Getting kids to do their chores can be, well, a chore—so much so that parents might not ask their kids to do them at all. According to a survey conducted by the appliance brand Whirlpool, 82 percent of adult Americans did chores when they were kids, but only 28 percent assigned chores to their own children.
When kids do chores, the benefits are countless. For starters, it helps relieve the pressure on parents to do it all—particularly moms who work outside of the home. Care.com recently released the results of its Working Moms Tipping Point Survey, which found that working moms spend an average of 80 hours a week just on childcare, chores and other home responsibilities.
Parenting expert and Care.com senior managing editor Katie Bugbee says chores can help kids feel “pride in a job well done. It instills a nice feeling that segues into their own work ethic. It’s all part of not only having a nice family unit but also raising responsible adults.”
Gregg Murset, a certified financial planner and CEO of MyJobChart.com in Scottsdale, Ariz., says that allowing kids to earn money for certain chores and then helping them understand how to save and spend teaches them how to be financially responsible. “This is a building block of somebody who’s going to be smart with money their entire life,” he says.
Here are more tips for taking the “ugh” out of chores:
1. Start early.
It’s easier to get kids in the habit of doing chores if you start early, says Bugbee. Even toddlers can start doing very simple things, like throwing a napkin away in the trashcan. Preschoolers and kindergartners help set the table, clear dirty dishes, make their beds, get dressed, water plants, feed pets and clean up their toys. As they get older, they can progress to more complicated chores, such as washing dishes, doing laundry and taking out the garbage.
Even if your child doesn’t do chores regularly, Bugbee says, “You’re never too late to start.”
2. Set appropriate expectations.
Bugbee finds parents’ expectations when it comes to chores are often too high or too low—usually the latter. Parents might pour milk or clean up toys themselves because they assume it’s easier and faster than if the kids do it. It may be, but parents need to be OK with the task being done instead of being done perfectly, says Bugbee.
Bugbee created a picture chart for her kindergarten-age son after realizing that all of the tasks he needed to do before he came downstairs for breakfast were too many for him to remember. “If kids aren’t reading yet, using pictures of the things they need to do can help get things done,” she says. “We’re raising the expectations of what he or she does on their own, but we’re guiding them visually to meet their needs. If we’re raising the bar, we need to help them meet that bar.”
3. Use rewards.
Kids—and grown-ups—are fans of reward systems of all kinds. Sticker charts are a popular enticement for little kids and can be very successful, says Bugbee, because they’re visual reminders of a job well done.
Earning an allowance is a great motivator for older kids, she adds. She doesn’t think every single chore warrants money, so determine a set of above-and-beyond jobs kids can do to earn some cash. “There should be responsibilities that kids do around the house that aren’t paid,” she says. “This is part of being a family member—you bring your plate to the sink, you throw out your own garbage, you get dressed in the morning. Things like that just create a responsible human being.”
Money is the main reward in Murset’s app MyJobChart. Parents assign jobs to each child, along with a point value per task. As kids complete chores and rack up points, parents can transfer money into free online savings accounts for their children, which they can set up through the site. If kids have a particular toy they’re working to purchase, parents receive an e-mail with a link to the item on Amazon.com once they’ve earned enough points.
Even before kids are old enough to understand money, Murset says, “Tie work and reward together—‘If you get your jobs done, we’ll go to the park.’ Then it’s just a natural progression when you’re at the store and your child says, ‘I want this,’ you can say, ‘When you get your jobs done and earn enough points, then we can come back and buy that.’”
4. Take advantage of kids’ love of technology.
Murset, who’s the father of six children, found that sticker charts just weren’t working with his brood. He sought out a way to get kids excited about chores by harnessing something they were already excited about—technology—which is how MyJobChart was born.
If paper chore charts and gold stars aren’t doing the trick, or if you’re having trouble being consistent—key to making chores a part of kids’ routines—an app might be the thing that makes the job a bit more fun for everyone involved. Plenty of chore apps exist for tablets and smartphones, including MyJobChart, Chorma and Chore Bank. ChoreMonster and Lickety Split are appropriate options for toddlers and preschoolers.
5. Teach kids the value of giving back.
Murset encourages parents to use chores as a way to teach kids how to give back. On one level, you’re helping your family when you help out around the house. But kids can extend their chores to helping neighbors, friends and family, or volunteering their time or donating some of their earned money from chores to charitable groups.
“Have kids do work, earn some money and then donate it,” he says. “The cycle becomes very much an eye-opening experience for kids. When you help kids understand that cycle, it’s super-impactful, and I think it takes the dread out of chores a little bit more.”