What do you do when you want to teach your kids responsibility, but the chore wars just won’t stop?

We’ve got a great post from Connected Families today about how to end the Chore Wars for good in your home. I just love their wisdom when it comes to this tricky subject–check it out!

You’ve tried every trick to get your kids to simply do some basic chores and you are met with resistance. You never would have dreamed of sassing back to your parents about chores the way you’ve gotten sass. What’s the deal???

Perhaps the “deal” is that your kids feel trapped and resentful. If they could articulate their underlying beliefs about it, they might say something like, “Mom/Dad, if I do the chore you’ve asked me to do – you win and I lose.”

This sounds kind of crazy to us as parents. You know that great teamwork as a family is a win for everyone. You know that kids who learn to work hard “win” because a strong work ethic is critical to overall success in life. But your kids likely don’t know what you know, or believe what you believe. It’s also quite possible that if your child struggles with irresponsibility and entitlement then their beliefs about chores probably include:

  • Work is hard and boring and worthless (no value)
  • I’m the kind of kid who loves fun and hates work (my identity)
  • I get intense attention when I refuse to do something (reward)
  • If I can get Mom or Dad to do my chores, it’s a win! (big reward)

If this sounds familiar it’s no wonder your family is struggling and stuck!

When this dynamic happens, parents often reach for those old standbys: chore charts and rewards. Google “chore charts for kids” and you get 30 million hits! Chore charts certainly have their place, but when parents find themselves needing systems and ever-larger rewards to motivate responsibility – those “dangling carrots” usually backfire because they communicate: “You’re right, work is awful. And you need me to manage your life.”

So, what can I do?

Let’s start by demoting chore charts to their real place – as a logistical aid, not a motivator. This will free you up to focus much more of your energy on mentoring wisdom and much less on managing behavior. Building helpful values and wisdom in your kids is not a quick, single conversation: Check. Done. Junior now loves to work hard and is outside weeding the garden without being asked.

In reality, building values and wisdom takes time, intentionality and thoughtful awareness of the messages my child receives from me day in and day out about work and diligence.

Do I come home from my job complaining and crabby? Is there a hierarchy in our home where the most powerful people get out of the jobs they don’t like? Is it clear by my demeanor that I’d rather be doing anything else but mopping the floors?

Or – am I grateful for my job and model joy when I work hard? Do I talk about feeling good when I’ve accomplished something? Do I draw my kids into household tasks and make it fun?

Our family put a verse about work to a goofy simple tune, “Work hard and cheerfully, cheerfully, cheerfully. Work hard and cheerfully as though for the Lord. Colossians 3:23, Cha, cha, cha!” (with a little hip swing…) Because our kids had a good sense of humor they enjoyed this even in late elementary and middle school, but for most families that would be more helpful for younger kids.

Another family on our team combats the “work is drudgery to be avoided” belief by designating a reasonably short time slot a couple of times a week as “family clean-up time” after dinner – they put on loud fun music, go at it with gusto, and then finish up with dessert together. That’s a great time to affirm the hard work and celebrate how much nicer the house feels.

As you’re looking at the long-term (not quick fix) goal of mentoring wisdom, it really helps to look for opportunities to have some light-hearted, question-filled discussions. No lectures! 😉 Thoughtful questions are a great way to strengthen your kids’ beliefs about the value, identity and rewards they can find in hard work. We’ve listed some possible questions you can engage kids with, to hopefully challenge and replace some of the unhelpful beliefs listed above.

Mentor the VALUE of work (present and future)

Work in the present:

  • What are some important things we try to do every day to maintain good health? (i.e. make and eat healthy food, sleep, exercise, hygiene)
  • Most things that are good for us, except sleeping, require some action on our part. What makes doing these things either easy or hard? (i.e. our attitude, our choice to make it fun, our “perseverance muscles”)
  • Have the same discussion about your home… What are some important things that maintain our home and why? (i.e. care for the grass so we can play on the lawn, get dirt off the floors so they aren’t scratched or stained, take out trash before it overflows…)

Work in the future:

  • Ask kids to imagine themselves at 30 years old if they got really good at avoiding all hard work. What happens to people who avoid hard work whenever possible?
  • What does life look like at 30 when people find ways to make hard work rewarding and even fun?
  • How does learning to enjoy hard work and gain a sense of accomplishment make people feel about themselves?

Shape your child’s IDENTITY as someone who works hard

  • Ask kids when have they felt really good about working hard on something? (Have a few examples in mind of when your child did this.)
  • When your child does a helpful or difficult task, drop the rah-rah pom-poms (that make their work all about pleasing you) and instead affirm your child effectively [LINK to ABC tip].
    • Action: What did you accomplish?
    • Benefit: What’s good about what you just did? How was it beneficial?
    • Character: What did it take to do that? (This is the question that begins to build identity around character qualities like diligence and perseverance.)
  • Help kids understand they aren’t “lazy,” they are children who are learning what’s important in life, deciding how they want to live, and gaining skills to be diligent.

Tired of having your kids refuse to clean unless they're bribed and begged first? Here are some tips on how to END the chore wars for GOOD in your home!

Help your child understand the reality-based REWARD for hard work

  • Proverbs 14:23 “All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads to only poverty.”
  • In life, hard work earns people privileges. If your kids imagined life at 30 (see above) they probably realized that people who refuse to work, miss the privilege of healthy food, cars and the safety of a house.
  • “As your parent I’m supposed to prepare you for how real life works. What are privileges in our family that should be linked to hard work?”

In Connected Families online course about The Entitlement Fix: Building Hard Work and Gratitude in Your Kids you’ll learn lots more practical ways to help kids learn to value and enjoy hard work and service, including how to use our “Yes, No, Maybe Chart,” and “the Bigger Yes” of God’s purposes for them. One mom who took the course stated, “My son is doing chores willingly now – that’s never happened!” When it comes to teaching kids responsibility, the goal of parenting isn’t to launch kids to independence by being able to “check off the boxes” as they complete tasks, but to understand the Biblical values of hard work and blessing others!

Jim and Lynne Jackson are the co-founders of Connected Families, an organization dedicated to helping families thrive.

Check out their online course about The Entitlement Fix here!

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