(aka how I got my sons to be active participants in the way our household runs)

First off, let me just state that I am NOT Supermom.  My kids have tantrums, all my ideas don’t necessarily work – all the time, and I have been known to yell from time to time (like today).  However, I have found ways to get my children to happily participate in the way our household runs.  “Chores” is not a bad word in our house.

My biggest suggestion to bringing kids on board to helping out with the daily work is to START EARLY.  As soon as my son could reach the top of the counter, he was clearing his dishes off the table.  At three, he makes his bed (okay, not the way *I* like for it to be made, but the point is that he makes it), he sets the table for dinner each night, and he takes our recyclable items to the recycle bin.  On weekends, he is the paper-getter and retrieves the newspaper from the driveway.  These are not new jobs for him; he has been doing them for a while.  They are habits we have instilled in him from a young age.  It makes clear the expectation of participation in the way the house runs.

It is important to stay on top of children with their chores.  Consistency is extremely crucial.  If children realize that they don’t HAVE to do a particular task on a given day, they will push for that result over and over again.  My boys know that their chores are done each day (or every other day, depending on the chore), and we even practice them to some degree when we are away from home.  For instance, if we are visiting relatives, my children automatically make up their beds or roll up their sleeping bags in the morning.  It is expected at home, and it is expected when we’re away.

An important part of bringing children on board with chores is to make it a positive experience for them.  My boys keep a chart – a simple list of each of their chores for each day.  I have a packet of incentive stickers hanging next to the chart on the refrigerator, and they mark off their duties each day with a sticker.  After a certain number of stickers, they can “cash them in” on a special treat, such as a “date” with mom or a special dinner request.  While I do not agree with paying children to complete chores, I also understand the need for recognition and reward.  We use lots of positive verbal reinforcement.  I do not ever criticize the way my nine year-old wipes down the table or the way the three year-old only fills our dinner glasses about 1/4 full.  As long as they are doing their best, that is what I want to see.

Be sure and start small.  My boys didn’t start with four or five chores; we started with one or two.  They were simple, easy to complete tasks that were quick to complete and provided almost immediate feedback, such as taking out the recycling or putting dishes in the sink.  After a time, my husband and I felt they were ready for another chore and worked to incorporate it into our daily plan. 

Make it a cooperative effort.  My children know that I am doing my job, just as they are doing theirs.  I’m cleaning the dishes, my three year-old is bringing me the dinnerware, and my nine year-old is wiping down the tables.  My husband is busy sweeping the floor.  At recycle time, I wash out the items to be recycled and my younger son takes them to the bin.  On trash morning, my older son brings the smaller trash cans from the rooms to our main trash can and my husband gathers it for the curb.  No one does a chore alone – we are all in it together.

The biggest key to making chores work is constant praise.  I make a point to let my boys know how helpful they are and how appreciative I am of their efforts.  Criticism is kept to a minimum.  Pointing out what is wrong with what the children are doing will only make it that much less “fun” for them.  Getting the right kind of attention (positive attention) will only lead to the desire to repeat it again.

We still have days where one boy might whine about carrying out a chore or complain a bit about it, but that is to be expected.  We handle those moods in a positive and calm way, yet the boys know it is still expected and do it anyway.  Besides, we usually have a good time doing them together, and working together is the best lesson of all.