Getting My Child to do His Chores

Boy bored with mowing the lawn

I found myself, once again, explaining in elaborate detail the chores I wanted my son to accomplish on Saturday morning. He nodded obligingly, because he has learned that nodding will convince me that he is taking careful mental notes, when in reality his neurons are consumed with how he will conquer the next level on his new video game.

The list of tasks provided was straightforward: Fold the laundry, vacuum his room and load the breakfast dishes into the dishwasher.

I left for the grocery store and returned 90 minutes later to find him on level five of Space Racers of the Forbidden Galaxy. The clothes are still in a rumpled heap, his floor looks suspiciously unchanged, and the dishes are in an untidy stack.

My left eye does that twitching thing, and I go into full-bore projectile parent mode. "When I give you a list of chores I expect you to do them. I am banishing you from this video game, and don't you dare . . . " froth, froth, vexation, froth.

His brow wrinkles in confusion. "But I did take out the garbage and rake the leaves," he replied.

Is it a misunderstanding?

Sometimes children don't understand what parents tell them because they refuse to invest the effort in trying to understand. At other times, they will honestly think they understand but simply do not. Or they space out. Or forget. Or act immature because, um, they are.

Since the end result is the same (they don’t do what you ask them to do), this can be hugely frustrating — especially if you believe that a child’s motivation for disobedience is the key factor in determining an appropriate disciplinary response. After all, it is proper to punish disobedience, but it is futile to punish cluelessness.

Is it a case of cluelessness?

When our son Brad was quite young, he asked to borrow my expensive camera for a class field trip to the zoo. We thought that was risky, so we bought him a disposable camera instead. We carefully explained how to use it and sent him on his way.

He returned home very excited about the pictures he'd taken. “But how do they get the pictures to you?” he asked. “How do they know where I live?” Since it was a disposable camera, he had dutifully tossed it into a trash can at the zoo.

Can a parenting tool help?

Sometimes with uncompleted chores, parents shouldn’t automatically rule out “failure to get the concept” as the main problem.

Here's my suggestion: If your kid is old enough to read, then write the chores down, or have him write them down while you watch. He can make a check-off box next to each task to show when it is completed. Then you can tell your child the consequences in advance — praise or a tangible reward for completed tasks and a reasonable but known consequence for failure.

Bear in mind that even though you are deeply interested in building all kinds of character qualities and life lessons and work ethics and so on into your child, your kid is deeply interested in playing and running around and slamming doors and forgetting to check his zipper when he leaves the bathroom.

So be firm and consistent, but patient and gracious. Remember kids are kids. And love them and forgive them as your Father in heaven has loved and forgiven you.

If you enjoyed this article, read more like it in Thriving Familya marriage and parenting magazine published by Focus on the Family. Get Thriving Family delivered to your home by subscribing to it for a gift of any amount.

© 2014 by Dave Meurer. Portions of this article were adapted from The Hair-Raising Joys of Raising Boys. This adaptation is originally published on

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