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The Magic of Not Giving Kids Chores

Think about how you motivate yourself to do chores. Do you give yourself a sticker for making your bed? Or, give yourself a chocolate for folding the laundry? Come on… NO!

Most of us need to be intrinsically motivated to get the job done.

Assigning chores, becomes a chore in itself!

The reality of getting a child to do a chore.
It takes a LOT of effort to enforce chores on young children! Most often, you have to use bribes, threats and rewards, which work for the short term, but eventually they stop working. Also, pathways of communication can break down, especially when using threats, but also when using bribes and rewards. A child may start hiding, lying, sneaking things or resenting their work, if they know they are not doing an action from their own motivation.

If you think of the long term implications… You can’t bribe a teenager to take out the trash with a sticker. You can’t withhold dinner from a teenager if he doesn’t put his laundry away. (Ok, you could, but you wouldn’t want to). There are more effective ways of dealing with daily chores and a lot of it comes down to building connection and natural learning (and not just our children doing the learning, but the adults too).

It’s important to know that young children (say under the age of 7) live in the present moment, it’s hard for them (sometimes impossible) to understand the concept of a ‘chore‘.

Examples of Naturally Learning About Household Responsibilities in Our House

Laundry
My 7 year old daughter complained that she could never find the clothes she wanted to wear because they were always dirty. I said, “Ok, do you want me to show you how to wash your laundry yourself?” She said, “YES PLEASE!” And, so I showed her how to do it. Also, the laundry piles were getting out of control. So, I got rid of 1/3 of our clothing, and the situation improved, so that I wasn’t overwhelmed anymore. I had something to learn too!

Leaving valuables/toys out
My 5 year old was constantly leaving her jewellery on the floor. When her baby brother started becoming more mobile, he started playing with her stuff. She didn’t want to him to play with her jewellery. Now, she keeps the jewellery neatly on her table, in a box (most of the time). When she forgets, it’s a reminder for her to put her stuff away. My kids like playing board games, but if they play too many without putting any away, there’s no room to play the next one!

Taking care of pets
My kids begged if we could get a pet. I said, we can, if you take care of it. A friend of ours asked us to fish-sit, which was a perfect opportunity to try it out. We took, Finn, for two weeks to our home. After only THREE days, my kids lost the interest in taking care of the fish. Rather than force them take care of Finn, I took care of Finn for the rest of the time and then kindly told them that we wouldn’t be getting a pet. They were ok with my decision. Obviously, if you already have the pet, this can’t work, but for us, it was a great learning experience!

Waiting for ME to finish a chore
If my kids want to go out and play, but I want to hang the washing out first. They have two choices. They can either help me hang it out so we can get out of the house faster, or they have to wait until I do it all by myself. Sometimes they help me, and it goes fast. Other times, they don’t help and they don’t get as much time to play.

These scenarios are very simple yet powerful life experiences. There’s no bribing, threatening or rewarding and I try to be as compassionate as I can be. The learning is more gentle and more meaningful that way.

Using Playfulness

No matter if we are intrinsically motivated to do chores or not, doing chores is not always pleasant! And, we can get quite resentful about having to do them. And, then, we can take our anger out on our children about doing chores, when really, our kids are not intentionally making a mess or being lazy!

Using playfulness is beneficial for both the kids and the parents. I’ll sometimes play games with me kids, like queen and servants, where I’m the servant and they’re the queen. We all laugh about it and it takes away the negativity of the situation. Or, I’ll say silly non-sense things like, “Here I go again, doing my FAVOURITE THING AGAIN IN THE WHOLE WORLD…. THE DISHES!!!” And I roll my eyes so we all laugh. Laughing is a beautiful healing mechanism that helps us to make our work lighter and helps children (and ourselves) process painful feelings of anger and frustration.

So, how will kids learn to clean up after themselves if you don’t give them chores?

Some kids have have more of a capacity to want to help out than others. You can bring awareness to a child about how empowering it is to take responsibility. But, some kids are just not going to care and that’s sometimes hard for us to accept!

When a child feels a connection to the family and society, and she is more free from negative emotions, then she will be more likely to contribute (especially if being tidy is her nature). If the child’s nature is to not care about the messes, then it can take a little bit more effort. The effort can be in the form of natural consequences or a loving limit from us. Just because I don’t give my children chores, doesn’t mean my kids are free to make unlimited messes and destroy things!

And, using natural consequences or a loving limit can mean so much less stress for us because we’re not constantly keeping tabs on whether our kids have done their chores or not! Also, not giving chores does not mean I do everything for my children! It means that I do what I can and if they don’t like it, they can step in and do something about it.

What about the lessons they’re missing out on by not having chores?

If I have the time and energy, I do things for my kids when they technically could do it themselves. Why? Because I sometimes ask them to do things for me! And, what’s no surprise, is that when I do ask them for help or ask them to cooperate, they’re generally more willing to help me out. They see me doing things for them, so they do things for me. The lesson is that we can all do things for each other and it’s a nice thing to do. There doesn’t have be to a reward, threat or bribe involved.

Chores don’t necessarily equal more responsible adults!

When I was a kid, although I had a fair amount of responsiblities, my parents only asked me to do a few chores, and only when I got older. Growing up without having chores has taught me a lot about my own limits and it taught me a healthy amount of self-motivation. I have to say that I’ve turned into a fairly responsible adult. I also know children who were raised in strict households, where doing lots of chores was the norm… and they haven’t necessarily grown up to be responsible adults!

Making choices to make less work!

My husband and I would much rather go surfing than do chores! So, we’ve modified our lives to suit our lifestyle.

We purposely live in a small-ish apartment, with minimal stuff (and hoping to get even more minimal) and without a yard to worry about, so that we have more time to have fun and spend less time doing chores. I can give my whole place a really good clean in about an hour and I keep refining my system to make things easier and more efficient.

If you find yourself getting angry because you’re the only one cleaning up, you can consider a few things.

Could there maybe be some past experience that is making you feel like you need to give children chores in order to make them learn about responsibility?

Maybe you were forced to clean up when you were a child? Maybe you were yelled at for leaving a mess? And, if you’re feeling frustrated by the mess, maybe, right now in your life, your needs aren’t being met and you need some help from another adult? Can you ask a friend to come over and help? If you children are old enough, can you explain to them why the mess can be overwhelming for you? A lot of older kids will make an effort if you open up about how you feel and respectfully talk with them about finding solutions.

We can certainly ask our young children to help us clean up, but most often, their response will be variable and coercing them to do chores is something that may turn into more work for us, with no guarantee of teaching a child any long term benefits!

Most young children won’t naturally clean up their mess. Because, a mess, to them, may not be a mess. It’s usually a grande imaginary creation. Also, most messes are overwhelming for them to clean up because it’s just too big. One big rule I have for my kids and toys is to remember to not have too many toys laying around, that way if the toys do get all over the place, it won’t be an overwhelming nightmare for the kids or myself to clean up.

I love that my children are learning to care for their home environment from a natural learning perspective! I do cranky sometimes about the mess, usually when I’m over tired, but that’s also part of the learning journey for me! And, the magic is that I’m mostly happy, my kids are happy, my house feels good and our experience is nurturing and with long term relationships and trust in mind. My house is probably a little messier than most, but I’m ok with it. And, we’re all learning and letting go of expectations and finding new solutions.