Teaching kids about chores

The winsome and caffeinated Kate would like to talk about chores:

"Can we talk about chores? And motivating the
recalcitrant child? If charts, allowance, bribes, threats are not
working, what to do?

This is a weekly struggle — not asking for
anything hard or unusual, would take less than five minutes if done when
originally asked, but stretched to 2-3 hours of horror, whining, temper
tantrums. Seriously refused to attempt to put a pillowcase on when we
changed the beds on Friday and as a result slept on an unmade bed.

The idea of "playful parenting" this kind of stuff makes me crazy,
because I really think this is just part of being in a family. Everyone
does a little bit. Mom and dad do more, kids do less. Kids who do as
they are asked in a prompt, non whiny way get allowance. The end. I
honestly don't have time for games–or for the drama. The two extremes
are letting the child out of every responsibility or continuing to ruin
my weekend day to put some order into my house. (And I mean very
little order. Just want to be able to have clean linens, clean floor,
clean bathrooms once a week. We're not talking House Beautiful.)

PS It should go without saying that we didn't spring this idea of
helping to clean up/contributing to what the family is doing in the last
five minutes or whatever. I am definitely one of those

Her email sparked some deep thoughts on my part, because I'd not even thought of assigning my kids Chores. But then I realized that I hadn't codified my requests for work as chores in my head (perhaps because of my whole weird hoarding-spectrum issue that doesn't let me really conceptualize the running of a house the way normal people do). But that I do ask my kids to do plenty of tasks around the apartment, and many of them repeat at regular intervals (putting dirty dishes in the sink, put clothes in the hamper, change the cats' water, etc.) so I'm not, in fact raising my children as if I were a wolf. And you are not raising your children as if you're a wolf if you haven't made a job chart, either, as long as you're giving them age-appropriate responsibility for something.

Anyway. It's the compliance Kate wanted to talk about, not whether we make our kids do chores or not. This statement:

"I really think this is just part of being in a family. Everyone
does a little bit. Mom and dad do more, kids do less. Kids who do as
they are asked in a prompt, non whiny way get allowance. The end. I
honestly don't have time for games–or for the drama." 

Yes. Exactly. Kids aren't doing us a favor by holding up their end of the family. Hang together, or we hang separately.

But, to be honest, I don't know how to enforce this with any kids except my own. I'd like to think that I've inspired a spirit of teamwork and family unity, but I'm not kidding myself. My older one can see when I'm serious, and he just does it because he knows I won't give in so the sooner he does what I ask the sooner he can get back to his book. My younger one has the kind of hopeful heart that would've made him a beloved English 19th century poet, but even he can't outbadger me when I've made a decision. 

Is there anyone who feels like they've been successful at getting either buy-in or non-grudging compliance with chores in a way that can be replicated by other parents? One thing that strikes me is that my kids see me struggling with chores, so they've never had the idea that things just get done. They know that someone has to do them. (I may also inadvertently be teaching them that done is better than perfect.)

But I'm thinking there has to be a way to avoid the crying and whining that doesn't involve using mind games to trick kids into compliance. Because the goal is not just to get the chores done, but for kids to learn that there are things you do just because you're a member of society.


84 thoughts on “Teaching kids about chores”

  1. My two-year old learned a tidying-up song at daycare, and I think it helps to turn tidying into a somewhat fun task. Her song is in French, sung to the tune of “Mary had a little lamb”. I suppose an English version could be “Tidying is lots of fun, lots of fun, lots of fun…[etc.], tidying is fun”.When I was a teenager we had a rule that the person doing the dishes got to pick what music to play on the stereo.

  2. Shoot. I’m looking forward to the answers here. I’m at this point with my 7 year old – she talks about wanting to do jobs for money, but doesn’t actually want to “do” them when asked. Also, when it’s time to clear the living room floor because I can’t make my way through it anymore, she will not help. So I end up having her sit on the couch and not do anything while I’m working on it – She shouldn’t be able to watch a show, and she shouldn’t be able to play in her room while I’m doing the job (which would take about 10 minutes if we worked on it together). Also, I’m trying to make the point that if we each help with it, it gets done faster.I get the feeling that if I were more willing to “manage” it better – getting more buy-in, explaining what we were doing and my expectations before we did it – havign it be part of the agenda for the day or just the routine that before we turn on the TV we take care of this, setting a timer, etc. then it would be easier, but I just plain don’t want to. I kind of want to skip over that part, get the work-work done and get on with my day. It does not help that I’m waiting until the mess makes me crazy before starting to work on it.

  3. I think depending on the age of your child it is unrealistic to expect a child to just do something especially when you approach it from the point of view that you have no time to make it fun. I would guess he/she is sensing in your attitude that there is something bad, not in the least be enjoyable, or something to be avoided in the chore you are wanting him/her to do.I think that if you don’t want to spend any time engaging your child in doing it, you are probably going to get push back especially if it’s “Do it without whining or no allowance.” I’m 30 years old, and I’m pretty sure if anyone treated me that way, I wouldn’t do the chore either.
    At our house, we talk about how everyone is part of our family and we all work together. We also talk about how we are a part of a team, and our team goes on missions to do x, y, or z. My kids don’t have specific chores each day/week that they need to do other than cleaning up their toys. However, when I’m cleaning, they’re cleaning with me. It takes a LOT longer, but it’s part of being in a family. They help. If I’m unloading the dishwasher, they have the choice of putting away silverware or handing me the plates, dishes, and bowls as I need them. Generally, my kids (who are still pretty young at almost 3 and 4.5) are pretty excited to clean and help. I’m sure that will change as they get older, but right now I just try to encourage them to be a part of our team and help with our team’s mission as much as I can.

  4. Hm, we haven’t introduced allowance yet (Mouse is 6) and I don’t believe in tying money to chores (unless I start getting paid for them too!) – I just think you do them because you’re part of the household. But we get reasonable cooperation with chores most of the time. We don’t have a chart and we don’t expect huge chores but:-set the table (if we’re eating together)
    -clear own dishes
    -put dirty clothes in the hamper
    -help with cooking/minor repairs etc if asked
    -work with one of us to tidy room (which we don’t expect to be all that tidy)
    I’m not sure we have something that really is replicable – I’m just careful to give her a little time flexibility so that she doesn’t have to stop in the middle of a paragraph or making an array or something.
    And at this age I’m ok with a lot of reminding and eventually breaking into counting. Sometimes I get the “why do I have to do everything?” whine and then I remind her of all the things the grownups do and unless she’s starving (in which case all bets are off) she’ll generally come around. I’m thinking maybe I’m getting away with one with a cooperative kid here.
    And I’m realizing, looking at my list, that this all is for herself – we don’t have any pets but it’s probably pretty important to introduce doing something *for* somebody soon. One of my pet peeves about men of my generation (born early 70s) is that lots of them were taught by their parents that it was normal to take care of themselves – which, yes, was progress – but it’s a huge stretch to take in the idea of doing something for someone else on a daily basis. I don’t want this to be as painful for Mouse as it was for my husband to figure out.

  5. One thing that occurs to me from the letter, Moxie, is that Kate’s kids might have an internal sense of fear of failure on tasks she sees as being perfectly age-appropriate, but they may struggle with for some reason.My son, who’s 7 should be able to cut pancakes, but he can’t, and it escalated into huge fights for months (if only we could escape having pancakes regularly!) until we decided peace was better than persevering. He’ll learn when he’s ready. He does have odd motor skill weaknesses, and strengths, that puzzle OT’s, so it’s not just us.
    The other thing is internal motivation. Kate’s kids have to want to do it internally before they’ll go along; otherwise she’s setting up power battles that could get ugly in teen years, I think. I’m not sure how to do the internal motivation thing, it’s just something we arrive at after failed other attempts over time, in our house.
    Usually what works best for us is when I sit my kids down and talk to them like they are peers, and say, I have a lot to do. You can help me with x, or with something you select, but we all pitch in and if so we get the work done faster so we can then have fun. Are you with me? Because if not, we won’t have time/patience/energy for fun. Trust me.
    I wish her luck. We are in potty training hell at our house so I’m revisiting the internal motivation monster about every 15 minutes.

  6. Sorry – that should read:but if we all pitch in, we’ll get the work done faster so we can then have fun.

  7. My Mama never made me do chores, and I never made my kids do chores either. “Let’s set the table” is a bit pleasanter than “Go set the table.”

  8. But anonforthis, what happens if you say “Let’s set the table” and your child doesn’t? Do you just say OK and do it yourself?I don’t think those of us who are “making” our kids do chores are barking at them like drill sergeants. To me, “Go set the table, please” and “Let’s set the table” are the same, in that my child knows it’s time to set the table, and that it’s his job.
    Charisse, I hadn’t even thought of the “tasks for self” vs. “tasks for others/the group” distinction. But it’s really important. I think that may be where it all broke down for me, personally.

  9. Mox – the last line of your post “because you are a member of society” – pretty much says it all. There are things we do because we just do them. Because all of our little areas of life – be it work, home, play group, school, daycare – whatever – they are all mini-societies and there are things that just need to be done to keep the world turning. My entire goal is to raise children that are competent, productive, contributing members of society. That means you get up every day and do what needs done. And hopefully, help someone or make some improvements along the way.My DD is just 16 months – but already – I make her stay in the play area with us and “help” put toys away (hand mommy the book, where do the blocks go, let’s place dolly on the rocking horse tonight, etc.) as part of bed time routine.
    I was raised in a very tight nuclear family unit where there was no choice, no discussion on whether or not you did what you were asked. It was explained that we were a family and that’s what families did. Chores weren’t tied to money/allowance. Chores were age specific and appropriate, some were challenging and needed help. But folding the towels, making your bed, putting clean laundry into drawers, putting dirty laundry into the hamper, bringing your plate to the sink, drying the pans – these were all “tasks” that I was expected to do as part of being the family – by about age 5 or so. It was sort of explained that the completion of chores equaled more time for fun. If the dinner table was cleared and the dishes were washed – there was more time for a bike ride. If the laundry was done (and put away – which is still my own personal albatross) and the house was “clean” on a Saturday morning – that left a whole afternoon of fun to be had. And my parents were a lot happier and nicer when we cooporated.
    I think a 7 year old is old enough to understand the concept of teamwork. At that age – kids are already traveling on soccer teams. If they can’t handle contributing to their family – how can they handle anything else? Maybe my parents were super-strict and had really high expectations of our aility to comprehend and act – but – they did manage to raise two competent and productive members of society. Eh.

