Kids and chores. Why does it sometimes feel like this is an impossible combination?
We all know that’s it’s important for kids to help out with chores, but sometimes it seems like it’s not worth the fighting. There are so many things I have to nag my kids about (brushing teeth, doing homework, not biting their brother…), why would I want to add something more to nag them about? How do we get kids to do chores without fighting?
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Done is Better than Perfect
On top of that, if you are a perfectionist like me, then they just DON’T DO IT RIGHT! Why would I nag them to get them to do a chore and then it’s not up to my standards…!
Errrrr… OK, so here’s where I have to lower my standards! Yes, I want everything to be perfect, but sometimes there just isn’t time! I’m a busy working mom – I can’t do it all! For a long time, I did use to try to do it all myself – that’s why I had to come up with a Quick Cleaning Tips, to get through it all. But in the end either the kids had to help or I would work myself to death trying to do it all myself.
However, the main argument for chores is that kids need to learn responsibility. Our job as parents is to teach our kids how to be responsible adults. If they aren’t taught how to do chores and aren’t taught that they have a responsibility to the whole family, then
they will end up like my ex-husband they will end up not knowing how to take care of themselves!
We know the benefits of kids doing chores (for them and for us), but we don’t want to battle our kids every day. So what’s the answer?
Well, we have to be smarter than a 4th grader! We have to employ strategies that will help the kids do their chores with little or no resistance.
Ways to Get Kids to Do Chores
I have three kids (8, 10 and 12 years old), so I have quite a bit of experience with getting kids to do chores. I’ve tried it all!
Chore charts? Well, I’ll just say chore charts didn’t work for me. I’ve tried lots of different types of chore charts (even the app that gives points for chores), but I just couldn’t find one that matched our personalities.
I know Pinterest is full of gorgeous Chore Chart ideas. Fancy ones with magnets and ribbon. But it doesn’t matter how fancy it looks, if it doesn’t work, then it doesn’t have a place in my home!
Bored Jars? This is another Pinterest idea, where you put various chores on pieces of paper in a jar. When your child says they are bored, they have to pull a chore from the jar. All this taught my kids was to NOT tell me they were bored (and just bug each other instead!).
There’s dozen of other ideas and some of them might work for you. But below are the ideas that have worked for me and my kids.
These ideas to get kids to do chores have worked over the years. So no, matter what age your child, these ideas should help you.
1. Age Appropriate
The biggest problem I see a lot of parents having is that they don’t know what chores are age appropriate for their child.
Some moms underestimate what their kids are capable of and don’t give them enough responsibility. But other parents think their child is capable of much more than they really are.
I probably fall into the first group because I always assume that a task will be too tricky for them. But when I actually take the time to show them how to do it, I’m always amazed at how quickly they can pick it up.
Below is a rough guide to what is age appropriate. But the important thing to think about is how many steps there are to a chore. Younger children (toddlers and preschoolers) generally can only complete tasks that have one or two simple steps. As they get older they can complete more complicated chores that might have more steps to them.
Ages 2 – 4:
- Put dirty clothes in a hamper
- Pick up toys
- Vacuum (although they won’t do a complete job, it’s a good habit to start young)
- Clean dinner plate
- Feed pets
- Pick up trash
Ages 5 – 7, all of the above PLUS:
- Sort laundry
- Make bed
- Help unpack groceries
- Set dinner table
- Wipe counters (if they can reach)
- Make snack
Ages 8 – 10, all of the above PLUS:
- Do laundry
- Put away clothes
- Put away groceries
- Yard work
- Wash dishes
- Clean toilets
- Sweep floors
- Take our garbage
- Clean windows/mirrors
- Make simple dinner
- Clean bathtub/shower
Age 11+, all of the above PLUS:
- Mow lawn
- Load & empty dishwasher
- Cook meals
- Maintain their own room completely
- Walk dogs
These are just rough guidelines. Your child might be able to do some of these chores sooner or later, depending on their ability and your home.
