This article was written by Contributing Writer Erik van Mechelen.
Kids don’t like chores
Getting kids active and participating in household chores has many benefits, but have you ever had trouble persuading your kids to help out around the house?
I know as I kid I wasn’t easily persuaded to do things that weren’t my idea. In Gabon, when I was four, my parents couldn’t even get me to try a single slice of pizza! (Eventually, I tried it and thought it tasted amazing.)
Chores felt like work, which was worse than homework. I’d finally finish my homework, be ready to play, then BAM, my mom or dad would show up with a chore to do. (Chores often are work.)
My guess is a lot of parents don’t bother with getting their kids to help out with household chores. These parents probably have excuses like:
- “Too much effort to keep them motivated.”
- “The kids will just whine and complain.”
- “It will be faster to do the chores ourselves.”
But these parents are missing a great opportunity to implement lifestyle gamification to motivate and reward their kids for helping around the house. Busy parents, take note!
Jumping to conclusions too quickly
Here’s what not to do.
I know! We’ll make chores fun!
I know! We’ll transform chores into an epic battle!
Building a grand plan for chore mastery might seem exciting. Maybe you love epic projects. You can almost see your child dancing around your kitchen with a mop, scrubbing the corners of your bathroom, or trimming artistic features into your garden hedges.
If your eyes are getting big, slow down and consider a few things first.
Who are your kids?
When I was 4 years old, it was hard to get me to eat pizza. And it was even harder to get me to eat broccoli (although Yu-kai has some tips on how my parents could have done that better). (By the way, the principles behind this video apply to motivating people to take action towards something that they may not want to do: getting startup team members to stay late at the office, getting kids to do their homework, or even getting customers to promote your product.)
At the core, your kids have motivations, just like any other human being.
There are numerous other good habits you probably want your kids to learn. But if you don’t understand your son’s behavior or your daughter’s strengths, how can you help motivate them to help with chores?
Which Core Drives are your kids motivated by? (Level II Octalysis)
If we assess your family in terms of the Core Drives of Octalysis, how do each of the members of your family stack up? (You can use the Octalysis Tool for this.)
The above is why I do chores.
As you can see, my motivations are very right brain and White Hat. This may be counter-intuitive to you. But I’ve designed the way I think about chores to more often play to my intrinsic motivations than to external or Black Hat mentality. Of course, sometimes chores are chores in the simplest definition of the word, and you have to replenish your toilet paper.
You may not think the way I do. Start with yourself. What are your motivations as a parent to influence your kids to do chores? (More on this very soon in the next section.)
What’s more, your kids may not think the way I do. Motivations and reasons for doing things will be different. As a parent, one baseline strategy is to understand how your kids are motivated and use that to construct your chore system design.
What do you want for your kids?
I can’t tell you how to raise your kids. You might encourage them to learn how to code or learn how to sell products online ahead of chores (and get a household cleaning staff, the Uber for cleaning staff, or the like).
But you might be the type of parent who believes a little work through chores builds character, skills, and creativity.
Let’s assume you are this one, and move on.
Building a chores system
Chores are about lifestyle and livelihood. The dishes need to get done so you can eat. The laundry needs to get done so you smell decent in public. These motivations, by definition, balance Core Drive 1: Epic Meaning & Calling and the Anti Core Drive 8: Loss & Avoidance. Improving life while avoiding making life worse (it’s not that fun to run out of toilet paper).
Any system begins with knowing your children and understanding what Desired Actions will lead to your Win States (the completion of chore-based tasks or longer projects).
The Strategy Dashboard will help you get started in defining your Players, Desired Actions, Feedback Mechanics, Incentives, and Win-States.
In a future post, we will take the Strategy Dashboard and apply it to several chore-based designs to see what is and isn’t working.
“The cows need to be milked.” -my dad
Whether its cooking, cleaning, or yard work, there are numerous must-haves in any household. These will vary, but are a good place to begin experimenting with your design after you identified the Players and Desired Actions and the Win-States.
Remember, a Win-State for your child (completing a task) might be a little different from a Win-State for you as the parent (at the family level, a better lifestyle).
If I designed a chore system
My chore system would be driven by Core Drive 1: Epic Meaning & Calling. I would help my family understand why we are doing chores, and how they make life better for individuals and the family.
Then, I would build an engine of collaboration, creativity, and autonomy, invoking Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness (through White Hat collaboration), Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback (through milestone unlocks and household innovation), and Core Drive 4: Ownership & Possession (through category owners).
I would use very little Black Hat design because I would want my chore system to grow over time and years into a family support system. Even today, my brothers and I (aged 23, 29, and 31) still have weekly calls to help each other with business or personal projects.
If chores are part of your routine then they feel less like chores. If you have a ritual of defining chores and assigning tasks and giving feedback on completed chores, then this weekly meeting can be a great family-bonding and chore-management experience.
During this meeting, I would let each of my kids share any ideas they had for improving the chore system. We would talk about how we can improve the overall process. With shared ownership, I would intend to let collaboration thrive.
Trading chores could also happen in this ritual. As a son, if I learn my sister’s chore schedule but notice a way to trade or improve it for that week, I could learn about assessing and performing value exchanges. This also could coincide with some kind of rotation so that chores build toward mastery but also lend some unpredictability and curiosity into the mix of tasks.
Eventually, I would build toward giving my kids important roles in strategy and approach to chore management. Giving ownership and autonomy will help them make decisions in a safe environment that actually affect their lives.
For example, my son might come up with an idea to sell goods from our crowded basement on eBay or Craigslist–an idea I wouldn’t necessarily come up on my own if I had defined the task as organizing the basement. (Selling goods will make it easier to organize the basement.)
In this short example, I’ve created a vision of how to approach a chore management system. One that involves teamwork and creativity and plenty of learning.
Why not just use Trello?
Or Asana, or a pen and paper stuck to the fridge in the kitchen?
Once you’ve defined your vision and the motivations within the Strategy Dashboard, you can flexibly approach achieving it agnostic of specific tools.
If, say, in my family’s weekly chore ritual meeting, my son has the ability to suggest a new tool to improve our overall process, he can do so within the framework of improving our epic journey of lifestyle and livelihood.
Instead, if you commit too early to a “life-saving” app without a vision for what you want from it, then you’ll lack the framework to understand how to use it for your own best results.
Chore management for kids involves teaching, motivation, and task management, for kids!
There are many web apps and apps that have tried to solve this problem. Here are just a few:
JobStars was built by a father of 4 young kids who had tried every other app out there and realized each was limited and became quickly tiring for kids. (App adoption is tricky…even before you build a habit.)
JobStars looks to differentiate by using local and global leaderboards.
The app also focuses on the social aspect, letting users involve close family friends and relatives in the kids’ day to day life. Grandma can add ‘jobs’ to Johnny’s to-do list. Kids can also have friends and communicate with them through the app.
This social aspect draws on Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness.
Funifi plays heavily on making chores fun, appealing to Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback.
Chore Wars is a web app that gamified daily chores, like battling the pesky Sink Rat (hiding in your sink!).
Using a collaborative RPG-style system, families could work together to protect their realm.
How do you involve your kids in chore management? Share your secrets in the comments. You might help another parent in need. 🙂