  10. My guys are still little, 2.5 and 4 months, so chores at this point are all about setting the stage for later cooperation.One thing that I’m working to avoid is using tasks or work as punishments. Instead, it’s just part of being alive, there are things that need to be done.
    The biggest thing for us is allowing TIME for the kid to do it. If I’m in a hurry, and trying to rush him, it will only end in fits and tears.
    I don’t know how old Kate’s kids are, but having conversations about how we all do work together to make the house run seems to help at a variety of ages. Not sure it’s any help at all, but I’m really looking forward to what other people have to say.

  11. Interesting topic – I’ve been pondering this a lot lately. My son is only 3, and still very much into “helping” with everything we do, so I haven’t started facing any of the challenges that Kate is facing. Still, I think a lot about how I’m going to keep him motivated over the years to pitch in. For me, I think it will be important to keep “chores” (although I hope he doesn’t think of them that way) separate from allowance. Because I think chores and allowance can teach two separate lessons, and we often make the mistake of rolling them up into one lesson. Chores teach us that we all need to make certain contributions, simply because we are members of a family (or society), or just because we don’t want to live in a puddle of our own drool. Allowance can teach us how to set savings goals and manage our money. As an adult, no one will give your kid a quarter every time they clean the toilet, so why start now?Of course, that doesn’t solve your problem of motivating them, but it doesn’t seem that the promise of money is solving that problem either. Maybe it would help them to really see the consequences of not getting these things done. For example, if you don’t help set the table, then you don’t have a plate when you sit down to dinner. If you don’t have a plate, you don’t get food. If you don’t clear your plate, it is still there waiting for you when you sit down to breakfast, and you can choose between either eating last night’s leftovers, or clearing your plate and getting a fresh one. If you don’t put your clothes in the hamper, then they won’t get washed and you will have to wear something dirty to school. If you don’t help do evening chores like doing dishes, then just maybe, mom and dad will be too busy working to play a game with you or read you a bedtime story.
    Again, I’m not at this age yet with my kid so I don’t know how these ideas will play out IRL. However, I’m always wary of rewarding children for things because I’m afraid of creating little lab rats that only do things if there’s a treat involved.

  12. “‘Let’s set the table’ is a bit pleasanter than ‘Go set the table.'”Yes, it is. But some things aren’t group activities, and — I think this a part of the resistance to Playful Parenting every freaking minute of the day — sometimes life isn’t pleasant, or fun, or deeply rewarding. Sometimes you just need to do something.
    My dark, shameful parenting moment (well, one of them) came after we had talked the whole chore thing to death and a certain child simply refused to set the table. I told him that if he opted out of the family, he would not be eating with us. And I set the table and dished up food for everyone except the would-be prince of leisure, and we ate without him. When we were done, he got dinner.
    I am not recommending this. I am saying, “Look! You could be handling things worse!”

  13. I struggle with this too. I talk all the time about “Mommy Chores” and when he asks if I can play with him, I tell him I’m busy doing my Mommy Chores and if he would help me out, I would be done sooner. His usual response is “No thanks, I can wait”. Terrific. One of the things that drives me crazy is his ability to hand me his empty yogurt container or ice cream bowl, and Me the Fool takes it and I’m stuck holding the cheese. He won’t take it back again. So we made a rule – if he wants to eat yogurt or ice cream on the couch as a treat, he needs to put the empty container by the sink. If he does not, no more yogurt or ice cream. It only took him not doing it once and then not getting any the next time to solidify that for him. But I always ask, “And what are you going to do with the empty when you’re done?” before I give him any, and he tells me he’ll put it by the sink, and so far, so good.I think expecting kids to clean up after themselves is good – but with younger kids (younger than 5 I think), you need to do it together. And there needs to be a consequence for them not helping. If they don’t want to help clean up the cars, you need to put the cars away immediately, and let your child see you put them on a top shelf where they will remain for the rest of the day…..and then just hunker down and wait out the storm. Then before getting them down again, make a plan for how you will get them cleaned up.
    It’s a lot of freaking work. And talking. And I am certainly guilty of just doing it myself after bedtime because I cannot bear to go through all that conversation and arguing when all I want to do is throw him in his room, turn off the lights, and close the door so I can clock out and end my shift.
    Finally, he does have some “chores” that he considers really fun – watering our vegetable garden is one of them. I think making sure there are some tasks they are expected to complete but are fun for them is a way to make sure they do not associate the word “chore” with something unpleasant. And when he initiates and asks to do his chore on his own, and then completes it, I give him a dime as “allowance”. But that happens very rarely, so I still have plenty of parking meter money in my drawer.

  14. Before everyone jumps in with the whole CHORES, forced labor with me scowling at everyone vs not…I just want to state for the record that what @ Casey and @ Charisse describe is what I’m talking about.We ALL clean on Friday. It is a family project. It definitely takes longer–if we’re in a hurry my husband and I do it while the kids are at school–but it’s the cooperative, family aspect that I’m striving for. We are ALL making the house nice for Shabbat, and we are ALL going to enjoy certain nice things on Shabbat (treats, naps, etc).
    And I purposely left the ages/gender vague, but here it is: the hard-to-motivate one is the older one, who’s now 6 (and on the “spirited” side).
    The 4 year old is completely the opposite. “I think it’s a good idea to clean up your trucks before we have lunch…” and he does. (I mean, not 100%; he’s not a robot.) He’s completely drunk the kool-aid. Seriously, he’s going to be a great catch in 20 years–he scrubs toilets! He sweeps floors! He hangs laundry! He bakes bread! (A lot of this at his insistence–he will grab the broom and mop out of our hands.)
    If I ask them to do things together I feel like he gets taken advantage of, but maybe that’s a possible solution, for now…
    I really feel like this difference is largely based on personality, rather than how I’m presenting. But even artistic geniuses need to put their clothes in the hamper if they are sharing their living space.

  15. Works as well as other methods, and more harmonious:”If charts, allowance, bribes, threats are not working, what to do?”
    Threats doesn’t sound like “Go set the table, please”

  16. Threats are warnings for loss of privileges like watching TV, playing computer, sweets, etc.And allowance here = 1/3 for saving, 1/3 for spending, 1/3 for charity.

  17. We had major, major fights for years in the home I grew up in over chores. Some thoughts:1) I could see it got to my mom, so I used it to get to her. If you are calm and unflappable and playful otherwise, this may be the area where your child sees that s/he can test you. So if you can find a way to at least appear not to care, that may take some of the battle away.
    2) I was frequently forced to do chores over and over (and over) until I got them right – which made me miserable and ashamed and frustrated and just made me HATE chores. I’m remembering one incident in particular when I was 12 and mowed the entire backyard by myself for the first time, came inside feeling so grown up and proud, only to be taken to the window to see all the areas I missed and made to go back outside to do it again. Miserable. And as an adult now, one of my personal mantras is, “Half-ass is better than no-ass,” so obviously the attempted lesson did not take.
    3) What did work? A timer. Eventually we switched to a method where my mom set a timer for 1 hour on Saturday mornings. We had had all week already to get our chores done, but this was the “Last Hour.” If we weren’t finished by the time it went off, we lost Nintento access for the week. Last Hour wasn’t exactly a playful time at our house, but shit got done.
    4) As someone who has worked with kids of all ages, that “clean up is fun!” trick only works until about age 7 or so, in my experience. At that point you may have a kid whose personality is such that they find cleaning to be a form of stress relief, and they won’t mind taking the time to do their chores, or you may have a kid whose personality is such that cleaning is actually stressful and unpleasant, in which case hopefully you have a Ninento that you can threaten to take away. Parenting is hard! Don’t let people make you feel guilty.

  18. I am in favor of chores. My 3 and 4 year old both have them and we generally do not have arguments about them. We started when they turned two. I do allow them some element of choice though in picking their chores. For example, you can either choose to be the table setter or the table clearer. Maybe that helped? (For reference my 3 year old is responsible for clearing her dishes after meals, making her bed and putting her dirty clothes in the laundry. All of these tasks were her choosing. My 4 yr old also does those things in addition to some help with meal preparation [getting drinks ready for dinner, mostly]). I also time them to see who can do things faster. That element of competition seems to appeal to them, and I am happy when things get done. We do not do allowance, but some people do, I am curious when/if that is appropriate/necessary/useful. I did not have an allowance growing up, but it would have likely been a good motivator. Great topic.

  19. I am a regular lurker, but I wanted to step on on this one. Generally I’m impressed with the comments on Moxie’s blog because they are (1) thoughtful and intelligent; and (2) not at all judgmental or negative. This is the first post I’ve seen where the balance is slipping a little – Kate is looking for help and support here guys.My little one is too young (at 7 months) for this to have come up yet. But we helped out at home and generally wasn’t a massive battle. I would cite two elements which I think helped.
    First my parents did explain some sort of social contract thing to us at a young age (and repeated regularly and in more depth thereafter). Importantly, this was not done right before or during time when we were supposed to be doing the “chores”. I think this meant that we believed it more i.e. it didn’t feel like your just saying that to make me clean my bedroom. Also we got to think about it a bit before we acted on it. When my sister and I were both in our stroppy teen phase we had official monthly “family meetings” to talk issues over, so this is something that was brought up then every six months or so when things were particularly flaggin.
    Secondly, deadlines and consequences. This was not necessarily consistent. Usually something along the lines of you must get what you need to do done by x time on Saturday or you will not be attending your friend’s party/going swimming/coming with us to the zoo/cinema/grandmas house etc. The deadline was usually shortly before the “reward”. Ie, basically you hd to get stuff you didn’t enjoy done before doing stuff you did enjoy. As Rosa said things used to get done at the last minute, but they got done. Quality of work suffered somewhat but provided we’d made a decent effort there was usually some bartering available. Eg. ok, you may come shopping with us but you must re-vacuum your room properly when we get back.
    I still don’t like chores, but I still get them (mostly) done, although, still at the last minute.
    For us, things like this were not officially linked to rewards (financial or otherwise), although now I think about it I guess they kind of were.