For instance, if your child is on the shorter side (like mine!), then they might not be able to reach to wipe down the kitchen counters until they are taller.
Again, it also depends on what standard you want the area cleaned to. If you want a perfectly clean toilet, then you probably don’t want to ask your 8-year-old to do it!
2. Make it Easy
Making the chores easier for your child can sound like you’re making more work for yourself. But really it’s more about having the right tools and systems in place. I’m not saying that you do half the job for them. But having the appropriate tools will make it easier for them to complete their tasks.
By making the task easier for them, they are less likely to complain and that means less nagging for you!
What do I mean by the “right tools and systems”? Well, below is a list of different areas of your house and ideas for customizing it to make it easier for your child to clean.
- Swiffer Duster (or similar) – The Swiffer Dusters make it so easy for little kids to dust. Just make sure you don’t ask them to dust the shelves with Grandmother’s china collection on it!
- Baskets – I have a mild (OK, MASSIVE) obsession with baskets. But having a few baskets around the living room to store toys, blankets, remotes, magazines etc. will make it easier for your kids to tidy up the living space quickly.
- Stick-Vac – I like to have a small rechargeable stick-vac for my kids to use. They are lightweight, you don’t have to worry about cords and kids have “playing” with them! I HIGHLY recommend the Eufy Cordless Upright Vacuum, I’ve had this stick-vac for over a year and just love it. The battery keeps it’s charge very well and it is powerful enough for even the messiest floors!
- Clorox Wipes (or similar) – Kids will find it much easier to use cleaning wipes, instead of a separate spray bottle and cloth.
- Cleaner in the Toilet Brush Holder – This is one of my tips in my Quick Cleaning post, but it does make cleaning a toilet much easier. If you put a small amount of your favorite toilet cleaner or disinfectant, in the bottom of the toilet brush holder, then all you have to do is take the brush out and swish around the bowl.
- Baskets – Again having baskets or bins for each member of the family to keep the bathroom items in (face wash, creams, toothpaste etc), will make it easier to keep the counters clear, so that they can be wiped down quickly.
- Broom – Finding a broom that is kid-friendly to sweep the floors can be tricky. I like the O-Cedar Angled Broom. But I generally get my kids to use my Eufy stick-vac, as it has 2 power settings, on the lower power it is perfect for hard floors.
- Clorox Wipes – Again, having some kind of cleaning wipe will make it much easier to get kids to do their chores.
- Cabinets – to make it easy for your kids to unload the dishwasher, you want to think about where you place certain items in your cabinets. For instance, all my kids’ plates, cups, bowls etc are in a low cabinet, so they can easily reach them.
- A place for everything – Kids bedrooms are often messy because they don’t have a place for all their toys. You can’t ask them to put away their toys if they don’t have somewhere to put them! So make sure you have somewhere to put each of their toys. Even if it’s only a cardboard box.
- Make the bed – Teach your child to make their bed every morning as soon as they get up. It might take a long time for them to form the habit. But it’s worth it. A tidy bedroom will never look nice without a made bed and a messy room can look tidier if the bed is made.
- Trash Can – I never thought of putting a trash can in my kids’ bedrooms, but I used to get annoyed with the amount of trash they would collect in their rooms. Simple solution – small trash can in each of their rooms (and teach them to empty it when it’s full!).
- Laundry hamper – You can get a cheap laundry hamper to put in the corner of your kid’s bedroom or closet. It makes it so much quicker for them to tidy up. You can also teach them to get undressed next to the hamper, so their clothes go straight into it and not onto the floor.
- A place for everything – the same as in their bedrooms. You want your kids to be able to tidy their toys away, so that means there has to be SOMEWHERE for the toys to go! You can use fabric bins, cardboard boxes, storage cubes, hampers (these work great for stuffed animals), shelves etc. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but it does have to be the right size/shape for the toy, so get creative!
