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My 10-year-old daughter has a problem with doing her chores correctly in a timely manner. For instance, she's famous for taking 3 hours to wash the dishes. She wants to go outside and play or get on the internet and we tell her that when she's done with her chores (dishes, wipe down countertops, sweep kitchen floor, for example) she can go outside. But she takes forever and by the time she's done, it's night time and too late to do anything. Or she will sweep the floor poorly and leave the broom and dustpan in the middle of the room and she's out the door before we realize it.

Here are the things we have done, not in any particular order:

  • Had a heart to heart where we explained that she is part of a family and we all have responsibilities, etc.
  • Grounded her
  • Taken away her toys/computer/books/insert thing she enjoys
  • Asked her why she takes so long: "It's boring and by the time I'm done it's dark and I can't go outside." My thoughts, not yelling at her: "Because you take so long to do it because you don't want to do it that it's dark so you can't go outside."
  • We've tried giving her an allowance based on performance
  • Done the chores with her to make it fun/show her how it's done properly
  • We have even called her grandfather who treats her like a princess because maybe him showing disappointment would drive the point home. (it hasn't.)

She'll do okay for maybe a day or two but then she goes back to slopping through everything. I really don't know what else I can do short of spanking her, which I know from experience doesn't work because the punishment is brief and over with fast.

She's a sweet girl, she doesn't give us any attitude and doesn't flat out refuse to do her chores (yet) and this has always been a problem that I thought would fix itself as she got older, but it hasn't. You would think that she would do things quickly to get them over with so she'll have more time to play, but it's not happening.

I don't think she has any attention problems as her grades in school are very good and when she wants to do something she has no problems focusing. And she doesn't really misbehave much. I'm close to just removing any responsibility from her and her father and I can just do everything ourselves but I think that's what she wants, and I don't want her to grow up thinking she can take advantage of people or if you stick your heels in long enough you get what you want.

How can we encourage her to complete her chores in a timely manner?

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  • have you tried ignoring it, not rising to her complaints about free time? "oh dear, oh well maybe next time" etc.
    – WendyG
    Dec 11 '18 at 13:44
  • Tell me how to make it fun for me. I have never enjoyed it. It is just a necessary thing to get through.
    – DCook
    Dec 12 '18 at 16:27
  • By the by, even in cultures where spanking is considered fine, age ten would be pretty old. Jul 26 at 5:07
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Patience.

If you have patience, then your first idea should work, eventually. But it requires patience on your part to let her learn for herself.

She sounds a lot like my five year old, sometimes. He has to do a set of chores when he gets home from school, after which he's free to do what he wishes (watch TV, play iPad, whatever) until a set time (a bit before dinner). He has three lists:

  1. "Hard" chores. Do the dishes; unload the dishwasher; take out the trash; clean the toy area. Things that I expect to take 15-30 minutes.
  2. "Easy" chores. Feed the cats; take out the recycling; straighten up the table. Things that I expect to take 5-10 minutes.
  3. Academic chores. Doing homework (if any), completing some time with his educational apps, reading a book.

Those are representative of what he might have available any given day, but they change as our needs change - but the important thing is that he has a list to choose from. That lets him pick the ones he likes better, which means he's more likely to actually do them. It also means he feels that he has some control over the situation. I am careful to list them such that he only has options that are actually needed, of course, so he ends up doing something useful regardless of what he picks.

Then, the second part is the time factor - he is allowed his own time, just like it sounds like your daughter is, once he finishes. That is an incentive to finish quickly. Sometimes he doesn't finish quickly, just as your daughter does, but he finishes quickly often enough that he gets the idea that it's possible. It may take her a few times of doing things in order to get that idea; but it will come.

Finally, the rule is I inspect the job after it's complete, and he corrects anything that is wrong. Mostly there isn't anything wrong, because he knows he'll have to correct it. Do be careful though to have realistic standards - only you know what that is, for your child, but setting standards you know she won't meet doesn't help anyone. Set standards she can meet, and then slowly move them towards the goal of perfection.