  20. So, yes yes yes and more yes when it comes to chores. I have recently read a study that says that the number one thing that was common in successful people’s up bringing was having chores that they did at home. Not money or position or positive parenting, but chores…. wow….

  21. @ROsa, my heart is breaking for your 12yo self.We try to do chores as a family, also … but I strive to avoid my parents’ example. Every Saturday we stripped beds, vacuumed, cleaned the entire house top to bottom, and then mowed and raked 2 acres and washed and waxed – every week – 3 cars. Three extremely rickety cars. I grew to despise Saturdays and the long road of cleaning ahead. So we err on the side of keeping it fun, making an effort over getting it done perfectly. But my guys are little still.
    Kate, I wish you luck!

  22. This doesn’t sound to me like it’s about chores– it sounds to me like a classic power struggle. Allyson Shafer has a great chapter about power struggles in her book “Breaking the Good Mom Myth”… the chapter is called “Myth: Good Mothers are In Control”. As a bit of a control freak myself, this chapter rocked my world.The nutshell is that it takes two to play tug of war– when you detect that you are in a power struggle (you can tell because you are feeling angry, challenged, provoked and defeated) you simply drop the rope. Stop confronting, step to the side, reframe the issue, walk away if you have to. Power struggles have winners and losers, and nobody wants to be the loser (and do you really want your kid to feel defeated any more than you do?). Come back to the discussion when you can discuss it calmly and create a “horizontal power arrangement”, i.e. more like the teamwork discussion. Of course, natural consequences of behavior have to be part of this, but the consequences, once you’ve established them with your child, can just occur without a blowup, threats, cajoling, even without a word spoken. Didn’t change your sheets? Sleep on a bare mattress, the end. Left your bike laying in the driveway again? Gets locked up for 48 hours, the end. Didn’t pick up your toys? They get put away in the locked closet by Mom for 24 hours (or whatever you want the consequence to be). No opportunity for an argument, nagging, power grabbing– just clear, natural consequences that happen consistently. The kid will get the message without getting any additional attention– defiance is pretty boring in that case.
    Meanwhile, other techniques (family meetings where kids can lodge complaints and make suggestions, allowing kids to participate in decision making, privileges for taking on more responsibility) can help empower the kids in the long term so they feel less of a need to create drama in order to get some power.
    My guy is only 3 and pretty cooperative. But I already have to constantly walk the line between “making him” do stuff by exerting my power vs. putting a structure in place (teamwork, rules, consequences) that guides and teaches. It’s so hard because (a) as I said, I’m rather a control freak and (b) I was raised in a strict household where kids didn’t have any say, you just did what you were told, period (btw, I hated it as a kid and I hate that I sometimes do that to my kid now).

  23. Kate, I have an artistic genius too. She is 5. It is so hard, near impossible, for her to clean up. That pile of paper cuttings, glitter, and bits of yarn? It could be wrapped around a coat hanger, taped to the mantle, and attached with ribbon to her brother’s train set as a slide lift for a sock puppet! In our house toys are never played with as the manufacturer intended and then put away, they are carried about the house and recombined into odd installations.I have worried about her a little bit, because she’s SO messy, in a way that’s pretty doggone weird. But I am seeing progress in that area, and isn’t that all we’re looking for? For example, the other day she put her nectarine pit back in the fruit bowl – and I was THRILLED. That’s such an improvement over throwing it on the floor, and picking it up only after getting Mom’s stinkeye…and that was an improvement over putting it on the floor and moving on so thoroughly that she would literally have no idea what I meant when I asked her to pick it up! I have had several epic battles of will with her over cleaning up, yet in retrospect, I’ve come to realize that I was wasting my time because her wiring for this just wasn’t in place yet.
    And, like in your family, our younger child is the tidy, helpful one. To me, it couldn’t be more obvious how much of this is due to temperament. My mantra has become: “It’s not my job to make her neat; it’s my job to teach her how to live with other people.” Slowly, very slowly.

  24. I’m going to talk about this from the other end a little, partly because my son is only 2.5, but mostly because it’s a huge issue in my family of origin, especially with 2 of my sisters and my 2 nephews living with my parents. I was one of the “good” kids, but I learned that that just meant I was taken advantage of — not a good lesson. The problem, as I still see it, it that my mother had no idea how to enforce boundaries. Also, she was completely wound up in cleaning, but that wouldn’t have been more than a quirk if she could have enforced things. Let’s not get into the fact that dad was a part of this drama mainly by his absence in it/participation as one of the kids. Which is all to say: take this FWIW, from someone with issues/experience surrounding it.I think we can talk about techniques all we want, but I think the situation largely gets down to family dynamics and drawing firm, non-dramatic boundaries. Of course, a good technique can make this happen much more easily, and certain attitudes — like “I really think this is just part of being in a family. Everyone does a little bit. Mom and dad do more, kids do less. Kids who do as they are asked in a prompt, non whiny way get allowance. The end. I honestly don’t have time for games–or for the drama” — help, too. Of course, my mother could say something like this, and her tone would be saying something much more violent; in fact, I think walking the walk is more important than talking the talk. In any case, that’s been my experience as I’ve struggled not to be my mother as regards boundaries and expectations within the family and when I teach.
    I’ll add two more practical things: I liked what _How to Talk So Kids Will Listen (And Listen So Kids Will Talk_ had to say about this, and I’ve actually put some of it into practice with the 2.5 year old and my nephews. It’s helpful, but no magic bullet. I especially like the short but emphatic bit: “Stephen! Dishes!” for instance. I think that’s an instance of walking the walk more than talking the talk.
    With the 2.5 YO, we also use the Wait-Ask-Say-Show-Do method, which is remarkably effective, especially if you stick to the whole script and do it repeatedly — DS’s daycare uses this with a whole pack of typically developing and autistic children, and they manage to run a very tight ship of happy sailors. I’m not sure at what age this technique would just be belittling . . . but part of me also wonders if noncompliance with this sort of thing shouldn’t be treated as a little immature anyway.
    Wait five seconds for the child to do as they are supposed to. If they do it, praise them. If not
    Ask “What do you need to do?” Wait five seconds for the child to do as they are supposed to. If they do it, praise them. If not
    Say “You need to do X” Wait five seconds for the child to do as they are supposed to. If they do it, praise them. If not
    Give the child a visual cue. Wait five seconds for the child to do as they are supposed to. If they do it, praise them. If not
    Do the action with the child, hand over hand. Praise for completion.

    Frankly, Kate sounds a little like she’s in my mother’s position, but is nicer about things and actually looking for a solution, which is great. From reading the comments/replies, it sounds to me like it’s completely reasonable for Kate to expect her child to do things “now,” since the time is already set aside for it. I might try pre-empting excuses by making sure everyone is fed/hydrated/empty of bladder/otherwise ready before starting. And then, honestly, if I were Kate, I’d make it my main job to ensure compliance until things caught on. I think the investment is worth it, because as far as I can see, it’s impossible to teach an adult child who’s living with you to do this. The future is long enough if they only live with you until college.

  25. One other thought: we try to “cooperate” with DS. It’s in quotes because it’s become something pretty specific: If he does what I want (allow a diaper change, say), then I do what he wants (sing a song of his choosing during the change, say). It’s not a magic bullet either, but it works often. I think it works because the child gets to choose something meaningful to them — so it taps into motivation and autonomy. Maybe something would be more motivating than allowance to Kate’s child?

  26. I thought I was alone in my resentment of Playful Parenting. I mean, I’m playful with my kids all the time. But as they get older, it is too aggravating to try to tease them into doing stuff. And ridiculous when there’s steam coming out of my ears.I waffled on this, but my 4.5 year old kept telling me when I’d ask her to put her clothes in the hamper, pick up her toys, or clear her plate from the table. “That’s your job. I’m not doing your work for you.” As a formerly professional mom taking a couple years off with my kids, it made my blood boil. So now I inconsistently make them do chores. I tried making them TRY to make their beds every day, and it was awful and painful. I tried giving them a penny for it. And now, sometimes, they just do it on their own. I can’t figure it out.
    I don’t know the answer. I just know that I had chores as a kid and I’m a total slob now.
    One thing they do really enjoy is cleaning with a wet rag. They clean windowsills and cupboard doors. I like the idea of giving them choices.
    I also tell them to go into their room and pick up their toys for 15 minutes. I set the timer, and anything that’s still on the floor after 15 minutes goes into a big container called “toy jail” that I take away.
    It’s been hard for my 4.5 year old to grasp because her brother (nearly 3) doesn’t help much and it’s so stressful for her, even though I tell her just to worry about her own toys. But I do this every time I clean their room and I’ve seen a lot of improvement. Even the 2.5 year old knows that if Buzz Lightyear doesn’t make it to the toybox, he won’t see him for a while.
    I think “chores” is different than incorporating them into my activities. Sometimes, I have them help me with cooking or organizing or cleaning to the extent they are interested.
    Even with my being a horribly inconsistent slob that struggles with cleaning up, they are better at putting laundry in the bin and picking up toys, etc.
    A lot of this, I think, stems from the fact that our kids have a lot and take it for granted. We went through a time of living in someone else’s house with few clothes and toys and I’ll tell you they were much more sad when something broke when they had little vs. now in our own house. That’s another reason why I put away the toys that aren’t put away – they appreciate their stuff more when there’s less of it.
    But this is an interesting topic. I don’t really want “help” so much as I want them to have a sense of taking care of themselves and valuing order.

  27. @ lydia, seriously when we buy a place we are specifically seeking space for her to be creative and messy and *not* have to clean up because that’s where the magic happens. Now it is hard because the kids are sharing a room & the “art studio” is ALSO my husband’s office and ALSO the guest room.But YES you definitely understand. We have a love of odd scraps and cuttings that is deep and irrational. But then she spent about a dollar of her own money to buy two spools of sparkly ribbon and made gladiator sandals out of that (and also flip flops from ribbon and cereal box cardboard). I’m don’t want her to leave her world…just to visit with the family for certain periods of time.