- Books – Books are great for kids to have around (I’m a big advocate for reading to your kids) but can cause a lot of clutter and mess. I’ve always had a small bookshelf for my kids’ books, but they were very good at pulling the books out, but not at putting them back. I realized that it’s actually tricky for younger children to slide books back onto a shelf (especially if it’s full). So I used fabric bins instead. You can organize the books by age, subject, child… whatever you want. So much easier for your child to look through to find their book and also put it away again after they are finished.
3. Concentrate on One Routine at a Time
I have visions of the perfect child who always puts away their toys as soon as they finish playing with them, who does their chores the first time they are asked and doesn’t make a mess.
Yeah… Can you say “Unrealistic”?
So if my child isn’t going to be “perfect” (ugh, hate that word!), then I need to decide what is and isn’t important to me.
I don’t want to spend my whole day nagging my kids. That’s not good for me or for them.
There’s are some things that are very important to me, like them thanking me for dinner, asking permission to leave the table and then clearing their plate. Yes, it might seem like a silly thing, but it’s important to me (probably not to anyone else!). So that is something I nag at them about… well, I used to. Now I don’t have to because it’s second nature to them.
You see, you should pick just a handful of things that you want your child to do and then work on those. Once they have those routines down, then you can add something new.
You know what it’s like when you start a new routine or habit (check out my post on forming new habits!). Maybe you’re like me and decide to be “healthy”, you start exercising, go on a diet, drink more water, stop drinking soda and more all at once. Does it work? Nope!
Trying to establish too many new routines or habits at once is nearly impossible for adults, why do we think kids can do it?
So pick what is important to you and work on those first. Will you still have to remind them again in the future? Yes, of course, they are kids! Kids forget and get complacent if they don’t have reminders. But calm consistency is the key.
4. Don’t bribe
This might be a controversial one but bear with me while I explain.
I don’t think kids should be paid to do chores. I see lots of wonderful ideas on Pinterest for paying kids to do chores, like pinning a dollar bill to a corkboard with the chore listed underneath it.
Yes, money will definitely motivate your kids to do work. It definitely works.
But… that is extrinsic motivation (outside motivation). There is a lot of research to support using intrinsic motivation (internal motivation) to encourage kids (and adults!) to do things. There is an AWESOME book called Drive by Daniel Pink, all about it.
Basically, if we are only rewarded by outside forces to do a job, then we will be less invested in it and likely to not do as good a job.
But if we are motivated by internal forces like the knowledge of a job well done or serving a community, then you do a better job and feel better about it and yourself!
So I encourage my kids to do their chores because they are part of a household that helps each other. We don’t expect one person to do everything.
On top of that – I don’t get paid to do chores, so why should they???!!!
5. Do it together
One complaint that my kids always make is that they don’t want to do the chore on their own.
If I ask my daughter to tidy her room, her first response is always “will you do it with me?”
I thought this was just an excuse to get me to do it for them. But I soon realized that it’s not (OK, sometimes it is!).
There are times when a task just seems too overwhelming to them. This is especially true of some big task, like tidying a messy bedroom! They literally have no idea where to start!
So I started doing some of the chores with them.
When they were very small, we would literally do it together – pick the book up together and put it in the bin, pull the sheet up to make the bed etc.
As they got older I would suggest they tackle one task, while I did a different one. My son would pick up the legos, while I put away his clothes for instance.
Now we are at the point, where sometimes they just want me in the room with them. So if my eldest son is unloading the dishwasher, he likes me to be in the kitchen with him. I just use the time to get other chores done. It works well.
With 3 kids they don’t often get one-on-one time with me, so if they feel like they are being rewarded with exclusive time with me in return for chores, then I’m OK with that!
Also by doing it together, I get to teach them how to do the chore… which brings me to my next point!
6. Teacher them
Kids don’t naturally know HOW to do chores. Sure, maybe they have watched you sort the laundry hundreds (or thousands!) of times, but do they really understand what it is that you are doing?
Just because my youngest was normally in a front or back carrier when I was vacuuming the floors, doesn’t mean he knew how to vac when he was older.
Kids have to be taught how to do their chores.
OK, I know this one seems like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many things we take for granted.
