Question:

How can I get my kids to help out more around the house? The usual pattern in our home is I ask them to do something and they ignore me the first few times until they finally reluctantly do a half-hearted job. It's almost not worth the asking and I hate nagging them, but they just don't listen otherwise.

Answer:

Have I been waiting for a question like this! You have just hit my specialty. As you can imagine, as a mother of triplets and twins I was inundated with housework and as soon as my children could talk, they could help. So let me see if I can compress a lifetime of experience into a few paragraphs...

There are a few major concepts that rule parent-child interactions; I am going to limit myself to the two most relevant for this case.

The first is that family's lives are made so much easier by routines. Remember when your children were young and you had a bedtime routine that helped simplify bedtimes and make things go easier (I hope)? Well everything else, including housework, responds to the same principles. Routines are easier to establish and regulate.

Let's look at cleaning the house. If having chores is something you believe your children should do but aren't, the easiest time to get chores done is after supper. Create a new routine that makes after-supper into chore time, with inspection in 20 minutes.

Why will this work better?

  1. Doing this every day allows children to get into a pattern.
  2. Making the time involved short, 20 minutes max, makes it manageable for all.
  3. Doing after-supper incorporates a natural break in the day so you do not have to gain their attention or drag them from something they are already doing.
  4. Inspection: when they shout "ready" you come, check, comment, when it passes you give them the all clear and they are free to go. By being obliged to stay at their appointed task until officially freed in this manner saves you from chasing them down repeatedly until things are done well.

Routines do work. Make your instructions to your children very clear, even writing them down, so that everyone understands what is expected of them. It also helps to avoid a lot of arguments of the "you said this, no I didn't say that" variety.

The next thing I am going to talk about is something you have already heard before, it's called consequences. Yes I know you've tried them and they haven't worked…but from now on they will.

There are two secrets in giving consequences; the first is that you must establish your reputation. This means that you must be known as a person who will not be moved when it comes to carrying out a consequence. Once you've said it they've got it and no amount of whining, pleading or promises will change your mind! I cannot impress upon you how important this is—give in just once and they will assume it will always work, so they just try harder whining next time and also ignore you because they feel they will be able to wiggle out of any consequence.

The second secret is to give tasks a time limit followed up by a consequence. For instance if you want your son to fold the laundry, ask him how long it will take him to finish, if he feels it will take 20 minutes then tell him he has 30 minutes from now to have it all done. Look at the clock and say, "The time is now 6:30, so I will check with you at 7, okay? If it's not done you'll get to clean the kitchen sink too." Once children realize you mean what you say they will be able to see there is a consequence to their actions and it is not okay for them to make you ask them several times to do something.

Whenever you change or add a new rule or routine to your family system I suggest having a family meeting first to explain what you expect from your children, how the new system works and why you felt it was necessary to change.

Once they have been allowed to discuss this with you, you should able to tell them how you truly feel when you are forced to ask them repeatedly to do the same thing over and over again. When children understand that doing a job for their parents in a timely matter shows love and appreciation and allows for more harmony in the home, they can get a better perspective on the importance of their actions.

I hope you will be able to build on these ideas to create a more cooperative and harmonious family environment.