  28. I’ve got two totally different (and somewhat random) bits to contribute here.There’s a whole Daniel Pink movitation bit that argues that chores and allowance should be separate, because putting them together moves chores from “it’s what everyone does” to “transactional” — i.e., it’s not my responsibility, and I’m owed payment if I do anything. The latter perversely demotivates. (Who knew?)
    The second bit is that your kid sounds like my wife, who has a long and sordid history with housework, including many stories of clashing with her parents about it. However, it turns out that she’s probably got ADD and that much of her resistance / problem had to do with boredom (ADDers can’t handle it) and visual overwhelm (can’t see things differentially) and task overwhelm (can’t break them down). I don’t want to suggest that the poster’s kid has ADD, of course, but it’s another potential puzzle piece for someone who has a longstanding, intractable issue here. (37 years in this case. And yet one book that breaks it down from an ADD perspective has made an enormous difference. This is me banging my head against my desk.)

  29. @Julie, “And I am certainly guilty of just doing it myself after bedtime because I cannot bear to go through all that conversation and arguing when all I want to do is throw him in his room, turn off the lights, and close the door so I can clock out and end my shift.”YES. And yes to the resentment of Playful Parenting. I mean, I can clearly see that playful parenting works much better than ordering my 3-year-old around, and I am also a big believer in teaching children how to make good choices instead of teaching them to mindlessly obey adults. But it would be nice to be mindlessly obeyed once in a while, KWIM?
    I don’t have much in the way of advice or suggestions here, particularly because I don’t dare presume to know how a 6yo’s mind works, not having gotten there yet. But a lot of sympathy, that I can give.

  30. My sister (who is one of the best moms I know) came up with a creative parenting option to get a friend’s kid to wear a shirt w/ a collar to church on Sunday mornings (a rule in their house. Can be a polo or button down, but he only ever wanted t-shirts and tank tops. He was even allowed to change when he got home from church) and that was that until he stopped whining about it on Sundays, he had to wear a collared shirt every day. It worked like a charm. I realize it’s not exactly a CHORE, but something similar might do the trick for Kate – you complain about the few small things that I ask you to do? Okay, then you have to do more (or at least help do more) until you stop complaining about your regular chores. I also am fully supportive of the you only get allowance for doing said chores w/o whining. If you whine, the money goes away.I’m all for figuring out the age appropriateness of chores. If he’s done it before, he’s capable, but if he’s never done it, maybe he isn’t capable yet?

  31. I’m still happily in that stage with a 3year old who wants to ‘help’ with everything, so it all winds up taking longer. I’m working really hard at not just doing stuff for her so she can learn the joy of accomplishing something herself.Chores were a giant problem for me growing up. My mother would ask my brother to do something, he would reply ‘No, that’s your job’ and she would just ask me to do it. I was the ‘good kid’ so I’d just resentfully do whatever it was. It was incredibly frustrating and my relationship with my brother is still not particularly functional. Another problem was that the chores just never ended. My mother isn’t the type to sit around and relax, and if anyone was relaxing in her presence she would find something for them to do. This is just the way she is…but it drove me batty.
    I’m a firm believer in logical consequences. We were trying to get the little one to keep her soothers in the crib/bed, so we warned her that if she didn’t put them away herself, we would put them up somewhere she couldn’t reach. She learned really fast how to put them away herself. But it has to be really logical consequences. I learned really young not to ever get excited about anything – like say a birthday party – because then for the next couple weeks all I’d hear was ‘If you don’t to x right now, you’re not going to that party’. So yeah…I think I’m just full of ideas of things not to do…sorry.

  32. My little girl is under a year, so take all of my advice with that grain of “i haven’t yet been there” salt. That said it sounds to be like Kate’s child is turning this into a power struggle – I mean, hours of whining and temper tantrums over a little chore? That’s classic power struggle right there. So the issue is not the chore because nothing will motivate, change, cajole, force, etc. out of a power struggle. The best ways that I know to get out of a power struggle are a) not to engage most of the time and b) when you do engage make sure that you are ready and willing to fully engage and make sure that you win. I don’t mean forcing your child, becoming authoritarian or doing something that you aren’t comfortable doing as a parent, I just mean that when you say “we are not going to the park (or whatever) until you make your bed” then plan on staying home all day regardless of what the child does to escalate. Keep yourself calm about it and go about your business but remain firm that nothing fun happens (period) until the bed is made. It sounds like you have a willful child so it may take hours, but if you’ve picked a battle you can win then it shouldn’t be as painful the next time.

  33. I’m baffled by the comments where people’s kids tell their moms “no, that’s your job” and get away with it. Am I just from a really strict family where that kind of attitude would get me grounded/punished/mouth washed out with soap? (I know that soap washing is very frowned upon these days, as it can be bad for a kid, but you get the idea) My mom was even a bit of a pushover when it came to stuff like chores, and there is NO WAY she would have put up with that attitude.

  34. Sometimes I am resentful of the whole playful parenting thing, too – shouldn’t I just be able to ASK and something gets DONE?But I decided to look at it like this: I am teaching my kids to have fun in life. That even something mundane can be fun if you make it that way because the fun lives in YOU, not in finding entertainment at all times. And to me, that is just as important a life lesson as cleaning up after yourself.
    Of course, this is how it sounds in my head, and it often sounds like “If you don’t clean up your toys right now they are getting locked away for the day” out loud. But we do our best.
    The idea of teamwork and being part of the family is also fairly effective with us.

  35. @kate & @lydia, yeah. there is a “hairdo wheel” on Mouse’s bedroom floor right now that she created Monday night, consisting of a queen with a wand in the center on a pedestal, surrounded by a very neat array of spokes made of beaded necklaces, each leading to a doll with a specific hairdo (ordered by days of the week) who is lying on a bed made out of a book and some yarn thing Mouse has created over the past year. It’s really very pretty and solves the problem of agreeing in advance what is a reasonable thing to do with her hair in the morning, i.e. not French braids every day unless you want to get up really early.My mom would have insisted on that thing being cleaned up; I’ve settled for, you need to agree that if you need mommy in the dark and I trip on this and mess it up, you’re OK with that risk…and you have to put it away before the housecleaner comes on Thurs (which is a whole other discussion about what we do and is and is not that person’s job and how we treat her with respect by making sure everything is ready for her to do her job efficiently).

  36. @Sweetcoalminer–yeah! That’s me! That’s me too!I’m interested in the fact that there seem to be more jangly jagged things moving around here (as Hannah pointed out) then there usually are in our discussions–just yesterday we vaulted over the whole “AP/Back to Work” thing with nary a jab. Well, anyway–I’m reading with interest, although the topic is kind of painful to me, as I feel sort of a failure on it… Also, for me, because DH and I don’t sync up exactly on it… Meaning, he does the morning routine and I’ve asked him many, many MANY times to make sure their jammies are folded and under the pillow (or in the hamper) and their beds are made–our bed, too–and it happens for a few days and then… he drops off on it. I really have to practice deep breathing on this one because it pisses me off. Sometimes, though, I cheerfully think they’ll be the kind of adults that are neat-as-a-pin “because my Mom was such a slob.” I’m definitely working on this issue.

  37. Here are 2 things that have helped me get stuff done around my house:1. a little each day: instead of a big cleaning blitz that takes hours, I go for 15 or 30 minutes each day, and always right after lunch. This way it’s part of the daily routine and it’s not a huge time commitment.
    2. setting expectations early: after we sit down for lunch, I tell my kids what the day’s cleaning will be and how they can help. If they don’t want to help, then we’re not doing something fun when I’m finished (like going to the park or reading books). Sometimes they opt out of helping, which is OK once in a while (mainly because it’s more efficient if I do it alone), but not OK every day (if the chore involves their stuff, they need to help).
    And how do I get them to help when the chore involves their stuff? The same way my parents did with me: I won’t do something until they do help. For example, I won’t get out the playdough until their dirty clothes are in the laundry basket. If the dirty clothes never get into the laundry, that’s OK, just means the playdough never comes out.
    Does this avoid whining and tantrums? Nope. But I think (& hope) it teaches my kids that we all have to work together and that they don’t have free run of the house or of my time!

  38. This is fascinating to me–My grandma was a hoarder, my mom a messy person, and I was one of those “odd children” with experiments running in closets/drawers/window-sills/middle-of-the-floor.I’m so messy, and I was raised at a boarding school where we did chores all the time. Maybe b/c it did not create internal motivation? But I *did* pick up on daily exercise from a similar system there, so that can’t be it. . .
    Ok, my final vote is: Cleaning up is like eating or sleeping, you can lead your ‘horse’ to ‘water’, but you can’t MAKE them drink. (Unless you do the Ask, say etc, where you do hand over hand. And that doesn’t work for Big Kids.)
    I keep reading parenting books (I’m so sick of it but it’s a compulsion), and it just seems to really boil down to setting the example and setting the scene, then stepping back and hoping. Even if you have a trick that works, I think it’s just part of setting a scene that works, like you might do for yourself (I’ll watch TV for 1/2 hr after this livingroom is cleaned up). It’s not really a trick, you just got to know the kid better.

  39. OK, are people getting backup from their spouses? It used to drive me crazy when my husband would ask the kids to help him pick up their toys, because I think help should be flowing the other way. And he is definitely one to pick up their stuff at night after they’re in bed, not because it’s the occasional trip down the path of least resistance (because I do that too, and QED it is perfectly OK), but because he would rather just play with the kids all evening and not deal with sulky resistance.

  40. @eletriclady: “But it would be nice to be mindlessly obeyed once in a while, KWIM?”I know what you mean. Sometimes, I would like you to just brush your danggone teeth without me having to turn it into a flipping game. And when that game doesn’t work because Chick Hicks’s toothbrush can’t bump the McQueen teeth and I’ve ruined teh whole game, and it’s become a power struggle, I have been known to have less-than-playful times wherein I forcibly brush teeth (and this is not pretty). But teeth brushing must be done because of the sugar bugs (proabbly caused by me not forcing the issue sooner) so if you don’t cooperate, we do it my way.

