Children’s Chores: Helping out around the house

by epi on June 8, 2012

Q: I have four teen children in my household. How do I get them to help out with household chores? It is so hard to get them to do anything.

A: Have a family council and talk about the work involved in keeping a household running efficiently. Tell them you expect them to help out, since you all live there and all appreciate the benefits of having a nice home. As them what particular task they would prefer to do, giving a list of those things with which you need help, and then explain that they need to accomplish that task during the week. You do not pay them for helping, any more than they pay you for washing their clothes or cooking, etc. It is a cooperative effort. If they don’t select a task to make their own, then suggest a work chart that will be posted every weekend – and that they have the week to accomplish their assignments. They need to understand that they have a responsibility to participate in the life of the household – you are not the hired maid nor is it your “job” to clean up after them every day. It’s their job, too!

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Chara Watson June 8, 2012 at 1:04 am

I understand (and partially agree with) the response. There are some things in life that we do, not because we are paid, but because we just have to do them. However, I think there is a practical lesson that can be taught in this situation. Part of raising teenagers is teaching them to understand how the world works. Maybe they don’t get paid for certain tasks, and part of their reward is the inherent benefits of a clean home, but in life, there are also penalties for not completing those same tasks. We don’t always get to chose which tasks we want to complete. I hate doing the dishes, but since it’s not financially responsible for us to eat on paper plates forever, and I can’t cook on paper plates, I suck it up and do the dishes.
If your daughter chooses not to do the laundry, it would be a worthwhile lesson for her to have no clean clothing. Don’t do the work for her and let her deal with the natural consequences of her actions.
You might also allow that to flow over into any financial arrangements that you already have with your children. If you normally give them an allowance of $15 a week, you might charge them for chores left incomplete or unfinished as compensation for your time. There are often financial penalties for lateness and incompleteness as adults and you’re not doing your kids any favors if you don’t make it clear that those things aren’t “extras” that they do for you, to be rewarded, but they are expected of adults. It’s much better for them to learn personal responsibility at home, than in the real world.

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Alicia June 8, 2012 at 8:00 am

Part of why it is hard is that you waited until they were teens to expect them to help. So now you need to untrain the idea that they get a free ride.
I would start with they must take care of own stuff so start with laundry they must do their own laundry. Let them know that you only allow guests at a certain level of clean house and if they fail to clean the house sufficently then no guests over. Basically teach them the reality that there are house chores that as a adult have direct reprecussions on their standard of living. Somewhere in there also please teach them to cook sadly i know too many adults who have no idea how to cook.

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Jerry June 8, 2012 at 2:51 pm

That’s a really arrogant response, Alicia. All that the O.P. asked was how to motivate teenagers without violating the rules of etiquette. She did not ask you to critique her parenting, and you are not in a position to do so. (Why? Because we don’t have any of the facts!) Quite frankly, based on the many great suggestions you’ve had in the past, I’m disappointed that you jumped right to the assumption that the O.P. “waited until [her children] were teens to expect them to help.” As anyone who has any familiarity with kids knows, teenagers can be sullen, moody, and unwilling to lift a finger where, as younger kids, they would have fallen all over themselves in an attempt to help mom and dad.

I really like the idea of making the kids live with the consequences of their actions. I would approach it by tying privileges (television, computer, phone) to the successful completion of daily chores. A parent is not rude by expecting a minor child to help out around the house or for punishing the child when he refuses to complete assigned chores. A parent may violate the rules of etiquette (and put herself on the path to future estrangements) if she acts arbitrarily or capriciously in setting expectations or if she shows favoritism.

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Jody June 8, 2012 at 4:26 pm

Alicia, this is an excellent response. I think sterner measures might be called for here because the behavior change is happening at the teen level, rather than starting with the chores when the children are small (I like your “retrain” comment) If they’re not used to doing something they may not do so willingly now — if they see there are consequences (and OP, please stick to the consequences) they’re more likely to comply. If the OP sees something the teens aren’t doing even though they’ve been asked to, it’ll be hard to keep from stepping in and doing it. A few instances of “no guests” or “no clean clothes” or “no dinner because there are no clean dishes” might resolve the situation.