This didn't work overnight for us, but it does work now most weeks. We still have some bad weeks, but that's par for the course of parenting, right? When he does a good job, as he did today (cleaned a full sink of dishes in 15 minutes), I encourage him and occasionally give him unexpected bonuses; if he has a hard day and spends all of the time complaining, I remind him at the end that he doesn't have any free time because he spent it all complaining, but I don't push that too hard: just enough that he knows he can do better next time. Negativity doesn't help anyone; positivity wins out ten times out of ten.

3

There is a possibility your child may have ADHD1, but they would need to see a specialist for diagnosis and help with any treatment.

A small caveat, while I am not a medical professional but I am a (male) who grew up having been formally diagnosed with inattentive ADHD, which the kind most seen in people socialised as women of all ages. I was prescribed medicine, and given therapy both of which worked wonder for me.

I've also spent considerable time researching my own condition, and branching out to help friends and loved ones who have their learning difficulties (including ADHD) both to support them and help research into their conditions.

That being said:

Girls often experience ADHD in different ways than boys.

ADHD in girls

Based on what I know it sounds like your daughter simply does not have the brain chemistry that would allow her to make the connections needed for delayed gratification (needed in chores), despite all your efforts and reasoning.

Now why does this not necessarily present itself as bad grades? I'm guessing the classes she excels at are the ones she finds interesting and motivating (perhaps all her classes!). This is the only way I was able to get good grades as a (male) child with ADHD growing up. I'd have bad grades, we'd cover a topic I found interesting, and they'd shoot up, until that topic was over.

It's even more apparent here:

when she wants to do something she has no problems focusing

This exactly how ADHD manifests for me and people I know diagnosed with inattentive ADHD. If they find something interesting, the brain releases the chemicals that 'make it motivating', so they can focus. As soon as it's not exciting/motivating, all motivation evaporates.

Contrary to common misunderstanding, ADHD is not a lack of ability to focus—it's a lack of ability to regulate focus. This means we can focus on some things very well, and other things not at all, with less in-between.

Girls with ADHD may also hyperfocus on things that interest them, which may lead teachers and parents to overlook the possibility of ADHD.

How ADHD Symptoms Commonly Present in Women


One temporary fix (and I do mean temporary) before you can arrange for them to see a specialist, is to use body doubling. You've already done something like that by doing the chore with them. But you can even be doing a different chore and sometimes it will still have that motivating effect. Plainly if they see you doing your productive things, they will be more productive. This way it isn't taking two people to do the dishes, and you still get your work done.

This principle is often referred to as Body Doubling:

Many people with ADHD find it easier to stay focused on housework, homework, bill paying, and other tasks when someone else is around to keep them company.

Getting Stuff Done Easier With A Friend

In short, this child needs a different kind of support to what you may have been expecting, but this is the prime time to do so. Child psychologists may or may not be experienced enough to spot the signs in your daughter for the reasons outlined in my first link.

If you need more support, the YouTube channel How to ADHD, run by Jessica McCabe has many great videos, such as this one called ADHD in Women (but Jessica describes her issues starting from a young age, so should still be relevant).


  1. It should be obvious that this is not a diagnosis of any kind, but a strong suggestion. Still, for the sake of making this answer foolproof: A qualified specialist is required for an actual ADHD diagnosis, but beware that some specialists will not recognise ADHD in women of all ages, as easily as they do in men of all ages. ADHD is underdiagnosed in 'women'.

It is estimated that half to three-quarters of all women with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are undiagnosed.

You may also find pushback from non-specialists who disagree even with this suggestion, as it is not something they are familiar with. Do not let them put you off, just because your daughter bucks the perceived trend, does not mean you cannot seek medical help from a specialist, not that she doesn't deserve it.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Rory Alsop
    Sep 9 at 17:28
  • 2
    I'll vouch for this from personal experience. The experience the OP describes sounds like me as a kid with my chores, especially my homework, except my goal wasn't to get outside before it was dark, it was to watch the 5-6pm cartoons I liked. It was in fact ADHD (I just didn't have the loud troublemaking traits that get noticed). My focus levels occurred to me the way this answer is describing, and working on my chores around other people did help. Punishment and incentives never provided motivation—I couldn't do the task if I couldn't get engaged and overcome executve dysfunction. Sep 10 at 0:29
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The only thing I can think of past the excellent ideas you have already tried -- is timing/using a schedule.

