Dear Mr. Dad: My husband and I are always reminding our tweens (ages 9 and 12) about their chores. They know exactly what they're supposed to be doing, but that doesn't keep them from "forgetting" – even if it's something they've done three times a week for the last six months. We've discussed this with some of our friends who have kids about the same age, and they all seem to be suffering from the same disease. Isn't there some way to get kids to do their chores without having to nag them over and over?
A: Kids have been "forgetting" to do their chores since the beginning of time – and parents have been nagging just as long. I'm sure Ma and Pa Neanderthal got sick and tired of reminding their cubs to put their spears away or take the sabertooth out for a walk. No question, kids sometimes "forget" their chores as a way of getting out of doing them (an approach that's often successful). But sometimes they really do forget – even after being reminded 174 times. Unfortunately, there's no sure-fire cure for this kind of selective memory loss, but there are a few strategies that may help.
– Money. It's never too early to start teaching your kids about money, and one way to really motivate them to pitch in is to give them a financial incentive. Of course, you're not going to pay them to do everything: Each family member has to contribute, and doing certain things around the house comes with having a roof over their head and meals on the table. However, you could come up with a list of bigger, out-of-the-ordinary, paid jobs that are available only to people who have done their basic chores first, – Natural consequences. Some people disagree, but I think natural consequences can be very effective. Do your kids forget to bring you their dirty laundry? No problem. Just don't wash their clothes. When they're all out of clean underwear, and their dirty ones can stand up on their own, they might appreciate the fact that you would have washed them if they'd held up their end of the deal.(Better yet, now would be a good time to teach them to do their own laundry, which could reduce your workload.) And if they forget to take the dog for a walk and he poops on the carpet, well, guess who has to clean it up?
– Use a watch. Kids are often motivated by having a time limit, especially when they know that blowing that limit results in something negative. If your kids aren't doing the dishes, give him an hour to get them done, or they go to bed an hour earlier than normal, with no TV, books, tablet time, or whatever else is part of their normal bedtime routine. You might be surprised at how quickly they take to the new order of things.
– Work, then play. When you go to your office, you probably don't start the day off with a long break or an hour-long chat with your co-workers over coffee. Chances are you start your day by doing what you're paid to do. The same concept should apply to your kids. Let them know they don't get to have fun or do things they enjoy until their chores are done. That includes watching their favorite show, playing their favorite game, and anything else that they might consider to be more exciting than doing the dishes (which, in all honesty, would be pretty much everything).
Ultimately, what you're trying to do here is find the right to motivate your kids – and to turn that motivation into a habit. It may take some experimenting, but it's worth the effort.
(Read Armin Brott's blog at www.DadSoup.com, follow him on Twitter, @mrdad, or send email to email@example.com.)