Getting your family members to do chores can be an uphill battle at times; your kids protest as they’d rather be playing a video game or on social media, your partner is tired from working and doesn’t like cleaning the floor at the best of times. It can seem like a running battle that never ends where you end up doing all the chores, leading to a lot of frustration and inevitably arguments.
Many of us when faced with this situation have given in to arguing with our family leading to temporary reprieves where they help out with chores, only for them to go back to refusing to do them as soon as they see your anger has passed – I know I’ve done the same in the past. But the only problem with this is that it doesn’t lead to long-lasting behaviour change: You’re still in a constant battle to get them to do things rather than them having formed a habit of completing chores without being asked.
Luckily for us behavioural science has shown that there is a better way and that with some brief knowledge of how behaviours are formed we can use this to help our family members create the habit of doing the chores we want them to do without being asked.
The key to the process is to understand the two of the most important facts about habit formation:
- Habits form when people feel successful and good about what they are doing.
- Habits form when the process is made as easy as possible.
So how do we apply this to getting our family to do the chores they refuse to do? The answer is to break up the chore into steps and then to praise them each time they complete a step.
1. Make the task as easy as possible for them to do by breaking it up into steps
Often people don’t do tasks because they feel overwhelmed. By breaking up a task into smaller steps you can help your family members to form a new habit over time. The key is to only ask them to do one small step at a time. Let’s take the washing of dishes as an example. To get them to wash the dishes you can start by asking them each day to clear off their leftovers and leave their plate in the sink. Then praise them each time they do so. Once they realise how easy it is to do one stage of a task it builds their confidence and creates a new habit. When a habit is created then the behaviour becomes more and more automatic and you can build on it. Now they’re clearing their leftovers and putting their dishes into the sink without being asked to do so you can then ask for them to wash one dish and so on. It’s important that you only ask them to do a new part of the task when they are doing the previous stage without being asked.
2. Praise them each time they do a step well
By praising them for each step they complete you help to build the habit of doing the chore over time. The key to getting your family to do tasks is to help them feel successful at completing them, and good about doing them.
You can use this approach for any behaviour from getting them to wash dishes, tidy up, or to clean the bathroom. The key is to be patient and to ask them to do things in small steps that you praise each time they complete.
3. Tools: Have the best tools for the task and teach them how to use them
Another way of helping your family to form the habit of doing chores is to make sure that they have the best tools for the job and they know how to use them. If you want your child to vacuum properly but they don’t know how to use the hose attachment it’s going to be hard for them to do a good and efficient job. The same goes for washing dishes, if you have the best scrubbing brush and sponges it’ll make the job of washing up much easier for them. When you have the best tools and teach your family how to use them, you make the task easier, and therefore it will be easier for them to form the habit of doing the chores you want them to do.
One common problem you might incur is that your family members may simply forget to do a chore. The key here is to not take it as a sign of resistance or bad behaviour but as simply forgetfulness. The way to deal with this is to look at how to remind your family to do the chores without your input. A good way to do so could be to get them to put a reminder on their phones each day that will notify them half an hour after you usually serve meals that they need to go and wash the dishes. Timing here is key. Try to get them to time habits and reminders in a natural way so that it slots into their day well. Some people naturally are more morning people, and others are naturally more night owls. If they feel better at night it might be best to have them do their chores at night and to set reminders for then. If in doubt always ask the key question: What is stopping them from doing this behaviour?
Patience and persistence are the key factors for making lasting behaviour change within your family. It isn’t always easy to stay patient and to implement this process at first especially when you are used to seeing the behaviours of others as being bad and frustrating, but I can tell you from my own mistakes and experience that it will save you a lot of stress and arguments in the long run. Treat this as your experiment and remember that with patience, compassion, praise, and seeing the best in your family, you can create a more harmonious household where everyone takes responsibility for their own part in doing the chores.