Marguerite Kelly: How to get a kid to do chores


(Hadley Hooper/for The Washington Post)
April 9

QYou’ve probably gotten this question a million times, but I’ll ask it anyway: How can I get my kids to do what they’re supposed to do? They will soon be 13 and 10, but I still must prod them to do their homework, brush their teeth, get ready for bed, walk the dog, etc. ¶ I don’t mind giving them these reminders when I’m having a good day, but when I’m exhausted I’d like for them to do this stuff with very few nudges from me. Instead they ignore me completely, which makes me wonder if there is something wrong with them. ¶ Please write back before I go out of my mind.

AYou’re right. This question has popped up many times because most parents hate to prod children who seem old enough to prod themselves, even though they’re not.

The wrong kind of discipline can start a family war, so have an honest talk with your children before you do anything — and let them do most of the talking. You’ll understand them better and, as a result, will probably change your tactics, too.

Begin by asking them why you should remind them to walk the dog, brush their teeth, do their homework and get ready for bed, and then ask them how they plan to be more self-sufficient. Don’t expect miracles. Children don’t realize how much time and energy it takes to do a job, especially when they don’t want to do it.

You won’t have to remind them so much, however, if you list their chores on a calendar — one for each child — and then hang it in the kitchen so they can check off each thing they’ve done. And that way, you won’t become the Queen of the Nags. They will, of course, need some prodding, especially if their schedules change from day to day, if they’re allowed to watch TV on school nights or use their cellphones when doing their homework. Some distractions are too hard to resist.

Many parents complain about the cleaning — or the not cleaning — of a child’s room more than they complain about anything else. One mother wrote that she desperately needed new ideas because her 14-year-old daughter has a tiny closet. Even though this mother has put bins and bookcases in her child’s room, stashed roll-out containers under her bed and done major clean-outs, she still leaves clothes on the floor, night after night.

If her daughter doesn’t improve, her mother says that she will have to skip her social activities every weekend. If she keeps dumping her clean clothes in the hamper with her dirty clothes — instead of putting them away — she’ll have to do her own laundry, too.

Her mother should ask her daughter a few questions. Is her room a mess because she doesn’t know where to start or what to do? Because she knows where to find everything in her room so she doesn’t need to keep it clean? Because this room belongs to her, not to her mom? Or simply because she thinks it’s more important (and more fun) to hang out with her friends than to clean her room?

Once the child has had her say, her mother can promise to help her, not by doing the work but by lying on her bed and telling her daughter to clear the clutter from the nightstand, the bookcase and the desk, one by one, and then to put this clutter where it belongs. After that she’ll have to rake the things on the floor into a heap so she can put the clean clothes away, throw the dirty clothes into the hamper and put away anything that’s still on the floor.

After the mother compliments her child for tidying her room so well, she should tell her that it must be that tidy when she goes to bed at night. And if it’s not? She’ll have to do the work on Saturday instead of going out with her friends.

In addition, if a 14-year-old is old enough to play video games, take selfies with her smartphone and Skype with her friends, she’s old enough to twirl a few dials on the washer and dryer, wash her own clothes and put them away. It’s not rocket science.

This all may seem overwhelming to the young, but they can do it easily and quickly if you follow the detailed advice that Carol Paul gives in “Team Clean” (Aviva; $20). The author, her husband and their four children have been spending an hour a week cleaning their house ever since their youngest was 4 and then they treat themselves to an inexpensive takeout supper.

Families bond in many ways, and this is one of the best.

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