Getting Kids to Do Their Chores


Are you tired of nagging your kids to do their chores and getting into power struggles over it?


If so, you’re definitely not alone. But I promise — there doesn’t need to be any drama around chore time. Follow the suggestions below and once you re-frame the way you approach the tasks, they’ll go more smoothly for everyone.


Stop using the word “chores”

I don’t like the sound of the word chores. Say it a few times out loud. Doesn’t it sound strange? It literally means “unpleasant but necessary tasks,” so it’s got resistance built right into it. Parenting expert Amy McCready suggests referring to these tasks as “family contributions” instead.


While it may be a mouthful to say, using this phrase or something like it (I prefer “family jobs”) to describe household tasks teaches your child that helping each other out and contributing at home is part of what it means to be in your family.


You’re a team, and teams work together for the benefit of everyone. This idea also helps kids meet their core emotional need for competence: feeling capable of solving problems, using their unique skills and talents, and giving to the family in significant ways.


set realistic expectations

Before you start doling out work, examine your expectations. Setting the bar too high will likely leave you feeling both frustrated and disappointed. Make sure you start at your child’s current level: does he know how to use the tools required to get the job done? Does he understand how to tell when a certain task is complete? Use encouragement to build his self-confidence.


For kids under five, or if you’re just getting started with your child, begin with very basic responsibilities, such as:

  • Putting dirty clothes in the hamper
  • Sorting/folding laundry, putting it away
  • Bringing dishes to the sink after a meal
  • Feeding pets
  • Watering plants
  • Putting toys away
  • Getting the mail


As they get older, kids can take on:

  • Making their beds
  • Setting the table
  • Taking out the trash/recycling
  • Walking the dog
  • Loading/unloading the dishwasher
  • Helping to cook
  • Sweeping, mopping, raking, shoveling
  • Weeding the garden
  • Washing the car


Don’t expect that your child will magically know how to do these things because he’s seen you do it before. Take time to teach him new skills and be patient with him. He won’t do it the way you do — or as quickly as you do — and that’s ok. The goal is for him to feel a sense of pride in helping out and in mastering new abilities, not to do it perfectly.



make tasks a part of your routine

I recommend using a WHEN-THEN approach when it comes to family routines. Tell your child that WHEN she’s completed her responsibilities — and there’s time before the next scheduled event — THEN she may:

  • Play a board game
  • Read a book
  • Watch TV
  • Play on the computer
  • Eat a snack
  • Etc.


Be sure that the privilege is something she really wants, so she’s motivated to get her tasks done. Use a calm and loving voice when making WHEN-THEN statements, and don’t allow her choice about whether or not to follow through dictate your mood.


If (or rather when) your child tries to argue or pull you into a power struggle, simply repeat your statement in a similar fashion and walk away. There’s no need for discussion or negotiation. Be firm and follow through! Maintaining consistency in your words and actions builds credibility and authority.


Write it down

Rather than relying on your child’s memory to get things done (we know how that usually goes), consider making a checklist or a written contract of what he’s responsible for and what the consequences will be for accomplishing (or not accomplishing) those responsibilities.


It can be as simple as writing, “WHEN Johnny completes everything on his list before six o’clock and Mommy checks it, THEN he can play video games for twenty minutes.”


Hang the checklist/contract in a place for all to see, and every once in a while evaluate whether it’s working as a tool to get things done.


Show appreciation

You might be thinking, “Why should I show appreciation for something my child’s expected to do?”


Because we all want to feel that our contributions are valued. Even though you’re expected to do certain tasks at your job, it still feels good when the boss notices and expresses gratitude.


While we don’t want to raise people pleasers who rely on approval of others to feel good about themselves, appreciating kids’ effort can motivate them to do more.



Make it fun

Working around the house doesn’t have to be a chore! Put on some music and dance while you all clean up together. Set a timer and see how many shirts you can fold in three minutes. By making household jobs fun, they won’t seem like a big deal at all. Not only will things get done, they’ll seem to get done faster and with smiles and laughter!


What do your kids do to help around the house? Do you struggle with them about it? Leave a comment below and let me know!


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