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Jerry June 8, 2012 at 4:58 pm

Am I not reading the same fact pattern as everyone else? There are three sentences in the paragraph. The only facts we’re given are: (1) There are four teen children in the household, (2) parent is having a hard to get the teens to do anything. How do you draw the conclusion that these kids didn’t do anything when they were younger from this? This is elementary school level reading comprehension.

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Winifred Rosenburg June 8, 2012 at 8:03 pm

Insulting contributors’ reading comprehension level is uncalled for.

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Jerry June 9, 2012 at 8:55 am

So is a critique of the OP’s parenting skills, particularly where that critique is not supported by the facts.

Ashleigh June 11, 2012 at 10:11 am

I would infer the exact same thing as both Alicia and Jody. The parent is having problems with the teens doing *anything.* If they had been doing simple households chores growing up, it would most likely be a part of their everyday routine (ie wake up, put clothes in hamper, make bed, etc). If they have been babied as children and had mom cleaning up after every move that they made, then they would not be used to having to do anything and would therefore not (ie wake up, throw pjs on ground, eat freshly made breakfast, come home to nicely cleaned room).

Regardless of the fact that teens are sometimes sullen, moody, and unwilling to lift a finger, if you have had the same expectations for 10 years of your life, you probably aren’t going to suddenly turn into an amoeba and not do anything ever again.

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Joanna June 14, 2012 at 10:11 am

The only thing I wanted to comment on is the whole “everyone is responsible for their own” thing which I know some parents like to instill on their teens – i.e. each kid does their own laundry. I knew several teens whose parents operated this way when I was that age (I’m now 32) and in most cases it didn’t work out too well. Why? The teens seemed to gain the mindset that they were only to look out for their own interests – “I only need to wash my own clothes so I have something to wear tomorrow.” They tended to feel that if no one helped THEM out by washing their laundry, then they shouldn’t return the favor by tossing in a load of someone else’s. IMO it builds a rather dangerous mindframe of selfishness and only looking out for Number 1. It’s important to teach our kids that there’s a certain amount of give and take in a family or a household, and in the world overall. Sometimes we do things for others simply because it’s nice, and because we’d like for them to help us out sometimes too.

Ella June 8, 2012 at 9:23 am

I don’t have kids myself, but something my aunt and uncle did was to have a fee for each chore. If the kids did the chore, they were paid. If they didn’t do the chore in the allotted time frame, however, they had to pay their parents that same amount.

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Vanna Keiler June 8, 2012 at 1:11 pm

I love these suggestions. Having four teenagers in the house is akin to potentially having a small cleaning army at your disposal, or conversely, utter messy chaos. I would absolutely initiate a payment incentive, but not for tasks which fall into the realm of “personal hygiene/cleanliness”. For those tasks, such as making your bed, washing your clothes and linens and vacuuming your room, I would make those mandatory. Perhaps a general demonstration to the group on the best methods to do each would be in order. Then I would go beyond and once a month, each teen must vacuum the living room or help prepare a meal. Penalties for not doing these will include cell phone restrictions and tv/game restrictions. Beyond that, I would have financial incentives for “extra” work, such as helping with specific house-related chores or projects (e.g. helping to weed the garden, mow the lawn), which the children can learn from as skills. I think this will help prepare them for adult life as well as teach them the value of learning new skills, and give some assurance to the parents that the children are going to be prepared for basic life skills on their own if/when they move out.

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Country Girl June 10, 2012 at 8:16 pm

I don’t think that you necessarily have pay you children to do tasks around the house, but giving them incentives will certainly help. I think with four teens you could come up worth all kinds of creative ideas to motivate them. Put a jar of 10 ping pong balls in a communal spot and remove one each time you note a chore hasn’t been done or a room is unclean. For each ball left at the end of the week you can reward them with something either material (money/’credit’ towards an outing, or non material like an extra 5 minutes playing video games or 5 minutes added to curfew per ball. reward is always a better motivator than punishment, especially with teens.

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