Getting kids to do chores can be challenging. Take the tension out of this process and help your children learn self-control at the same time.

Most kids view chores as things parents invent in order to have control and get some free labor. At times, there may even be a bit of truth in this assessment. But if we operate on that level, we can expect to encounter resistance, endure complaints, and police our kids’ performance for years.

Know Your A-B-C’s of Household Chores

Whether your children are toddlers or teens, getting them to do their chores need not be a battle. In the article “Training Resistant Kids to Do Their Chores,” the Love and Logic Institute suggest that it can be as simple as A-B-C. “A” is for the ask. In other words, offer choices. For example, a parent might ask, “Honey, would you like to empty the dishwasher now or in 10 minutes?” Notice that the child isn’t given a choice of whether or not to do the job, only when. This giving of choices is a key ingredient to peaceful relationships between parents and children.

Contrary to the practice of adults controlling kids until they grow up and move away, giving children choices lets them maintain control of their own life, thereby developing self-control rather than needing to be controlled from the outside. In his book Loving Our Kids on Purpose (Destiny Image, 2008), Danny Silk says, “When we give our children choices, we validate them by recognizing that they need power in their relationship with us.” Parents who tap into this dynamic principle will be amazed at how such a simple thing as offering choices can remove much of the struggle over who is in charge. This is not permissive parenting, where the child is allowed to do – or not do – whatever he or she wants. This is a parent offering the child a choice of when or where or how to do a chore – not whether to do it.

Foster W. Cline, M.D. of the Love and Logic Institute suggests that “B” stands for “Be Quiet.” Resist the temptation to remind, threaten, or nag. If this is your usual style of parenting, holding your tongue can be difficult. But reminding children to do something they already know they have to do not only irritates them and you like, but it also creates a power struggle. Instead of fussing at your child, spend your time planning an appropriate and empathetic consequence in the event your son or daughter does not meet the deadline he or she chose.

If you’re like most of us, you’ve been thinking, “Yeah, this choice thing may work for some kids, but mine will just choose not to do any chores at all.” But take heart! We parents need not be powerless in the face of our child’s resistance because we know that “C” is for “Consequences.” Ideally, you’re hoping your kids don’t manage to do the job. Why? Because you know that your child is going to learn much more from the mistakes he or she makes than from your frequent lectures, nagging, and displeasure. So make a plan. While you are waiting for the deadline to come and go, decide what you are going to do when the child doesn’t show up. We’re not talking punishment here. Silk says, “…You want to be able to offer sadness when your child makes a mistake.” Irritation, anger, or emotional angst diverts the child’s focus from internalizing his or her poor choice and puts it onto defense and justification.

One very effective response, if the deadline comes and goes, is to quietly, calmly do the chore for your child. Then let consequences and empathy do the teaching. “Oh, man, it’s really sad that you didn’t get that dishwasher emptied when you said you would. Bummer.” And why is it a bummer? That’s when you deliver the consequence in a loving, empathetic way. Love and Logic Institute suggests statements such as “This is so sad. I had to do your chores for you. Now I don’t have the time and energy to _____________. Just fill in the blank with any privilege you typically provide for the child.” This can include things like denying a request to be taken to the park or have a friend over.

Another very workable way to let consequences produce self-control is to let your child know that he or she will need to replace the energy it took for you to do this or her work. Then choose a job that is harder than the one in question. Maybe they can clean a toilet or dust, or maybe play quietly in their room for an hour in order to bring your energy level back up. The possibilities are endless! Rather than wasting time being irritated and viewing your child as an enemy, use those moments to come up with a creative consequence that will lodge in your son or daughter’s memory and be a positive step toward greater self-control.

Follow Through on Consequences

A plan is only as good as its follow-through. If you aren’t really going to deliver the consequence, you’ll only make matters worse for both you and your child. So it is imperative that you choose a consequence that is both appropriate and enforceable, something that you will be happy with or without.

For instance, if your child has a lead part in the school play and you really want him or her to perform, don’t choose to miss a rehearsal as a consequence. Rather, choose something you can readily and easily do that doesn’t cause a problem for anyone but the child, such as: “I know how you love dessert, but you know what’s really sad? Instead of making dessert, I used my time and energy to empty your dishwasher. But don’t worry about it. We’ll have another chance tomorrow.” If you are consistent, empathetic, and follow through on the consequences, you will begin to see self-direction and self-control surface in your children.

A Last Word on the Last Word

For these A-B-C’s to be effective, you’ll have to refrain from saying the oh-so-satisfying words, “I told you so.” The moment we ask or tell our child what he or she learned from the process, we erase 90%, if not all of the benefit of the learning opportunity. Additionally, we can come across as unsympathetic and superior. Kids resent that, and well they should. We need to respect them just as we want them to respect us. Kids are smart. They’ll figure out that doing their chores works a whole lot better for them than taking their chances with the consequences of leaving the work undone. As they gain self-control – telling themselves what to do, you’ll be equipping them for life.

So if getting your kids to do their chores is a chore in itself, make your life easier by remembering that “A” is for ask, “B” is for be quiet, and “C” is for consequences with empathy!

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