Praise, ice-cream and starting young: how to get kids to help around the house | Veronica Heritage-Gorrie

There’s an art to getting children to chip in with the chores. Here are some tactics that will set them (and you) up for life

  • Sharing the Load is a column about parenting children of all ages

How do I get my children to do chores?

Household chores can be the pits on any given day, but throw children into the mix and the day-to-day grind can sometimes be overwhelming. Gone are the days when chores were gendered – the boys take the rubbish out and the girls do the dishes. That didn’t fly in my household: as a single parent and a shift worker, I needed all hands on deck.

Between the endless piles of washing, the dirty dishes and the toys scattered over every part of floor, it can sometimes be too much, especially if you’re in lockdown.

So how do you get your children to do some chores to lighten the load and contribute towards the cleanliness of the household? Well, it starts when they are toddlers, with teaching them to pack their toys away, and then you can increase their chores as they get older.

When my children were toddlers I taught them to put their toys back in their boxes at the end of each day. I made a fuss and celebrated and cheered with each toy, which I now also do with my grandchildren. The whole family will join in clapping so that they know it’s a good thing.

This tactic worked for me with my children and, as they got older, their chores increased. They began doing the dishes; I made it fun with the soap suds. Even if they couldn’t reach the sink, I would prop them up on a chair and almost always redo the dishes after they went to bed. I wasn’t expecting clean dishes – it was a learning process for my children.

Another tactic I used was to praise and thank them for doing a particular chore.

When they became teenagers the tactics I once employed were no longer effective, so I opted for a diplomatic approach.

For example, I would give them an option of two chores: washing dishes or hanging the washing on the line. This provided them with empowerment and important decision-making skills, even if they were unaware of my tactic.

It worked, but sometimes it backfired – and they never chose to do the dishes. So I would buy them ice-cream (their only treat), but for them to have ice-cream, the dishes needed to be washed, dried and stacked away. They decided between the three of them who was doing what.

As a single parent I could never afford pocket money for my three children. But if you can afford to give your children a weekly allowance and set of chores that are clearly displayed on a white board, then I suggest doing it.

I also recommend you rotate the chores so they all get the opportunity to partake in a variety of duties, and more importantly, don’t get bored. By doing this, you as a parent are providing them with the much-needed skills for their first job – and who better to be their referee than their parent?

As soon as my children were eligible for a tax file number, I made sure they got one so they could get after-school or weekend employment. Two worked at McDonald’s and the other at Hungry Jack’s. I wanted to teach them to have a work ethic and that nothing is ever handed to you – you have to earn it.

As a parent, you will decide what works for you and your children, but it worked for me. Now my children are adults and the chores are still shared whenever they come back home.

  • Veronica Heritage-Gorrie is the author of the memoir Black and Blue


Veronica Heritage-Gorrie

The GuardianTramp

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