  41. @sarcasticarrie, that used to be us all the time with the teeth. It was horrible. But it all ebbs and flows. The phrase that pays right now and gets my toddler running to the bathroom is “There’s toothpaste on your toothbrush.” If I have to brush their teeth, I just use the brush, no toothpaste, or a tiny smidge of grownup toothpaste for the elder.I can’t tell you how horrible it was to get teeth brushed around here. Part of it is rushing: we rush the morning routine 90% of the time. But it passes. Not that it won’t start up again.

  42. I wonder if instead of a rewards chart you did something that just listed all the chores that each person did, including the parents. Maybe with checkboxes, maybe not. But to show your daughter just how many chores there are and who is doing what. My hope would be for the kid to see that everyone else is pitching in, and she should to. Not just for the guilt factor (hehe), but to show in a visual format what is fair and that it’s not like you are asking her to do things when no one else is.But with a spirited child, who knows if that would work! And honestly? I had hoped that life with a spirited child would get easier as she got older. Sigh…
    @Allowance – I know people want to use allowance to teach fiscal responsibility, and I’m all for that. We haven’t started allowance yet, but I’m really curious about how people are giving it. There is the idea that people don’t want it tied to chores because chores are something everyone should just be doing. I totally agree… But then how are people teaching how money is earned? Because as an adult, I have to earn my money. My company does not just give it to me because I exist. Shouldn’t kids learn that money is earned, and therefore should be spent wisely?
    @Slim – Is it awful that I thought your example was a good idea? HA!
    @Hannah – I love the idea of monthly family meetings. I think it was suggested in one of those parenting books I’ve read… maybe How to Talk So Kids Will Listen, and Listen So Kids Will Talk? I seem to recall the authors said that it was a good time to get the children on board with the problem and get them to be part of the solution by brainstorming ideas and trying them out?
    @sweetcoalminer – I really like the Toy Jail idea! I will totally use that.
    @electriclady – “But it would be nice to be mindlessly obeyed once in a while, KWIM?” YES! And yes to all the others who’ve said similar. 3 yo and I are in a big struggle over a few things that keep making me think this. Even though I’m generally a big fan of playful parenting (it TOTALLY works for my kid) and getting cooperation instead of compliance. But MY GOODNESS, why can’t she just get ready for bed without a huge ordeal?!?!
    @Mama Fuss – I was thinking the same thing! I can’t believe any kid would get away with saying that!
    @SarcastiCarrie – OMG! The brushing of teeth! My current nightmare of JUST-DO-IT! I’m currently having to do it mornings and nights, and I’m forcing the brushing more than 50% of the time. Grrrr.

  43. Kate,I have similar issues with my kids (5.5, 3.5), but it is the younger (DD) who refuses to help. The elder one (DS)jumps at the chance to help out with anything, especially if the younger refuses. Elder wants to be a ‘really useful engine’, you know?
    Of course you wouldn’t expect any different of a 3.5 year old, but now you have all got me worried that cooperative and compliant little Elder is going to grow up feeling he was manipulated by his Mother and his sister got away with murder.

  44. I can’t wait to read the comments because the question of chores has been on my mind a lot with my 4.5 year old- but I just have to say this:”My younger one has the kind of hopeful heart that would’ve made him a beloved English 19th century poet…”
    Made my day. I have one of these, too only I don’t describe her as artfully as maybe I should be.

  45. @Slim: re: spousal support. I think it is *much* easier when the parents are in alignment about this. My hubby and I worked out all of our chore conflicts in the course of living together before kids (we even had to have a chore chart for a while to get over the perception that each of us was doing more than the other). I can’t imagine how it would be if hubby made messes and expected me to clean them or if he always cleaned up after the kiddo. Would be much tougher I expect.My husband is a neatnik who manages to immediately put away everything immediately after he uses it but he generally will not pick up after other people. My magazine could lay on the coffee table for 100 years before he’d put it in the magazine basket– he doesn’t expect me to pick up his stuff and it doesn’t enter his mind to clear up my stuff either. So he’s pretty good about encouraging our little guy to pick up after himself. He trained me well too (I was messy before I met him) and now I’m pretty tidy (not compared to him, but compared to normal humans).
    @Hannah: it *is* interesting how this topic touches a nerve with a lot of people and brings out the judgement (in me, too!)– more than sleep or breastfeeding or a lot of other topics. I wonder if it’s because how chores ran in our families of origin and our current families (forced, not forced, battled over or not, messy parents vs. OCD cleaners) often is a big indicator of the power dynamics in a family– it’s all about what happens to the shared space, how the family cooperates and functions (or not) and it’s an area rife with potential conflict. Plus, housework never ends, it’s always there, always an issue (whereas breastfeeding, sleep, teething, toddler food issues, etc. all pass eventually). Touchy subject, but like I said before, I don’t really think it’s about the chores per se.

  46. This is a really helpful discussion. I have a 3 year old and a 14 month old. The 3 year old helps with various things but we don’t have specific chores. I think we need to get more intentional about this…probably just by talking about it so he understands better about what goes in to keeping a household running. We don’t have a set time to tidy up toys (I’ll often do it after he is in bed) but he often spontaneously tidies up all the toys in living room so I don’t want to ‘mess that up’ by making the tidy up time a forced task.Like Slim, I love this:
    Last Hour wasn’t exactly a playful time at our house, but shit got done.
    Favourite comment thus far!
    About allowance: Some families (like my husband’s when he was growing up) give a small allowance that is not connected to chores but then the kids can earn more by choosing to do the big, less-routine jobs (window washing, cleaning the garage, etc…)

  47. I often get to the point where I am done being playful. We either cooperate, or we’ll do it my way with a consequence. Sometimes I feel like we offer our kids so many options, so many choices, so many opportunities for negotiation, and while I think those are great and wonderful learning opportunities, my 4.5 year old has learned how to manipulate the system. So I state my expectation, I give him a couple options in there that meet my requirements while still allowing him to save face and not feel like he’s being railroaded, but at the end of the day, I’m the adult. And it’s my job to set the boundaries. I have had many students come through my class whose parents have been too afraid to put their foot down and take a stand on anything, and these kids act as if they run the world and there is nothing you can say or do to them. My son has been known to tell me “That’s your job” to which I freeze, stay silent for a good 10 seconds with raised eyebrows, and then say softly, “Excuse me? Want to try that one again?” to which he sheepishly apologizes and then we talk about shared responsibility and how we help each other. I also try to have a lot of these conversations while not in the moment of wanting/needing him to do something. When we drive in the car sometimes I start talking about how we’re a team and we help each other out and then we start coming up with ideas about the ways I help him, and the ways he helps me. Plants the seed, and there’s nothing at stake for him.I do not want to raise blindly compliant kids……I much prefer collaboration to compliance. But sometimes, when the expectation has been stated and it’s something he can easily accomplish, there will be a consequence for not carrying his end of the stick.

  48. @ Slim-I personally don’t think the choice/consequence you offered your child was a “bad parenting moment” – it sounds like a fair and equitable arrangement. No participation in dinner prep = no participation in eating it. Standard love and logic technique – I really like those sorts of approaches and use them often.
    We are pretty firm in our house with our kids’ (3.5 and 5.5) participation in “chores” – they set the table, clear their plates (3 yo needs help, obviously), put clothes in hamper, help feed pets, clean/straighten room and playroom, and help make beds or do other chores that I ask. They also help in the yard at our request. We try and make it fun (but “Playful Parenting” – ug – I didn’t realize that was an official technique?? sounds hard!) – especially in the yard, and use lots of positive reinforcement for good effort (not necessarily good results- they just need to TRY). We don’t make them do anything too long, if they perform any task for 10-15 mins (e.g., picking weeds, being a yard assistant) and seem to be getting tired, I say “Ok, thanks so much for your help, you can go play now!” so as to end on a good note. We are really trying to instill a sense of community/responsibility and also foster a sense of pride in their own work – to make it THEIR sense of accomplishment.
    So far they are pretty good about it,some grumbles – especially when tired. In our house, phrasing is also important – we make it a directive not a question, and follow through. As with everything, consistency is key.
    This is a really interesting topic – I’m sort of surprised to see such a divergence in opinion!

  49. Still taking notes :)@caramama We found family meetings sometimes very helpful to air/discuss issues in a non-contentious low stress situation, but they eventually all started to follow the same pattern and repeat the same issues, so we ended up stopping. Interesting pov on allowance btw. Again this is not an issue facing us as yet, but I can see I should start thinking about it now!!

  50. @caramama, I think learning how money is earned is important, though hard to miss unless you’re really really wealthy – but I still want a very strong separation between “you earn money for jobs/work/etc” and “you do your chores because you’re part of the team” – the whole reason you need an allowance is because you’re not old enough for earning money yet.I know I had lots of opportunities to do little jobs for the neighbors for minor pay as I got more responsible – feed the fish, take in the mail, etc. when I got older, I worked off pairs of toe shoes by doing *extra* chores if I couldn’t make enough money babysitting. those were great ways to learn about earning for me.

  51. Non-parent here, but teacher, so maybe this will help. Since she’s very artistic, could you present the chores you’d like to have done in a way that sparks her creativity? This takes a little more prep work on your part, but may work in the long run. For instance, toilet cleaning: Squirting the cleaning solution in the bowl makes some pretty designs… And then you spread the “paint” around with the brush so that the toilet bowl is all the same color, using the water to dilute the solution. Flush and you can start again!

  52. Reading this post and all the comments made me think about a post I read a while ago from another blog written by Christine Carter, PhD.She’s a sociologist at UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and she just wrote a book entitled, Raising Happiness (it’s on my book list, right after I finish NurtureShock).
    The post is entitled: How to Get Kids to Do Boring (But Neccessary) Tasks. It’s even accompanied by a picture of kids brushing their teeth!! 🙂 Teeth brushing…what a bitch.
    Anyway, here’s the post: http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/raising_happiness/post/how_to_get_kids_to_do_boring_but_necessary_tasks/
    Haven’t really been able to implement it myself, as my son is only two, but we do versions of it and it seems like it kind of works (not with the teeth brushing, though. That seriously is a total bitch).