If she knows on Sunday what the schedule looks like for the week, and her chores are clearly marked for each day and you tell her that the chore must be completed properly before she has freetime/choice of activity, it could help. It is her choice to procrastinate -- but there is no TV, internet, phone, play until chores are done. There are few surprises. (Everyone helps if something accidental happens -- spilling flour, breaking a glass, someone is ill...)

This gives her the opportunity to organise. Perhaps she would prefer to collect litter from the wastepaper baskets in the morning before collection, rather than the night before. If she can show you that she took the responsibility without fuss and without creating another timing problem, then she can select another change.

Perhaps you could trade chores with her. My husband hates cleaning bathrooms and I do no lawn work -- it works for us.

Compromise: I hated drying dishes, but had no problem washing them. (I researched that it is actually better to let them air-dry!) I also put dishes away before washing the next batch -- so that worked. Compromise may make her feel like she has choices even when she still has chores.

It might help if you make a big calendar and use different colours for her and each other person who does chores. She may see that others do as much as she does, or more (add parents -- she'll see how little she does). If she has younger siblings who do less, remind her that she did not do these chores then and that now she gets more privileges due to her age. With age comes responsibility and privilege.

If you do not want her procrastinating -- model it. It's not fair (and kids are very conscientious about what is fair or is not!), if you do not get around to doing your own chores. This goes for the other adults as well. If it is on the schedule -- you do it.

I do chores in ten minute bursts. I put the music on and in ten minutes every morning, each bathroom (only 2 for me, my daughter does her own) gets a once over, and anything in the wrong room is returned to the right place. Our family has learned to look around when we go from one room to another on an ongoing basis -- we pick up a glass or whatever, and move it to the kitchen (sometimes even the dishwasher). That only takes seconds and we never have to tidy the entire house. We clean in ten minutes, too. I can wash a floor in ten minutes including using the vacuum first -- if it is the living/dining room -- that is two in ten.

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  • 1
    We do chores as a family. First thing while breakfasts are being prepared and lunches sacked all the rest of us clean rooms
    – user27143
    Apr 13 '17 at 13:10
  • 1
    @user27143 We do some chores as a family -- for us 'before the weekend fun' is when we do the major cleaning. So sometimes it is Friday night before we do an early morning 'something' on Saturday, but most often we do it Saturday mornings and then the rest of the weekend is free. It only takes an hour with 2-3 people helping.
    – WRX
    Apr 13 '17 at 16:39
  • My phone tells me when I get a response, do you know how to turn it off? We have a cleaner, so all we do is keep it tidy.
    – user27143
    Apr 13 '17 at 16:42
  • @user27143 sorry no idea how.. you could ask in meta or read the help section.
    – WRX
    Apr 13 '17 at 16:44
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Have you thought about taking her to a psychiatrist or psychologist? It sounds very clear that she doesn't do this to act out or get attention; she might just have ADHD or another neurodivergency if it’s not a mental health issue.

Sometimes it’s hard to understand that some people will never live up to your neurotypical standards because they just think differently on how important certain things are in a task (like how clean and how long should it take, or just genuine forgetfulness and getting distracted easily).

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  • Honest question: what in the question makes you think this 10 year old is neurodivergent as opposed to just wanting to play rather than do chores? You've made quite a logical leap here without showing why this might be the case and why someone should consider this.
    – Becuzz
    Jul 26 at 18:26
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    The reason why this person thinks she is neurodevergent is maybe because for inattentive ADHD their brains are designed to ONLY do what they want which is shown and that anything else they have for what is called executive dysfunction, I know a whole group of ADHD people who are the same even I myself, I show many signs of ADHD and take hours to do dishes, 4 at most, so its clearly not her fault, she needs help, because even if she didn't have ADHD, the fact that she does this even though she doesn't wanna take this long is a sign on its own that she needs help
    – Alex
    Sep 3 at 2:54

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