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5 Simple Tips for Getting Your Kids to Do Household Tasks Without Tears, Tantrums & Threats

"The more, the merrier" - an expression that rings true when you start a family.

Having a family means there's more fun, and it also means there are more mundane things to do. For example:

· More dirty dishes to clean.

· More toys to pick off the floor.

· More piles of clothes to wash, fold and pack away.

The problem is everyone wants to have fun, but no one likes to clean up. So, how do you get your kids to do household tasks without tears, tantrums & threats?

A common mistake I used to make was restricting the phrase "the more, the merrier" only to good times like birthday parties and festive occasions. But, tired of tidying up and mounting to-dos, I finally decided, "No more!" So, I also started applying this mantra to the division of household tasks. Since "the more, the merrier" became my mantra for celebrations and household chores, I've noticed that - the more my kids (and husband) do around the house, the less grumpy I am, and the merrier our household becomes.

So, here are 5 simple tips for getting your kids to do household tasks without tears, tantrums & threats.

Tip #1: Get clear on which household tasks you want to delegate.

Delegating household tasks frees time so you can rest and reduce your physical and mental load. But, two common delegating mistakes which often become sources of housework stress are unspoken expectations or unclear explanations of what we want from our children. So, before you rush off and delegate any mundane household tasks (which would be all of them), stop and look at your typical day. If you're a busy mum or dad, just thinking about what you do in a day can feel overwhelming. But this kind of pain is necessary to get crystal clear on exactly what you want to stop doing and get your kids to start doing around the house.

A brilliant trick to overcoming the overwhelm of reliving a day in your life is to get out of your head and put everything on paper. So grab a paper and pen (or your kid's colouring pencil) and do the following exercise. Pause for a few minutes and think about your typical daily routine.

1. Divide to conquer your day: How does your day usually unfold from when you wake up until you go to sleep? To make it easier, divide your day and the paper into three parts – morning, afternoon and evening. Under each part of the day, write out the following:

  • Type of activity: What are your activities of daily living in the order of how you usually do them? E.g., shower, wake kids, make breakfast, set the table, clear & wipe table and floor, unload clean dishes from the dishwasher etc.

  • Time to complete: Next to each task, write the approximate time it takes to do it.

  • Intensity of effort/skill: On a scale of 1-10 (where 1 is "low effort or skill" and 10 is "massive effort or complex skills"), rate the intensity needed for each task. Rating the intensity of a particular chore will guide you later when choosing suitable duties for your child's age or ability so you can avoid setting unrealistic expectations for them.

2. Decide on the allocation of house chores.

  • DO only tasks you can or want to keep doing and put an asterisk next to those.

  • DELEGATE the appropriate remaining tasks to your children based on each child's age and ability. Two bonus tips on delegating tasks to your children are:

    • Choose easy tasks. Start by giving them straightforward jobs, to begin with, as this will build their confidence and get them on board.

    • Consider delegating the simple, repetitive chores because those are most likely to drive you nuts. In my experience, kids find repetition entertaining (whether it's your voice telling them to turn off the TV or them playing the same game repeatedly). So, why not use their superpower to your advantage?

Tip # 2: Disguise your mother-plan as a light-hearted chat.

Some people recommend scheduling a family meeting, but seriously, who looks forward to meetings? Instead, choose a time when you and the family are in a more relaxed, receptive mood before bringing up the topic of sharing household tasks. For example, you could discuss the chores over ice cream when everyone's guard is down, and it will sweeten the deal. If you have a partner, discuss your plan with them beforehand, so you are both on board and present a united front.

And remember to use a calm, pleasant, friendly tone when presenting your grand plan. Avoid menacing gazes, pointed finger gestures or giving commands, as these awaken the spirit of rebellion in most of us, not just children. Everyone likes to feel heard, and people support what they help create. So, ask each child's opinion and include some of their ideas or requests in the final decision on sharing household tasks.

Tip #3: Be specific.

Explain clearly how you expect the task to be done. This is where your earlier work writing out your day will pay off because you'll be able to be specific about what you'd like them to do, how long it will take, and the level of simplicity, so they know what to expect. It's also a good idea to explain what you mean by, e.g. "tidy your room". Do you mean clothes off the floor only or off the floor, folded and put on shelves or placed in the laundry basket? Spare no detail, even if it's received with eye rolling or "I know".

Check they understand by asking them to repeat or paraphrase what you just said.

Be open to compromise with your child on the minimum requirement for "tidy".

Tip #4: Do it together and make it fun.

Start by gently guiding your child and then graduate to letting them do it themselves. To ease your child into house chores, do it in the following 3 phases:

  • Start with the do-it-for-your-child (DIFYC) approach to show them how to do the task.

  • Transition onto do-it-with-your-child (DIWYC), where you guide them.

  • Finally, move onto a parent's heaven on earth, do-it-yourself-child (DIYC!), where you trust your child to do chores without hovering over them like a "helicopter parent".

To make doing household chores fun, add music or gamify them by setting a timer or making it a friendly competition.

Warning: If you're used to a "lawn-mower" style of parenting, then you've likely been removing all obstacles from your child's path by doing most things for them. This is OK when your child is a baby and dependent on you. However, as they grow and develop, they must learn to do things themselves. Giving them house chores encourages their independence, builds their confidence and teaches them the importance of contributing.

Tip #5: Acknowledge and appreciate the effort.

We all like our efforts to be valued. Communicate to your child that you appreciate them and their help - no matter how much better the job could be done. To acknowledge their contribution, you could say something like, "Congratulations! You must be proud of yourself", "Thank you for being a great helper!" or 100 other phrases to show you appreciate your child.

By acknowledging your child's effort during and after the house chore, you encourage them to complete the task and increase their chances of doing it again without tears or tantrums. Your appreciation can be a smile, a hug or a congratulation in words on how a particular job was done.

Avoid rewarding them with items, e.g. toys or edible treats e.g.lollies. There are many good reasons to avoid rewarding kids - one is they may learn to do tasks because they expect a reward instead of knowing the value of helping others. Instead, consider doing something fun together, e.g. playing a game or reading a book afterwards.

Bonus tips:

  • Restrain yourself from criticising the effort, i.e. saying what they could do better. Instead, learn not to sweat the small stuff. Hard as it may be (and warning, this can be a real challenge), try to point out what your child did well. The positive reinforcement will go a long way, and eventually, they will do that whole task well.

  • Be OK with an imperfect job. Expect and accept the job won't be done precisely how you'd like. A common mistake we parents make is to fall into habits that may be effective in the short term but inefficient in the long term. For example, we might see our child doing a household task painfully slowly and take over with a huff saying, "it's just faster if I do it myself!" And then we wonder why our kids can't seem to learn to do anything properly. When you exercise self-restraint from doing it yourself, you'll enjoy more "me-time" because you won't be doing everything yourself.

Some days your children will groan about their tasks, and other days refuse to do them. Try to take a few deep breaths and let it go. Then when you're both in a calmer state, ask your child what is going on, find out how they want to contribute or give them a choice of how to do the task next time. You could also offer to swap their household chore for a different one.

Remember that to turn any desired behaviour into a habit, consistency is the key. Keep encouraging your children to help out, and sharing household tasks will soon become part of your family's daily routine. So if you want more free time and household harmony, try using these 5 simple tips for getting your kids to do household tasks without tears, tantrums or threats (most of the time).

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