  53. I’m a fan of the book parenting with love and logic.I’m also a step mom, which puts a bit of a different spin on things. When I moved in w/ my stepkids, neither child was ever expected to do anything on a regular basis except for breathe, eat, shower and dress themselves(sometimes not even that)> Mu husband and I had many, many discussions about child rearing and in theory we agreed on everything. In practice, not so much. Part of our arrangement is that I would stay home and take care of household responsibilities and the kids in the summer time, he would handle working outside the home. With this agreement it fell to me to institute chores. Only, I didn’t call them chores. I called it “It’s not my room/clothes/food dish..” In other words, I didn’t make the mess, I don’ clean the mess. That’s not to say that there was no instruction or help, but from ages 5 and 7, it was made clear that if you make a mess, you are in charge of the clean up effort. Also, we talked about whole family work – we all live in the house and we all feel better when it is clean and tidy. When we are organized and neat, we all have less stress and we know where are things are so that we are not late. The kids and I had discussions about this stuff at all times, some while cleaning some while playing, some while running out the door to go somewhere (i.e. see how easy it was to just grab our things and go because we put them back last night?)
    I also firmly believe in natural consequences. As a grown up, no one is going to pay you for cleaning your room, by the same token, your laundry won’t mgically be washed by someone else. If you don’t wash your clothes, they will still be lying on the floor. The kids don’t get money for normal household tasks, but extra work is for earning.
    Another concept that we’ve tackled is what happens if things don’t get done – very simply, the kids aren’t bailed out unless there is a very drastic consequence that will harm them or make more work for me/DH. Say that the favorite t-shirt doesn’t get put in the laundry – too bad, can’t wear it tomorrow. I also set a time limit at night – no laundry requests after a certain time – that’s my time for me/bedtime for me, etc.
    I’m thinking back to the struggles of the 6 yr old time period. There was a lot of frustration at failing a task. I too remember pillowcase woes. After several days of assisting/showing/hand over hand instructions, eventually I left the room and went into another part of the house where I couldn’t hear the moans and groans and writhing on the floor. I explained that the noises were hurting my ears and that I was not going to hear them any more, but he was welcome to continue with his door closed. Drove me nuts for probably an hour, but eventually the pillowcase got put on. Within 6 months he was a pro at making the bed and at 9 has no problems whatsoever. Now he just forgets to do things he doesn’t want to do, which results in a hold on fun activities until the work that was put off over and over is complete.
    It makes a huge difference to have spousal support, especially in reinforcing the concepts of work/chores/rewards (whatever they are in your house)Sometimes, it takes hearing it from another voice to make things sink in.

  54. Not on the main topic here, but we’ve had really great luck with tooth-brushing. One thing we do to encourage the brushing of teeth is to do it in various places: the bath, outside with the hose, kitchen sink, small bowl of water at the dining room table, wander around with a toothbrush for an hour before bed. We never say “time to brush teeth” or “here, brush your teeth”, just poke the toothbrush into their hand. Oh, and I often brush with them at the same time–for some reason this seems to be VERY key for them. Maybe too lassaiz-faire (sp?) for some, but our kids have clean teeth, and it’s cheaper and less stressful than fillings. . .

  55. You know how there are extroverts and introverts, and something like 75% of Americans are extroverts? So there’s more social approval for extroversion? Stay with me….I think there must be something similar for Messies/Cleans. Most of us just KNOW that Clean is better.But as I’ve struggled with my daughter over this I have come to realize that there’s more to it than non-compliance. I think she really and truly prefers a room a mess! Yet, she knows that a picked up room is a “gift” to me, and so occasionally gives me a sweet surprise by stacking everything on the perimeter.

  56. Thanks to everyone who thought it wasn’t a bad parenting moment. So much of it was the tone, I think. As is so often the case with me, I was not just an implacable enforcer — you do x, you got result y. I was full to the gills of icy disapproval. Remember Witness and the description of shunning? That was me.

  57. I haven’t read most of the comments, and I know (and believe in) the Moxie ethic of “find what works for your family, do your best, and forgive yourself” (or words to that effect). But honestly, I am on some level astonished at the amount of effort folks seem to be putting into this stuff. I do “get” that there are (inevitably going to be) points at which giving your child a job is (much) more work than just doing that job yourself. But it does seem to me that if that becomes an ongoing, er, problem (situation?), well, I won’t say it defeats the purpose but I will say I don’t think I could stand it.I read the book Have a New Kid by Friday mostly because I liked the title (hey, which of us wouldn’t occasionally want a new kid by Friday), but I found that the approach it suggested works, even with my 2- (now 3-) year old — much to my surprise, honestly, as it seems best suited to older kids. In a brief nutshell (though I would recommend reading the book, really) you (e.g.) tell the kid once to put the pillowcase on (or to try to do so, obviously, age appropriate, etc.) and don’t discuss the issue further. But if your instruction’s not followed, then when your kid asks you to take him to the mall you say, “No. I told you earlier to try to put on the pillowcase and you didn’t, and now I don’t feel like taking you to the mall.” Period, end of discussion. Really, this has worked fabulously for us and I only have to do it rarely. Given that I’ve got a young kid I try to do consequences reasonably close in time (but nowhere as near as most parenting experts would recommend for a 3 year old — not necessarily immediate), I don’t frame things in terms of some larger general principle (justice, fairness, doing your part) but instead just describe how I’m feeling or enforce a specific consequence (“Since you didn’t help … I’m too tired to deal with …,” or just plain, “I don’t want to deal with …” or “I said if you didn’t put your blocks back in the box [note the specificity appropriate to a little kid — not a general “clean up your toys!”] then I wouldn’t take you with me when I went to the grocery store.”). The end. Of course it produces hysterics on the spot, but I ignore those beyond saying, “I’m sorry you’re feeling sad” and going on to do (or not do) whatever I said I would(n’t), and next time we’re faced with a similar scenario I get much better results.
    I recommend it. Really.

  58. I have a couple thoughts-1. The timer thing might work. It works for me. (:
    Seriously, I hate doing chores (unless I’m really mad, in which case I find cleaning to be a bit cathartic). Setting a time limit and giving myself a little reward at the end of it helps me get things done.
    2. Can you brainstorm a solution with your daughter? I think this is from the “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen….” book. My memory is fuzzy but I think the idea is that you sit down and write a list of possible solutions to the problem, and then cross off the things that are unacceptable to one or the other of you. You look at what you’re left with and choose a solution. Theoretically, since the child helped solve the problem, he/she is more likely to follow through. My oldest is only 3, though, so I don’t have a lot of personal experience with this.
    3. I was an utter slob as a child, and have grown up to keep (with my husband, of course) a fairly clean house. So don’t despair….
    @Tzipporah and the others whose husbands don’t help- that would drive me bonkers. Maybe if you presented the problem as one that is impacting how you raise your children, that would get through? I don’t know. I don’t care if one spouse is a stay at home parent. He/she is staying at home to TAKE CARE OF THE KIDS. I think it is reasonable to expect the other spouse to do some work around the house. And if you’re both working? Don’t get me started.
    Seriously, the 50s have a lot to answer for in my book.

  59. I think the reason this discussion has been a little more contentious than usual is because cleanliness and housekeeping is an EXTREMELY judgy and far-reaching topic for most of us.It is hard – HARD – to keep a clean house with kids in it.
    There is huge pressure to have a clean, fixed up, and creatively decorated house (and yard!) for the neighbors/in-laws/census enumerators. The pressure also extends to having kids who clean up promptly, cheerfully, and thoroughly.
    And the biggie – it is an indication of failure *as a human being* if you don’t meet the expectations and if your kids don’t help cheerfully and promptly and well. Not failure as a housekeeper or even a parent, as a human being. Even people who don’t in their heart of hearts care that much about whether the house is tidy get defensive and stressed out over a messy house.
    The American obsession with clean (i.e. antibacterial everything, no playing in the mud, etc.) doesn’t help because it adds the implication that you are dangerous and foolhardy to have a messy house, as well as a failed human.
    Obviously, I feel like an utter failure for having a messy house, and I feel embarrassed to have people come over unless I have cleaned and tidied thoroughly – and I think my standards are too low. I am NOT a compulsive cleaner, not a paranoid dirt-ophobic. My house is generally fairly tidied by the end of the night and I do periodic deeper-cleaning (wiping windowsills, etc) to a level that I feel is not squalor. But I am constantly judging myself in my head, imagining the judgement of friends and relatives, comparing my house to their much cleaner, tidier, more presentable houses. It’s very stressful.
    And there’s a hugely competitive vibe that gets going – how much your kids clean (“My Stella loves wiping down the floorboards”, “Mike is very good about making his lunch for school”), with an edge that I don’t see in other areas of parenting – most of my friends, and most of the commenters here, tend to be relaxed and accepting about how long other people’s babies sleep, for example, or how quickly they learn to read, for another. But the chores and clean house topic gets competitive fast, in my experience.
    My data points: 6 yo daughter who protests fiercely about certain jobs (which is what I tend to call them). Setting the table is one – we have had HUGE battles over setting the table, and my expectations are rock-bottom. All I ask is a fork and a napkin somewhere close to each of our chairs. Seriously. Other jobs she does more or less automatically by now (at least most of the time): dirty clothes in the hamper, dishes to the kitchen counter after eating, shoes tossed in the closet when she comes inside.
    I’m feeling a bit better after reading these comments that we are not off the scale in terms of laxness and developmental appropriateness in this area.

  60. caramama, I wanted to comment on your point about work being connected to money in the adult world, and how you think that giving a child an allowance for “doing nothing” is unrealistic.My husband is a stay-at-home parent. He spends our money. Not just on things for our child and our family, but occasionally on things just for himself. He doesn’t do any work for pay. He does, of course, contribute to our family in innumerable ways. But I never would (or could get away with!) saying to him “Since you didn’t clean the bathroom this week, we will not be buying a new video game.”
    I’m not sure if that’s exactly parallel but it’s what occurred to me when I read your comment.

