10 Tips for Teaching Chores (or anything else) to Kids with Down Syndrome

Let’s talk about chores.  Most kids, with or without Down syndrome, try to get out of them.  There are very few kids who just love doing chores; why should our kids with Down syndrome be any different?

But, I made my other kids do their chores and brush their teeth and lots of other things they would rather not.  Jessie isn’t exempt from that, but she is more easily frustrated and getting frustrated makes her want to shut down.

The tips I’m sharing are what I’ve learned is the best way to approach teaching Jessie something new or coaching her through something she finds difficult.  They help her be more willing to try and to give it her best effort. Once she has a little success she is more willing then to learn the next step.

Let’s just get something out of the way first.  As I share these posts that have a how-to feeling to them, it makes me a little uneasy.  I don’t even a tiny bit think I know it all.  I’ve sat in circles with other mamas, whose kids are in the same place or just a little further down the road, and we’ve all shared ideas.  I’ve been inspired and learned from lots of other mamas.  Other mamas are at the top of my list of go-to people when I need some help.  I don’t have to know it all to be helpful to you –I just need to be one step ahead of where you currently are.  If I have struggled and made it through,  it feels a little selfish to keep it all to myself once I’ve learned something.

Tips for Teaching Chores (or anything else) to children with Down Syndrome

1)  Start and end with an easier skill, or one they already know.

I learned this tip at a teaching reading to kids with Down syndrome seminar. We were advised to start and end the reading session with something easier and sandwich the more difficult stuff in the middle of the learning session.  I’ve found that to be good advice that goes way beyond the bounds of teaching reading.

Starting with something not too hard can help them begin with a positive attitude, then you can progress to a skill they need to learn, and finish with a skill they have mastered.  This way your child feels a sense of accomplishment and the teaching session ends on a good note.

It isn’t always possible to follow this course, but it is helpful when you can at least end on a good note.

2) Look for ways to infuse humor into the situation.  Be silly.  Make them laugh. 

Whenever possible, if your child enjoys it, infuse a difficult task with humor.  Be willing to make a fool of yourself if necessary.  Really, this is my secret weapon.  I tease Jessie, do something silly (make a fool of myself in a way I would NOT want recorded for sharing).  This often helps distract her from feeling, “This is gonna be hard.”

I find that when Jessie has her mind made up that a task is going to be hard, it is, whether it truly is or not.  I’m willing to sacrifice my dignity if it helps us over this hurdle.

3)  Praise, Praise, Praise, but always tell the truth.

There’s a difference between praise and flattery.

Find something genuinely worthy of praise and then be lavish with it.  There are many things you can praise genuinely even when a skill hasn’t yet been mastered.

  • willingness to try when it’s something they think is hard
  • making progress
  • point out if it was easier for them than the last time

Every step of the way, find something you can be genuine in praising. I find it can make a big difference in Jessie’s willingness to keep trying.

4)  Use words that inspire a level of competence you want them to achieve or that they desire.

For Example:

  • “You’re a big girl; big girls put their dirty clothes in the hamper.”
  • “Teenagers make their own sandwiches, their mamas don’t make them for them.   You’re a teenager and I know you can do that too.”

Big girls….(you fill in the blank)

Teenagers…(you fill in the blank)

Make sure what you’re saying is true 🙂  And don’t over use it.   If you say it constantly, it will be tuned out.  You want to motivate not exasperate.

5)  Typically, new privileges come with getting older and so does responsibility. 

As much as possible, I tie the two things together in her understanding.  It must be working, because after Jessie does something she knows is a big kid/teenager thing to do she says, “I’m a responsible kid.”

Ex:  You have an iphone because you’re getting older, because you’re a teenager.  Teenagers have more responsibility.  Teenagers….(insert…make their own breakfast, clean up their mess, can make a pitcher of koolaid, can wipe the bathroom sink…)

Jessie really enjoys her swim team and gymnastic team practices and lots of other fun activities.   Knowing how much she enjoys those, I remind her that if we want to be free to do fun things there are certain things we have to do during our time at home.

No, when we’re home I don’t always make her do chores before free time. I’m really laid back about when, which might not work well for a kid who who needs more structure.  What’s important to me is that she have a general understanding that  we have to work so we can be free to play.

6)  Explain that they’re a necessary part of the team.

With all 3 of my kids I’ve explained that if we want to have time for fun, mom can’t do everything in the house that needs to be done.  We all have to work as a team to get things done so we have time for fun.  Jessie LOVES her activities.  I regularly remind her that if she wants to be on the swim team and gymnastics team (which require us be at practices away from home) she has to do her part to make it all work.

She loves to be on the go and knows her mama likes to stay home. Sometimes this reminder is the best motivator.

7)  Know their “currency” and hold it hostage.  Use First, Then. 

“If you want to ….then first we need to…..”

I know I’ve used Jessie’s activities as examples a lot because that is what means the most to her. In second place is her phone.   For your child it might be something else.  Whatever it is they want; you probably hold the key to it.  Make them earn the key.

8)  Consider giving an allowance.

I’ve blogged about how allowance has been a great teaching tool in our family.  Its been a great  experience with my other two kids and with Jessie.  It works both to teach your child about money and as a motivator to earn spending money.  You can read specifics in this blog post, “What My Kid With Down Syndrome is Learning From Earning an Allowance.”

I don’t tie specific amounts of money to specific tasks.  It doesn’t have to be a lot of money or break your budget to be a good motivating tool. Use money you would spend on them anyway and just put them in charge of it.

Jessie gets paid on Thursdays (that’s Daddy’s pay day).   If Jessie has gotten lazy about doing her chores I sometimes tell her she won’t get paid until she’s finished them.  This usually gets her motivated.  Sometimes on Thursday she remembers that there are things on her white board she hasn’t completed and she gets busy cause she wants her pay! She loves having money she can choose to spend for things she wants.

9)  Don’t use too many words at one time.

When Jessie was really young I learned that using fewer words, just picking the important ones and leaving out the connecting words sometimes helped her understand.

Even now, when she can understand so much, when I ramble on using too many words I think it gets to be like on Charlie Brown (if you’re old enough to get the reference) whomp, whomp, whomp, or blah, blah, blah.

You don’t have to use a lot of words at the same time.  None of these teaching tips are “once and done” conversations. You will continue to teach these concepts over time.

10)  Your aim is progress, not perfection.

When Jessie was first folding towels it was so hard for me.  There weren’t folded exactly as I liked them.  It bugged me every time I saw them in the closet.  Sometimes I refolded some of them and sometimes I could restrain myself.

Now, Jessie folds towels as neatly as anyone could.  When she packs her swim bag, her clothes are folded so small and neat and she doesn’t like me to mess with them once she’s done.  (I’m trying to make sure she has everything she needs and that’s okay with her but she doesn’t want me to touch them.)

It can be discouraging to our children when we aren’t satisfied with what really is their best effort.  If we can be patient, many times they will improve to a level we can be quite excited about.  But that requires patience.  I don’t know about you, but that is sometimes hard for me.

Let’s all try to be to patient and content with progress until it reaches perfection.  Sometimes that’s a short time and sometimes it’s a long time.

These are the tips that I’ve learned over time.  I hope they’re of help to you!

It might not be the next post, but I will soon post a list of the chores Jessie can do and the steps we’ve broken them down into.

Till next week friends,



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