Winning the Chore War

Family and Kids

Post written by mom and parenting columnist Susan Heid of The Confident Mom.

A few weeks back you may have seen fatherhood columnist, Dean Mehrken’s post titled “Paying Kids For Chores?” It was a topic that brought a lot of discussion and also triggered this post.
I wanted to share with readers some practical steps to actually implementing a chore system in your home successfully.
Who wants to repeat yourself over and over again to get a child to do a task that you can do in 10 minutes? NOT ME!
It is a common complaint with all parents, but more so with moms. It can be more a chore to enforce a chore!
I can remember when I was a single mom, I spent a lot of my time doing just that, draining my energy and raising my frustration level (and my voice)! My kids were small and I would try system after system because they just didn’t do what they were supposed to do.
After beating my head against the wall multiple times realized I was going about it the wrong way. I have learned from my mistakes and love sharing steps to creating a system that will work in the homes of mom’s I work with.
It is not rocket science, but boy – it makes a big difference!

Assign appropriate tasks

Your first step is to come up with a few tasks that are age appropriate for your child.
Start early and keep it simple
If you have young children at home, 2-3 years, you are in the prime chore starting stage. Even our 15 month old has a chore – to give the dogs cookies!!
If you are passed this age range, don’t worry – there is still hope!
You can find ideas everywhere, but if you are stuck on this one, here is a resource on age appropriate chores that I offer in order to jumpstart thinking. Another awesome resource for helping develop age appropriate life skills is Merrilee Boyack’s book, The Parenting Breakthrough . Both will be helpful as your children grow in age.
Do my children have daily/weekly household responsibilities?
It has worked well for our family to have both daily and weekly household responsibilities for the children. Daily chores are a great way to build consistency and routine into your child’s day and weekly chores allow more complicated or tasks that require more time to be incorporated. You are also teaching your child learn to budget their time, plan accordingly and understand that in life there is hardly a day off!
Something to keep in mind: in the beginning it is not about how well the job is done – but rather that the job is getting done and they are learning. The job will rarely been done the same way or to the same precision as you, so you have to let it go. You are building much more in your children by giving them your encouragement rather than criticism.


After you have YOUR list of ideas for chores, sit your children down and discuss your ideas and also ask for their ideas. When we started doing this in our household it was amazing what ideas they actually came up with. We explained that they would be doing chores, but if they had other ideas of things that would help the family we would consider those ideas too.
They were able to choose from our list and make requests of certain jobs they might prefer. This did not mean they would only get those jobs – certainly not, but it gave them the opportunity to perhaps do a job that they enjoyed.
Now they know to speak up if there is a job they would like to do – they realize they will be assigned jobs, so why not offer to do those you would like to do?
This produces a much better success rate, cooperation and feeling of being included in the decision.

Set Expectations

After you have your list of ideas it is critical to get down to the nitty gritty of the what, when, and how.
Set the rules ahead of time so kids know what to expect.
You will have better results with compliance when you are specific in what is required of each task and when it is required to be completed.
If one of the chores is to clean that bathroom counter, make sure your child knows exactly what that consists of (using spray cleaner, a rag, wiping down areas, putting his dirty rag in the laundry room).
By giving clear expectations there is less room for confusion.

Set deadlines

Make sure you set the expectation for when chores need to be completed by. Set a time of day that chores are to be completed; in our home daily chores are to be completed by 5 PM. The only exception is if you have an activity that prevents you completing them in time and you have been given an exclusion in advance.
In our home weekly chores can be done at anytime, but inspection time is 5 PM Sunday – unless you have arranged inspection prior. So if a child cleans their bathroom on Saturday morning but forgets to ask for inspection and by Sunday night it is a mess, they do not pass.
Obviously this works for our family because our kids are older, if you have younger children, be more specific and help them plan. You want to teach them along the way – that is what we did in order to get to this point.
This may seem a little tough, but as your kids get older you will want to make sure you have some sort of system that will prevent excuses from piling up, which them makes it difficult for you to enforce consequences.
Our kids have learned to look at their day and determine if they need to ask for an exclusion ahead of time to avoid the consequence of not doing their chores on time.
It is their responsibility – not mine.

Are chores clearly posted?

After you have divvied up the tasks, post them where everyone can see them and can be referred to at any time. We have our list on our refrigerator divided with daily and weekly responsibilities, as well as the time they need to be completed.


This is a big one and takes time from a parent. You have to be inspecting to make sure jobs are completed and done correctly. For us it works to have one person be in charge of chores. This way there is no confusion between what I may expect versus what my husband expects and we are both not trying to do the same job.
At 5 PM or shortly after, my husband goes through the list and checks all chores. If something is not done correctly a child may have a second chance to get it right, but if it is consistently a trouble area and it appears to us that they have just become lazy in their responsibility, they will not be given a second chance to complete it correctly.

Setting clear consequences

What activities does your child enjoy?  Perhaps playing with a friend, sports, or watching TV?
What items does your child have that they cherish and would hate to lose?  An IPOD, cell phone or video game?
These are all great options for consequences. If chores are not done by the set time you have determined – hand over the IPOD. You can determine if it is handed over until the chores are done, or for a set time period, say 12 hours or 24 hours? They could lose it for periods of time corresponding to how many chores they did not complete. There are endless ways to set this up – so be creative.
We have found it works really well in our house to hand out additional chores when a child has not completed their chores on time or correctly. We get a lot of extra things done around the house, which saves me time!

Consistent Enforcement

Here is where you play the BIGGEST role. You have to take the time and follow through consistently to help your child understand that this new set up is not going away. As with any parenting issue and kids consistency is where the buck stops. If you are not consistent you cannot blame your kids for not doing their chores.
If chores are to be done at 5 PM, it does not mean 5:01 PM. Nor does it mean that dad won’t be giving you a chore this time when you did not complete them in time.
How does your child know when you mean it and when you don’t?
It is extremely hard to be consistent, but it will pay off with huge results. When your child knows they cannot manipulate, negotiate or whine to change your mind the power struggle is off!
Do whatever you have to do in order to be consistent.


The definition for Grace on “favor shown in granting a delay or temporary immunity.”
I love that, “temporary immunity“. As with any process, but especially in raising children there is always Grace scattered throughout the journey. When you begin any new system try to offer grace up as an opportunity to teach effectively. We change chores in our home every 6 months, so there is always a ‘week of grace’ when that happens.
If someone forgets or is confused, they are given grace and the chance to get it right. If you see your child truly trying, then encourage them by offering grace instead of being the hard-nose.
Only you will know when it is the right time to “throw the grace card” as we often refer to it as, but your intuition will surely help in those situations.
Yes, consistency is huge, but being human is part of the equation too.
Life skills are learned through chores and helping with the daily tasks associated with running  your household.  By sharing in the load you are building teamwork and a ‘all for one, one for all‘ spirit.
If you would like to hear more on this topic I recently did a 15 minute audio blog sharing these ideas and more. It can be found here: The Confident Mom Audio Blog. Feel free to hop on over and listen or download it FREE from iTunes.
What system do you use in your home to encourage completion of chores?
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