel. I’m a stay at home mom and I do housework and cook all day long. All my kids want to do is read and draw…preferably in their messy rooms. My 5 yr old is a willing worker right now but I’m afraid he will see that his siblings get out of work by lying about it or saying they forgot. Chore charts don’t work because they don’t read them. If I post reminders in the bathroom or bedroom they tear them down and claim “nobody did it”. I praise and thank when they do a tiny bit of help. But it makes no difference. I’m raising selfish, untidy humans and don’t know how to help them!
Nina Garcia says
Hannah, first, big hugs! It can be so frustrating when we feel like we’re doing all the right things but still nothing seems to improve. Don’t worry, even with chore charts and reminders not working, there is still plenty you can do to turn things around. Here are a few ideas I have:
First, make clean up a part of your routine, and explain it to your kids. For instance, cleaning their rooms can happen right before bath time, or before they watch a television show, preferably at the same time every day. That way, over time, it becomes almost automatic. A routine can also include their drawing and reading which, if you think about it, are actually fantastic habits. Many parents wish they could get their kids to focus on reading and drawing, so it’s a good thing your kids are doing it. It’s just a matter of incorporating it into your routine. Think of it as there is a time and place for everything, and a routine helps make that happen. This will also help with timing the chores. For instance, there’s a chance parents tell kids to clean up right when they were in the middle of reading or playing. It’s pretty hard to break that concentration—even adults would hate to be interrupted. But with a routine, they can transition into “chore mode” hopefully long before or after they’re so heavily focused on another task.
And a lot of it is also avoiding some of the traps we set ourselves up for, such as nagging or redoing their work (or doing it completely for them). Instead of nagging, encourage responsibility. Don’t redo their work, even if they don’t do a perfect job. Like we mentioned, you don’t want to save them from doing a bad job, and more importantly, redoing their work undermines the effort, however big or small, they put into it. It doesn’t feel good to do something only to notice that someone else redid all the work we did. At that point, they might even wonder, What’s the point?
Another idea is to enforce consequences when they don’t do their chores or do them haphazardly. For instance, let’s say you asked them to clean their room, but they sort of just stuffed everything into boxes or under their beds. One consequence could be that, if they turn to you to find something, explain how their shoddy work is he reason why they can’t find it. Don’t “save” them from the consequences of not doing their chores well. If not doing them well means they can’t find their favorite toy or gadget, then allow them to experience that rather than find the toy for them.
Lastly, if you have consequences to not doing chores, you need to enforce them. That means giving realistic consequences like no television if they don’t clean, not missing out on a school party that you weren’t planning on REALLY enforcing. It’s not so much about being “mean,” but putting our foot down and establishing the boundaries that our kids actually need and even crave. Sometimes the best thing our kids need from us is for us to hold our ground.
Roena dela Cruz says
As I observed little kids ages 10 going down are more easier to ask to do their task at home though when they become older there is a little difficulty asking them to do their chores.
Nina Garcia says
Hi Roena! I agree, it can be a challenge to get older kids to do chores, when they’ve had years of expectations and habits in place. Not impossible, but it could be harder than starting with a toddler or preschooler.