chores and your child: why, what, when & how

5 years ago

Are you surprised when your child just smiles sweetly and ignores you, or worse, answers with “it’s not my job”, when asked to clean his room or pour water in the dog’s bowl? Chores are not something we naturally know how to do when we are born; they are learned behaviors. And teaching your child to do his chores, just like teaching him any new behavior, can be easy when certain principles are followed.

Sure, it would be nice for you when your child helps you with the household chores. But besides the advantage of divide-and-conquering your to-do list amongst the members of your household, chores are invaluable to the healthy development of your child. 


The ultimate goal of any developmental stage in your child’s life is independence; in fact, the purpose of childhood is learning to become an adult. If you think about it, anything your child is learning to do, for and by himself, is getting him one step closer to adulthood. Chores will teach him good habits, work ethics, personal hygiene, and tidiness, in short, essential skills to becoming an independent adult.

Chores will also increase your child’s confidence; the more able he is to do things on his own, the better for his self-esteem (see Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt). He will also feel fulfilled because he is needed (at least for some things), which goes even beyond one of the biggest motivators for children, parental approval, and taps into our human need to be needed (and validated). And finally, through learning to value his own work, he will begin to value the work of others, and not take what they do (for him) for granted, essentially learning reciprocation, an invaluable social skill.

The bottom line is that as he grows older, your child will need to do chores (and eventually a formal type of work), and the sooner you teach him how, the easier it will be both for you and for him.


HOW DO YOU IMPLEMENT CHORES WITH YOUR CHILD?  Whether you’ve already started or are about to start implementing chores for your child, please remember that acquisition of behavior is fastest/easiest when a newly learned behavior is reinforced right away. So lavishing him with praise as soon as the chore is done and/or delivering on that promised reward immediately afterwards, is the best way to establish the new behavior of doing chores around the house.

Here’s some dos and don’ts to take into consideration:

Do: have a set time of the day for the chore

For example “fill the dog’s bowl every morning after breakfast”. There are two reasons for this: 1) it makes remembering the chore easier because it is tied to another element (time) and activity (breakfast) and 2) it will be easier for you to enforce the completion of the chore, because you too will also have a set time to expect it to be done. Try to schedule chores early in the day, before your child gets engrossed in a game or gets too tired.

Don’t punish him if he doesn’t do his chores

Instead, don’t deliver the reward. If you punish him, you will pair the chore with a negative experience (at the beginning, he may already not feel too terribly excited about the chore). What you can do instead, is present it as a choice, at least at the beginning: you work then you get your reward; if you don’t want to work, you will simply not get your reward. This will help him assert control over his choice and not see it as a mandatory activity, which may elicit feelings of rebellion or resistance. Also, and this goes without saying, do NOT give him the promised reward UNTIL the chore is done.

Do: have a system of reward in place ahead of time

The rule of thumb is to reward immediately at first and then periodically with a predefined reinforcement (favorite activity, goodie, or food item). Praise is one of the most immediate reinforcers, it may even act as a signal for the delayed reinforcement, if you cannot deliver one right away ("great job! you've just earned yourself an ice cream, and I'll be giving it to you as soon as I finish cleaning this") Remember that to encourage consistency, you must lead by example; the more consistently you reward/reinforce your child’s behavior, the smoother the learning.

Don’t pair chores to money/allowance

Paying your child for the chores sends the message that you owe him for his work. In the family unit, all members of the family work towards a common goal (cook, clean, tidy up) and each contributes his or her fair share, by age and by ability. Also, if you start paying him for the chores with his allowance, he will be more inclined to refuse to do them when he doesn’t need the money. Reward him? Yes, but not with money. {More on allowances coming soon in a separate blog post}.

Continue reading at Behavioral Child...


Megan blogs at BehavioralChild and Megan Blogs.

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