We can all agree that chores are good for kids. A consistent, yet manageable list of chores for children increases their sense of responsibility, improves their work ethic, and helps them contribute to the household. Furthermore, completing chores is an opportunity for your child to feel accomplished and appreciated (even if they don’t always show it).
While you may already know that chores can help your child grow, you may not know that chores can also be used as an opportunity for a positive interaction with your child! By giving your child an incentive for chores, you will still improve your child’s sense of responsibility, work ethic, and contribution to the family. Best of all, you’ll be doing this without the fighting, yelling, or slamming doors that can come from power struggles regarding chores.
Some parents (understandably) worry that rewarding their child will lead to a decrease in the child’s intrinsic motivation. First, let me ask a question: if you didn’t get paid for going to work, would you still go? If you’re in the majority of the working population, you probably said no. But why not? Some say that work should be your contribution to society, and should be motivated by more than money. But let’s be honest: the reality is that we as humans are motivated by incentives. Even if you enjoy fulfilling your contribution to society through your job, getting paid for your work makes you feel worthwhile and accomplished! Our kids are no different; children are more motivated to complete tasks when they know there will be a positive outcome at the end. Without an accolade, what is left to motivate a child to do chores?
Despite common parenting myths, fear and punishment are not successful long-term motivators. When authority figures use fear to motivate children, the child learns to fear authority figures (don’t confuse respect with fear) and any opportunity for intrinsic motivation is extinguished.
On the other hand, research on how to motivate individuals found that rewards boost the amount of time people spend on unappealing tasks. By giving children incentives to do chores, they will be more willing to step away from their game and complete the task. Providing children with incentives to do chores also helps them get into a routine. The more your child completes chores and receives rewards, the more routine this behavior comes. Eventually, this behavior becomes a part of their weekly routine.
In other words: rewarding kids for completing their chores is not only effective but also increases the behaviors we want and decreases behaviors we don’t want! As your child becomes accustomed to a routine of chores, they will internalize the feeling of accomplishment after a task is completed. This will translate into adulthood: your child will remember, consciously or subconsciously, that keeping their bedroom clean (for example) feels good. Remember, a reward doesn’t have to be money. A reward system is based on, and tailored to, your family’s needs. By following a set of guidelines, you can create a successful reward program without all the fighting and yelling.
To get you started, here are some suggestions to create a successful reward system:
Put everything in writing.
Don’t rely on memory when creating an agreement. A “contract” should be created, in writing, and in collaboration with your child. This can prevent potential miscommunications about what was agreed upon. The contract should include the tasks to be completed and the associated reward. Think creatively: writing out the contract on a poster board or calendar with stickers and markers is fun for kids!
Be very specific
Be very specific about the terms. As I’m sure you know by now, kids are the masters of loopholes. To prevent conflict, be very specific about the tasks you want accomplished. “Clean your room” is too broad! Examples of terms should sound like “All clothes are put in the hamper” or “No toys are laying on the floor”.
Collaborate with your child
Speak to your child about the kind of reward they want. If your child is motivated by time spent with friends, offer him/her an extra hour of play time for putting away folded laundry. If your child is motivated by attention from you, offer him/her a 1:1 lunch date with you for vacuuming the house. Whatever the reward, make sure it’s the reward they want and you can follow through on.
Remember, this “contract” is meant to motivate your child. Therefore the tasks should be manageable and realistic relative to the reward. Don’t be afraid to collaborate with your child on this; your child will feel hopeful if he/she sees that you’re willing to compromise.
Since every child is unique, you may need a specific kind of reward system to achieve success with your child. Reward systems can, and should be, edited as your child grows and changes.
If you need support in getting started, a consultation with a child therapist can help guide you through this process.
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Wishing you all success, happiness, and a home full of completed chores!
Lauren is a Licensed Marriage and Family therapist who is passionate about creating a safe space for families, couples, and individuals. Lauren provides her clients with skills and tools to change dysfunctional patterns in their lives. Lauren specializes in treatment for anxiety, food allergies, divorce/remarriage, and grief and loss.