  61. @Tzipporah & al: I think part of the problem is the use of the word “help”: No one should be thinking about what adults do to keep a household running as “helping,” unless you’re referring to a specific task that you have agreed to as one person’s responsibility. Otherwise, it’s just being a grownup. And another part of being a grownup with children is teaching those children to do a reasonable amount and type of household maintenance. So when my husband would ask a new toddler to put a block in the bin, I could agree that that was helping clean up. But a three-year-old isn’t helping to put blocks in the bin. That’s his responsibility, and if Daddy’s working on it too, Daddy is the one helping.Well, unless Daddy was building something on his own.

  62. Slightly off topic, but may I just say a heartfelt THANK YOU to everyone who commented about the battles they are having with their 3-year-olds and teeth. Sarcasticarrie in particular:”Sometimes, I would like you to just brush your danggone teeth without me having to turn it into a flipping game. And when that game doesn’t work because Chick Hicks’s toothbrush can’t bump the McQueen teeth and I’ve ruined teh whole game, and it’s become a power struggle, I have been known to have less-than-playful times wherein I forcibly brush teeth (and this is not pretty). But teeth brushing must be done because of the sugar bugs (proabbly caused by me not forcing the issue sooner) so if you don’t cooperate, we do it my way.”
    When I remember (and when I’m not too pooped or generally fed up) I Playful Parent it up with the best of them (it is really effective with my kid, who picks up on any tension in me and runs with it), but when it comes to the teeth, about 75% of the time I just can’t. play. any. more. And then I force-clean his teeth. We have even got to a point where I just say to him before we start “Ok, open up and scream really loud so all the neighbours can hear!” because frankly, he’s going to do it anyway, and if his mouth is open to scream, I can get at the teeth. Good to know I’m not the only one in this particular hell.

  63. This is just a story – not advice 🙂 I come from a collectivist culture (Chinese) and helping around the house was really just part of being a part of the family. E.g., when we visit grandma and have dinner at her house, me and my cousins would do the dishes, etc. Then when I was 8 we spent a couple of years living in North America, where I quickly learned from other kids that you can get _paid_ for doing chores. So I started asking my mom if she would pay me for doing the dishes. She asked me how much I wanted to get paid, and I said “a quarter”. (I was not aware that was below minimal wage, and she was very happy to pay me below minimal wage in order to avoid a fight and to keep me doing the chores that I was already doing.) When we moved back to Hong Kong after a few years, the chores resumed and payment subsided. None of my cousins or friends were getting money for doing chores, so I didn’t either. I think it’s very much your family culture.

  64. Maria: “Not failure as a housekeeper or even a parent, as a human being.”I think it’s not this exactly. Failure as a housekeeper is failure as a WOMAN. No one would come into an untidy house and blame a man for it. In fact, they might laugh because he’s a man, or a bachelor, or whatever. Housekeeping (and child rearing) are still considered women’s responsilibities. Oh sure, you’re allowed to work outside of the home for pay, but keeping that house running and tidy is still your job. Some how if you are untidy, it’s a sign that you’re less attractive as a woman…less womanly. It’s When a man tells me that he’s babysitting his own kids for the evening, I want to jump across the room and throttle him because it’s just taking care of your own dang kids. We’ve come a long way toward equality, but we’re not there yet.
    I’m pretty lax about housekeeping. I do a lot of it after the kids are in bed because I do work during the day and I want our evenings to be family time (and I need to leave that extra 45 minutes for toothbrushing games).
    I never received an allowance as a kid. I got some money at my birthday or Christmas from my grandparents (one dollar for every year of age) and it was my job to budget it for the rest of the year for things I wanted/needed. There was no money for my parents to give me. There was no money for me to earn from them. They just didn’t have it.
    Once I was old enough to babysit, deliver papers, get a job, etc, I was thrilled that I could finally have such luxuries as toothpaste (we only used baking soda before that), maxi-pads with wings and Dri-Weave (no more belts!), razor blades that had not been used for a month already, antiperspirant that smelled like baby powder. That is one way to raise kids that really teaches them the value of money (and of earning money and hoarding the money they have earned…I’m sort of cheap, as a result…and I have money issues.)

  65. @SarcastiCarrie, that’s a really good point. I do know a couple of single dads who seem to feel a similar judginess and pressure as I do, but you’re probably right that it’s not as severe and not as all-encompassing.I know that it would help my mental health and I’d be doing my part for collective reasonableness if I could let go of my self-criticism and embarrassment over my house, but darned if I’ve been able to do it yet.

  66. @Dr. Confused – That’s a really good point, about a stay-at-home parent not getting paid for doing specific work. Although really they are, aren’t they? Parenting the child is the job, the contribution to the family, not whether or not they cleaned the bathroom. Hmmm. Food for thought, definitely, even if it’s not exactly parallel.@Cassieblanca – “We have even got to a point where I just say to him before we start “Ok, open up and scream really loud so all the neighbours can hear!”” Awesome!
    @failing as a human being – Does it help anyone to know that I hardley ever notice if someone’s place is messy? Unless it’s like Clean Sweep/Horders messy. But normal mess, dirt and disorganization just means to me that people actually live in that house. Drives me crazy in my own house when it’s a mess for a long period of time, though…

  67. This is such a hot-button topic for me too, as my mother’s rages – and I use the term accurately – about cleaning were scarring. In one case literally.For us so far (5 yo) we find routine is the big one. We don’t generally have “chores time” exactly. We have “after play, toys go away” and “after dinner, dishes are put in the dishwasher” times, etc. It’s not playful but it’s not orders-from-above either. It’s just how we roll.
    I also try not to expect toooo much at periods of tiredness or hunger.
    Whether this will hold through age 7-9 I don’t know. A lot of kids seem to go through a chores transition around then.
    I am a bit radical (due to my baggage) about the idea that my son Must Learn His Duty Now about chores.
    I do expect that in the long run he will
    a) have the actual skill set of organizing, tidying, and cleaning, within the bounds of his personality;
    b) he will have been raised in a home where the family expectation is that we all pitch in on all the ‘work of life’; and
    c) he will have been explicitly told that care for our physical environment is important and respectful to those around us (don’t litter, etc.)
    But I am not prepared to see every refusal as a huge problem that foreshadows a future male pig. I’m just not. He’s 5 and some days he refuses to help for reasons I don’t think he even fully understands. That’s ok. I let him know (mildly) that I’m disappointed because I was hoping for some help, and then I keep going.
    I’m not opposed to true natural consequences (you don’t do your laundry once you’re old enough = no clean clothes). But I’m not sure I’m willing to get into punishment for chores. We’ll see as we get there I guess. I would certainly say “I don’t have time for X because I didn’t get help with Y,” but if I were truly finished Y, I don’t think I’d drop that trip to the zoo either.
    I realize the American Calvanistic streak would want to (metaphorically) beat the defiance out of him but I just can’t get into that. I am trusting that he will be okay.
    FTR my house is not spotless nor a disaster, it’s kind of comfortably in between.

  68. I apologize in advance, for this continuing tirade against the 50s….I think our unrealistic expectations for household cleanliness and the judgment we feel around it stems from the fact that there was a time when society pretty much forced all women to be “homemakers”.
    Now, there is nothing AT ALL wrong with being a homemaker IF THAT IS WHAT YOU WANT TO DO.
    But if you really want to be an engineer (for example) and your personality and strengths tend towards that sort of work, and you are told, “no, you’re going to stay here and keep this house clean and organized”…. well, one way not to go crazy is to engineer the crap out of the job that you’re allowed to do. To take every dust bunny as a personal affront, much the way my computer programmer husband is offended by a bug in his code.
    More generally, if the only thing your culture allows a group of people to take pride in is the state of their houses, then a lot of those people are going to take keeping their house clean really, really seriously. We all want to feel pride in our work.
    This was the way it was for women a short 50-60 years ago. Is it any wonder that we’re all still a little crazy about the state of our houses? Our mothers and our grandmothers passed that value system on to us.
    But it is outdated, and doesn’t match the reality of our lives today. If you force yourself out of that mindset, and try to think about it objectively- does it really matter? My opinion is that as long as my house meets some minimal standards (no public health risks, room for the kids to play safely, no fire hazards, clutter not driving me bat$%&! crazy….) then the rest just doesn’t matter.
    I’m not saying it is easy to break free from the cultural messages, or even that I am 100% successful at doing that- but I think that’s what you have to do. Define your own success criteria, and judge yourself based on the things that matter TO YOU.

  69. Or, Cloud, if you really DO want to be a home-maker, but instead you have to go out and earn a living because your spouse is disabled, it doesn’t necessarily follow that you will want to spend all your free time cooking and cleaning…But you WILL feel guilty (as a woman) if your house is messy, or your kids don’t behave well.
    Actually, you’ll probably still feel guilty even if you DO want to be an engineer. For all the reasons you stated.

  70. I have only skimmed the comments, so please forgive any repetition. I agree with whoever commented on the importance of temperament. I have five children, one of whom is too little for any chores other than “Let’s play the fun fun ‘in’ game” in which we count it a success if a couple of board books go in their basket. Three of the others are reasonably pleasant and cooperative about getting things done. One will freak out, really freak out, about doing a task that has been his responsibility for the past five years.I tried a lot of the sensible things that have been mentioned here and they didn’t help very much: I gave him a written list of what we needed to do, so it wasn’t a giant looming mystery task. I taught him how to do the jobs and tried to have age-appropriate expectations. I set a timer to encourage everybody to keep moving instead of stretching out the task indefinitely. I planned something fun that everyone could look forward to after the jobs were done.
    …and he still had big drama attacks about cleaning.
    I instituted the Tantrum Clock and it has worked reasonably well for us. I tell him, “I cannot make you calm down, but you know that this is not appropriate.” I leave him alone to get it out of his system, and keep an eye on the time. If he spends an hour sulking in his room, then he will wind up spending two hours working for me, usually in fifteen-minute increments. Sometimes I scale it up to three or even four hours, if it was a particularly obnoxious episode. Sulky work doesn’t count. Privileges are revoked until the time is worked off. I do my best to be matter-of-fact the whole way through, because this is the kid who knows best how to get under my skin. So far he’s always worked off the hours with just occasional reminders about attitude.
    If I can’t wait for him to do the task he was assigned, then I’ll do it myself and he’ll have to do one of my jobs later. He knows that my jobs are harder than his jobs, and sometimes that’s motivating for him.
    Now that I have written a novella here, I am a little reluctant to post it. I would probably have been judgmental about this strategy when I only had one child, though I’m not sure whether it would have been “that kid needs a counselor” judgment or “that’s too harsh” judgment. 🙂

  71. I think kids are more willing to help with the not-so-fun parts of domestic life when they have meaningful activities in the parts that are more fun for them too, like cooking, gardening, and even pressing the dishwasher and dryer buttons. That said, while I’m a laid back, playful kind of mom in a lot of areas, I am a bit more hard-core when it comes to not allowing whining about what they’re asked to do to help out. It’s important to me that my kids understand that a family is an interdependent kind of thing past the toddler years, and that parents aren’t just there to serve their kids. I don’t let my kids just hand me stuff to hold without asking me first or expect me to relieve all their boredom either – and I expect them (at age 5) to start to realize that I have some needs too sometimes. I also make it clear that helping out the grandparents is important, which helps them to break free of the idea that parents are kids’ servants. “Families help each other” is my answer when my boys whine about helping, and if they have trouble understanding that and continue to whine, they get another chore. Rarely have they needed more than 2 chores to “get it”, and usually it just takes “families help each other”. And, having them help out more or less cheerfully most of the time is a lot more harmonious for all of us, whether my solution is technically “punitive” or not. I love Playful Parenting for all the great ideas, BTW, and use a lot of them, but nobody gets to be cajoled all the time forever.