The other day my son kicked over the dogs’ water bowl! Big spill! I started to get mad at him because he just stood there looking at him! I said, “why aren’t you cleaning it up?” He just looked up at me and said: “How?”
Yep, he’d never knocked over the water bowl before, so he didn’t know what to clean it up with. Yes, if he was a little older, then maybe he would think to grab a towel or mop. But he’s little and didn’t know what to do. So I grabbed a couple of towels and showed him how to wipe it up and then put the towels in the laundry.
You also need to remember that you might have to show them how to do something a few times before they get it. Especially if it’s a task that they don’t do regularly.
7. Appreciate their effort
We all want to feel appreciated. If you spend ages doing a task, it’s a great feeling when someone notices and tell you that you did a good job. Kids are no exception.
Children thrive on positive reinforcement. So when your child finishes their chore, make sure you tell them that you appreciate their work. You don’t want to go overboard, but a quick “Well done on tidying your room” can go a long way.
This is particularly important when your child does a chore that you haven’t asked them to do.
If you notice them clearing their dinner plate, or putting their laundry away when you haven’t asked them to do it, then it’s super important that you point out to them that you have noticed and appreciate their efforts.
By offering encouragement and thanks, you have turned the table on chores. No longer are chores something that you get nagged at to do, but they are suddenly something that gets you gratitude and recognition.
8. Make it fun
Mary Poppins was right when she said that “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down”.
When I want to get a lot of chores done, I’ll put on some of my favorite music and turn the volume up! It makes a boring task, seem a little more interesting.
We need to do the same trick with our kids!
My daughter’s bedroom sometimes gets to be a REALLY big mess and it can seem overwhelming to clean up. So to encourage her, I pick some upbeat songs, turn it up loud and we dance around her room while we tidy. It’s actually good exercise too!
It’s amazing how much quicker a task can go if you are having fun at the same time.
Turning chores into a game is also a great motivator for kids.
I like to set a timer for 5 minutes and challenge the kids to pick up as many toys as they possibly can before the timer goes off. I don’t let them start before I start the timer, I will say silly things like “wait for it, wait for it” or “on your marks, get set… go!”
The kids dart around the house grabbing everything as quickly as they can. We normally get everything picked up before the timer even goes off! Effective, fun and FAST!
9. Make It Routine
Sometimes the easiest way to get kids to do their chores is just to make it part of their day to day routine.
Yes, you will still have to remind them to do it to start with, but if you are consistent and get them to do it at the same time every day, then eventually they will do it automatically.
You can start small, like putting their clothes in the laundry hamper at bedtime when they get undressed or putting away their books after the bedtime story.
There are probably dozens of small chores that you do every day without even realizing it because they are part of your everyday routine. For example, as soon as I am dressed in the morning, I scoop the cat litter boxes. I don’t have to “remember” to do it each day because it’s just part of the routine now.
That is the Holy Grail of Kid Chores – getting your little darlings into a habit of doing their chores each day without you having to ask and without them complaining!
10. Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff
This is where we have to be realistic. Yes, we want our kids to be perfect little humans and help out with all the chores without complaining. And maybe that is possible in some families, but it’s certainly not in mine!
My kids help out a lot more than I ever did as a child, but we are no Little House on the Praire! My kids aren’t going to be milking any cows or scrubbing any floors before they walk to school. And I wouldn’t want them to either. Kids should have time to be kids!
So if your son forgets to put his smelly socks in the laundry hamper one evening, don’t get mad and yell at him about it. It’s just not worth it. You’ll get yourself stressed out over something that really isn’t that important.
So relax a little and remember that kids will be kids. They won’t be perfect all the time. They will forget or rush a chore. Pick your battles and decide if it is worth getting upset about!
So there you have it! Ten ways to get your kids to do their chores!
Your house might not be perfect, your kids might not be perfect but you can always strive for improvement. Don’t give up, but don’t let it stress you out either.
Do you have some tips for getting your kids to do their chores? Share them in the comments section below – I would LOVE some new ideas to help motivate my kids!