Seven Tips for When Your Child Refuses to Do a Chore

What’s a parent to do when a child resists doing a chore? In this post I offer seven tips for dealing with such a situation. These tips are premised on three assumptions:

  1. The chore is age appropriate and skill appropriate for your child. Said another way, the task is within your child’s reach to complete.
  2. Your child is not suffering from an untreated psychiatric problem. If a child suffers from depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or another diagnosable mental health disorder he or she may need interventions that are more sophisticated than what’s indicated below.
  3. Your child’s resistance to the chore is not in response to someone else’s psychiatric problem (e.g., someone acting in an abusive fashion, someone abusing alcohol, etc.).

Tip #1: Make it clear what you expect. Your idea of a clean room and your child’s idea of a clean room may be very different. One way to avoid this problem is to write down on an index card what effective task completion looks like. For instance, a clean room = bed made, all clothes put in their place and all food particles/dishes out of the room and either in the trash or the dishwasher (for pre-readers this can be indicated with pictures). It’s also a good idea to put down how long you expect it to take for your child to complete the task.

Tip #2: Don’t make it sound like you’re asking for a favor. “Colin would you Puhleezzee take out the trash just once this week without a hassle?! Puhleezzee!” sounds like I’m asking for a favor, and we all get to say no to favors.

Tip #3: When giving a command make eye contact and use as few words as possible. If my child is watching TV, or I’m issuing a command from another room, the odds of compliance go down. Moreover I facilitate the escalation of anger and resistance if I start lecturing in these moments.

Tip #3: Establish a reward.  In the mildest cases of non-compliance your praise for a job well done may be sufficient. If that doesn’t work you can make your child’s access to a privilege contingent upon having done the chore properly. “Jaden from now on you earn the privilege of watching TV by doing kitchen duty.” After having done the chore multiple times in a row a bonus can be offered (e.g., a game rental, a trip to an ice cream shop, etc.).

Tip #4: Give your child the opportunity to control aspects of the task. “Peter which day of the week would you like to pick up the dog’s poop off the lawn?” “Brooke do you want to take your shower right after dinner or right before bed?” “Claire do you want to rub my shoulders before or after you rub my feet?” (Just kidding on that last one…or am I?)

Tip #5: Give a warning that the task is about to be due. “DJ I know you’re into your video game but in 15 minutes I’m going to need you to stop and pick up your toys and put them in their place.”

Tip #6: Use time out if the reward is not sufficient. If your child resists doing the chore after you’ve given three commands to do it (issue the threat of time out when giving the command the second time), have her sit in a hard chair for a minimum sentence of one minute for each year she has lived outside the womb (don’t let your child know what the minimum sentence is). After the minimum sentence has elapsed your child can get out if she is sitting there quietly and she agrees to do the chore. If either or both conditions haven’t been met, and without announcing that you are doing so, cylce through new periods of minimum sentences until your child is sitting there quietly and agrees to go do the chore.

Tip #7:, Seek out help if your child has a persistent patter of non-compliance, that is not responding to your best efforts. For a referral for a provider near you click here.

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Comments

4 Comments so far. Leave a comment below.
  1. Thanks for participating in APA’s Mental Health Blog Party. Great posting! Bet my mother wished she had this advice when I was a kid.

  2. Great post Dr Palmiter. I especially like the first part – making sure the chore is age-appropriate. Sometimes we over-estimate our kids’ abilities and/or focus on having them do tasks that really aren’t all that important. For example, brushing teeth in my house is an absolute non-negotiable – – having a perfectly made bed everyday isn’t so important.

  3. Thanks for the comment Dr. Stephanie. Yes, so often when I write for parents I’m including myself in the audience. Like they say, one teaches what one most needs to know 😉

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