  72. @Cassieblanca oh yes. We went through a long phase when I described toothbrushing as “alligator wrestling” (and would wrap one arm around my son and press his check against mine so our heads were parallel and he couldn’t head butt me, and then brush with the other hand, sometimes holding both his hands in mine). At some point my son decided he’d rather cooperate than be wrestled (thank heavens) but I think he’s pretty easygoing, so I can imagine it being otherwise with other kids. Sorry you’re dealing with that.

  73. Well, thank you all for this discussion.Yesterday, my daughter had left a bunch of stickers on the ground in the family room. When the baby (almost toddler! EEEK!) sees them, he puts them in his mouth. Hello, choking hazard!
    So my husband was telling her to clean up, and she said, “Um, no. I want you to do it.” Hubby said, “You made the mess, you pick it up.” I could see the beginnings of a power struggle, all too common in our house these days.
    I quickly thought of this discussion and jumped in with, “Pumpkin, it’s your responsibility to clean up the mess you make. If you want help, you can ask one of us to help you and we’ll be happy to. But it’s your responsibility.”
    Well, don’t you know she immediately got off the couch as she said, “Can you please help me?” I responded with sure, and got on the floor with her to pick them up. With no more arguing. She picked up the majority and told me that they go in the trash, where she put them and I followed with mine.
    I know this won’t work every time, but it did yesterday! So thanks, all!

  74. Last night, after I had been mulling over JennG’s comment about her mother’s rages around housecleaning, I said to Eldest, “Honey, you know when I’ve had temper tantrums about our house being messy?” (I’ve definitely had temper tantrums, as in, jumping up and down and saying AARRGH! MESSY HOUSE!) “Well that’s silly of me, I think, because I guess it’s not that important. I mean, our house is okay.” Eldest nodded and looked at me thoughtfully and then asked, in all seriousness, “Would you rather have a messy house or no house?”

  75. Haven’t but perused all the responses.Our nearly 4 yo tells us what her jobs are — and howls/screams if you dare do one of them automatically instead of waiting…waiting….waiting…waiting…for her to do it (like open the screen door, or now, buckle her carseat).
    I recently had success by having a little talk with her that the appropriate answer to “Please do X” is “Ok, Mommy”. I realized I didn’t want to keep telling her what NOT to do (whine, dawdle). In the short time since I had this conversation, I certainly hear more “Ok, mommy”. Ask me again in a few weeks….

  76. @Kate “But even artistic geniuses need to put their clothes in the hamper if they are sharing their living space.” Ha. Love that. And yes. You’re right. I would agree with others who have posted that it sounds (from the outside) like more about a power struggle, than the actual chores. I’m wondering if involving the 6 yo in the plan for their chores, and also devising the plan for consequences if said chores aren’t done would help put the responsibility where it belongs? Esp if the 6 yo has a different approach to most things in general, it will help keep the chores aligned to (her?) natural way of working at things.@Kate & @Lydia, I know they drive you nuts, but I love the sound of your artistic geniuses! Um, esp. when reading “That pile of paper cuttings, glitter, and bits of yarn?” and “We have a love of odd scraps and cuttings that is deep and irrational.” …um yeah. That sounds a bit like me & my work table in our spare room. A total disaster. But sometimes you RUIN EVERYTHING by putting it away!! I think the key is to just have a small space (even if it’s really small like a shoebox or a small table top or even better, a bulletin board) where they can leave their artistic genius mid-progress intact and keep the rest of the house neat and orderly.
    @Charisse, Such a good point about doing things for others vs. doing things for ourselves. This is SO important. I’m definitely going to make sure DS has some for others tasks. He already likes to feed the cat, so I think I’ll play that one up. I think this is what drives me crazy sometimes at home as sometimes I feel like I have a much larger chunk of the ‘for others’ tasks. I really want DS to be a great co-habitator (is that even a word?) as well as be able to take care of himself.
    @Cloud, I love your 50’s tirade! I must admit I never thought before I had DS that I would be comparing my housekeeping skills to my mothers. I often think ‘Wow, our floors were never this dirty when I was growing up’. Grrrrr…
    So far, we’re not doing so badly with our 2 yo. He usually brings his dishes into the kitchen when he’s done eating. Where he picked this up, I’ll never know. But you can sure bet that I started praising like crazy when he started doing it. That, and fighting the urge to say ‘No!’ when he’s carrying his 1/2 full milk glass or soup bowl into the kitchen, while not really paying attention to it, liquid sloshing up the sides and often onto the ground. I’m trying to just get him to pay attention to what he’s doing and clean up the resulting spills instead of blurting out ‘It’s OK, Mama will do it’. That would be setting a bad precedent for the future. It drives me nuts when DH says to me that I’m so much better at X chore, so it’s better if I do it. Elbow grease. It’s called elbow grease. And practice. It’s not some innate talent. Really.
    On the toy front, he’s hit and miss. Sometimes he’s very orderly and will put legos back in the bin himself, or will hand me all the puzzle pieces one by one to go back in the box after we’ve done the puzzle. Other times it’s a disaster zone of toys & books all over the place and not a second nod at the concept of putting them away. I’m trying again to force myself to clean up in his presence and to get him to help me with the cleaning up (as opposed to doing it after he’s in bed, and Magic! the living room is clean again in the am).
    I just installed 3 hooks for his jackets and a divided shelf for his shoes by the front door – all at his height, in hopes of getting him to consistently put his own jacket and shoes away. FWIW, I also installed a hook by the door to encourage DH to do the same (why he can’t walk 4 feet to the hall closet and put his jacket in there, I’ll never know. But I’ve given up with hoping that this will happen consistently. He’s a ‘need to see it in the open’ kind of person. I like things put away. I’m trying to work around our differences to find solutions we can both live with).
    And finally, DS likes to feed the cat. I’m hoping to make this one of his chores when he’s a bit older. Bonus for me: maybe the cat will stop whining at me to feed him.
    To be honest, this whole chores thing in our future worries me. I can totally see things slipping to the point where I’m saying what my mother used to say when we wouldn’t do our chores / contribute: ‘Things are gonna change around here’. I not -so-secretly hope that DS will be a neat freak and he and I will work on getting DH to model our routine more closely. But I can also see it going the other way – DS being messy and a little daydreamy regarding chores. One step at a time I suppose.
    @Everyone with teeth brushing challenges, I’m right there with ya. Really, at the end of a long and busy day the last thing I want to be doing is endless happy happy let’s brush our teeth songs. While trying to hold a wriggling toddler in my lap. Really. I too would often get to the point of ‘OK, if you don’t want to do it the ‘fun’ way, then I’m just doing it’. Not fun. We’ve seen very very slow, but steady improvement. Now there’s usually just a bit of wriggling. And if I let him ‘brush’ first, I can usually get in afterward. Hang in there! Know you are not alone fighting this annoying but necessary battle.

  77. @Jamie – I think your idea of the Tantrum Clock is positively brilliant, and while I don’t think it will quite work on my 2-yr-old yet, I plan to keep it in mind for the future! Love it! (I have one kid and one on the way, btw, and I LOVE that idea, fwiw)I had a teacher (male, but incredibly perceptive) who often would tell us that “a home is an extension of a woman’s personality” and that that was the reason our moms would get mad at us for making a mess, not helping clean up, et al. I think this is true, even when you are a messy person (as my mother was/is), but I hated that all she ever did was apologize to company for the mess (and now I often do it, too!). The exception to that was when she would randomly (and I do mean randomly) demand that the house needed to be spotless and would tear it apart so we could reorganize/clean, etc. I absolutely hated when she would do this to my room because she would inevitably get bored mid-project (when EVERYTHING I owned was out of the closet/on my bed/in the middle of the floor) and go off to do something else (sometimes it was cook dinner, other times it was to watch TV or read a book) and leave me with a disaster that I couldn’t even begin to control in order to get to bed at night.
    However, after 5 years of marriage (to a man who’s mom’s house should be on that show Hoarders, so he’s really fairly used to clutter) I am finally teaching myself to become a better housekeeper. I worked outside the home up until now, though (full-time until our daughter was born, then part-time until a couple of weeks ago) so I think it was less of a priority for me as long as we had clean dishes and clean clothes, etc.) and I’m finding an odd sense of accomplishment in these tasks that I never thought possible. (who knew?) Anyhow, my point here is that it is certainly possible to overcome your parents’ lessons in cleaning (btw, my dad never cleaned up around the house, but would only mildly tolerate my mom’s clutter until he got fed up and would yell at her about it. He grew up in a really chauvinistic family, so again – did what he was taught, but now he lives w/ a clean freak who has spotless white tile throughout her home and I’ve never seen it dirty ever) and teach yourself some new skills in that department, if you so desire to.

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