How to Get Kids to Do Their Chores

Getting kids to do their chores is easy when they’re little. That’s when they want to be just like Mommy and Daddy and imitate everything the grownups do. As they get a bit older however, children begin to balk and look for ways to wiggle out of household chores. This is when parents have to get creative if they expect their kids to take a regular role in the upkeep of the home. Making chores fun, building chores into their schedules, and offering praise for chores well done, can help. But parents should think of getting kids to do their chores as a project that never really ends.

Ann McKitrick MS, a child development consultant and parent educator notes that from a very young age, children love to help around the house. “Babies will feed you their Cheerios, toddlers will put toys in a basket, and preschoolers will spray tables or windows and wipe them clean. The key to encouraging them to continue to want to help as they get older is to appreciate and thank them for their help, with an underlying message of ‘You matter in this family and what you do contributes to everyone’s well-being.’”

Sounds idyllic. Can it really be just that easy? What to do then, about a child who refuses in spite of your best efforts? Is it worth the struggle? Most parents think so, believing that it’s beneficial for children to do chores.

Little Boy Helps Dad make bedOur hope as parents is that chores will teach children how to be industrious, how to clean and make a house look nice. But there are more important social emotional goals at stake. Doing their chores also teaches children how to be part of a family, to step up and take responsibility for their fair share of the workload. Just by doing such mundane tasks as cleaning their rooms, or taking out the garbage, children are learning that they are a necessary and important part of the household and family.

“In the past, chores were a necessity for children. We would have children specifically so they can help out on the family business,” says Chris Drew, an early childhood professor with a PhD in Education, “These days, chores are less necessary but serve a new purpose. They help train our children on skills of adulthood: self-maintenance, hygiene, and responsibility to family.”

As you can see, the list of virtues that kids acquire from jobs such as dusting the living room is apparently long. But don’t expect to persuade children to take out the garbage or wash up after supper by reciting the list of those virtues at them. The idea of learning “responsibility,” for instance, holds no attraction to children. As a concept, it’s just too abstract and seems to have nothing to do with their present lives (and all kids care about is the present). So skip the lecture, and instead take these practical steps to help make doing chores an accepted part of your child’s everyday life.

Little girl helps Daddy Clean

Make Chores Fun

A good place to begin is by making chores a little less boring. And that means making chores fun. Ever notice how much easier it is to do housework when you’ve got loud music on in the background? The same will absolutely be true of your child. Put on some great music to clean by and have your child scrub and wipe to the groove.

Another good way to make chores fun is to do them as a team. Pair up siblings, or clean together with your child. If some competition should enter to see who can achieve the shiniest window or neatest underwear drawer, it’s all to the better. Anything that engages your child’s interest in the task at hand can turn the chore into a positive rather than a dreaded experience.

But engaging a child’s interest also means that chores should also be age-appropriate. Nothing is less fun than being frustrated by a task that’s just too difficult for the child’s age and development. Note that you almost can’t start too young, when it comes to doing chores. “Younger children and toddlers may start with simple sorting activities such as collecting all of the clean spoons or forks from the dishwasher and putting them away in the cutlery drawer,” suggests Sarah Hurst, an early childhood educator.

Little boy helps put laundry in basket

Eliminate Distractions

Have you ever left your child at a chore, only to peek in and find him answering a text or playing a game on her phone? Of course you have. That’s our hi-tech world of today. But this should be really simple: the phone or other devices are shut down until such time as the job is done.

You can also talk to kids about distractions. Ask your child what he believes is keeping him from completing the work at hand. Ask what he plans to do when he’s done with his chores. Remind him that as soon as the chores are finished, he can go right ahead and do what he’s yearning to do.

Offer Specific Praise

Everyone likes praise. But there’s nothing quite like meaningful praise from a parent. This is not about clapping your kid on the back and saying, “Good job.”

Specific praise is about finding something in particular to appreciate in the way your child got the work done. That could be the speed at which the job was accomplished, or the new and ingenious way your child arranged the items on her desk. Take notice of how your child does her chores and say or do something that lets her know you are paying attention.

Share It On Facebook

There’s no one formula for motivating kids to keep on doing their chores. For some children, it’s enough just to show you’re taking note. You might, for instance, post before and after photos of her bedroom on Facebook and mention how proud you are of your child. Show her the post and watch her face light up, even if says, “Ah, Mo-om,” and acts embarrassed. Because everyone likes to be appreciated. (Dollars to donuts she’ll be hoping you post pix the next time, too.)

Create Incentives

Creating incentives to get your child to do chores is great. It’s okay, for instance, to say: if you clean your room, you can go to the mall. It’s even okay to tie chores to your child’s allowance. It’s all good, as long as it doesn’t come off as a punishment. You want to dangle a carrot. This: “You can go to the mall after you clean your room,” and not, “You can’t go to the mall until you clean your room.”

Some parents find it helps to set up a rewards system where children earn points toward a prize. To try this, make a chart and put a mark next to your child’s name every time she completes a chore with excellence. You decide how many times your child has to do her chores before earning a reward. The prizes can either be privileges earned like staying up one hour later on a Saturday night, or something you purchase, like an ice cream cone at a local shop.

But you don’t even have to use a chart. As a rewards system for chores, Chris Drew, suggests something he calls the Preferred Activity Time (PAT) method. “Let your child know that you have set aside 20 minutes for something fun once their chores are completed. It might be their favorite game or TV show. Agree that your child can spend more time on the preferred activity if they complete their chores quickly. Most children will work extra hard on their chores to win extra time on their preferred follow-up activity.”

Teen Girl with Sponge and Spray Bottle Cleans Kitchen Counter

Set Up A Schedule

Kids thrive on order and predictability. They like to know what will happen next. That’s why setting up a schedule for chores makes it easier for children to accept these tasks as part of their everyday lives.

There are some chores that are daily events, for instance making the bed each morning or setting the table for supper. Other chores may need to be written on a chart or calendar as weekly events. If your child is supposed to clean her room every Sunday before she goes out to play, make sure she knows about this, way in advance. Offering children a clear framework for chores, makes it less likely that they will argue or procrastinate when it comes time to do the work.

Make Chores a Family Affair

In some families, Sunday is the day to do yard work, or give the house a thorough going over. Working together can help to strengthen family bonds. It’s also worth noting that doing chores with your family is a lot more fun than working on your own, which can be a little lonely.

The ongoing project of getting kids to do their chores can be wearing. It would be easy for a parent lose patience and be tempted to demand that kids do their jobs “just because.” But it’s not so much harder to stop and take a deep breath and a positive step forward instead.

Think what will motivate your child to keep on with that chore, whether it’s something as simple as putting on music, or the more complicated act of offering specific praise or a reward. Then go for it, confident that you’ve got this. Your child will reap the benefits of your patient teaching for a lifetime to come.

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About Varda Epstein

Varda Meyers Epstein serves as editor in chief of Smarter Parenting. A native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Varda is the mother of 12 children and is also a grandmother of 12. Her work has been published in The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, The Learning Site, The eLearning Site, and Internet4Classrooms.