7 Ways to Encourage Kids to Pitch-In

Don’t Call it Chores

All parents want their kids to learn to be more responsible, helpful, hardworking, and persistent by doing chores. But, when parents hire nannies and housekeepers to care for their home, the responsiblity to ensure kids learn to be helpful and responsible lies primarily on the nannies.

Kids of any age can do simple chores. In fact, young children love helping nannies clean up and organize. But as kids get older it is the norm to expect that they will go to great lengths to avoid doing any chores.

Drop something in front of a two-year-old, and she’s likely to pick it up for you. This is not a learned behavior, psychologist Michael Tomasello argues in his book Why We Cooperate. Through observations of young children in experiments, Tomasello shows that children are naturally cooperative. As children grow, their almost reflexive desire to help — without expectation of reward — becomes shaped by culture. They become more aware of being a member of a group, such as their family.

Anthropologists studying child-rearing across cultures have noted that the “chore strike” by older children is primarily a Western phenomenon. In developing societies, children are almost universally eager to help out and be useful because they must be helpful and contribute in their societies.

So, while reward charts works for little kids, as children age rewards and punishments simply don’t work at getting them to do chores.

In my experience, children are more willing to be responsible and helpful if they are expected to pitch-in. They prefer being helpful in a group, rather than having to do chores by themselves. Frankly, as an adult, I prefer having help doing chores as well. For example, it’s always more rewarding to set the dinner table or clean up a room together, than having to do it alone.

Here are some ideas for having the kids work as a family to help develop the important traits of pitching-in:

1. A Group Approach:

Being a team player can encourage kids to be responsible. Explain to your Nanny Kids that their family should operate as a team. Lead by example and show that everyone must play a part to get things done. Doing chores together is always more fun than having to do it alone.

2. Invite, Don’t Demand:

Kids want to be accepted and appreciated. Using a kind tone is much more effective to get them to help out, then demanding they pitch-in. In the article, “6 Secrets to Getting Kids to Cooperate,” Shelly Phillips explains that asking nicely, inviting, and working together doesn’t teach children to be more defiant or disobedient, instead, by doing these things you’re laying a foundation of trust and teamwork that kids will learn to rely on.

3. Beat the Clock:

Make cleaning up a game or turn it into competition. Look at your watch and time the kids to see how fast they can accomplish their chores. See who can make their beds faster? Or, set an egg timer for three-minutes and see how many toys they can put away in that time. Once the bell rings, stop cleaning and move on. No one needs to do chores all day long. Be sure to keep chores short and sweet so children don’t dread having to do them the next time.

4. Stop Repeating Yourself / Nagging:

Doesn’t matter how many times you tell kids to do something, they heard you the first time. And once you tell kids to put their clothes in the hamper for the 10th time your voice gets hostile. Shelly Phillips says in her article “6 Secrets to Getting Kids to Cooperate,”When [kids] throw you off your game or induce you to get frustrated or upset, they’re gathering very interesting data about how to get what they want and what might cause you to reconsider your position. Don’t fall prey to their cunning…keep your cool and maintain clear boundaries.” She suggests you invite children to remind you what you asked them to do rather than nag. I suggest, if you asked them to set the table simply hand them the dishes and expect them to set the table, without nagging.

5. Shared Chore Technique:

Jo Frost of the television show Super Nanny suggests getting brothers and sisters to work together by giving them an activity that accommodates all the children but they each have to do their own part to get the job done. For example, you can clean the car giving the taller sibling the windows to clean while and the wheels for the shorter child. Praise them while they work together. Supervise and help out when necessary.

6. Sticking it Out:

Working towards small goals can make it easier to complete a big task. Write down the steps to getting the big project done. Just ask the kids to do one step at a time, once per day, or per week, and allow them a fun break after each step is accomplished. Don’t over do it. There’s no need to exhaust and overwork kids. Reward them for hard work by going to the playground, do a craft together, or go on a bike ride.

7. Cooperate With Kids:

Shelly Phillips explains that there are times when even the most cooperative child just needs some extra help. So if nothing else seems to work, offer to help. They need to know when they need support, you will help them. There is nothing wrong with the nanny taking care of the child.


Why We Cooperate (Boston Review Books)




MegaSkills©: Building Our Children’s Character and Achievement for School and Life



Jo Frost Super Nanny

Brett and Kay McKay Art of Manliness

Shelly Phillips “6 Secrets to Getting Kids to Cooperate”

Psychology Today

Resources for Educators

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