Reader Q&A: How do you motivate kids to do chores?

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A reader wrote in with a great question, one I’m sure we’ve all tangled with at one time or another. I am sure you’ve got some great ideas to help this Mama out.


I am a mom of 4 kids under 11. Sometimes I feel like I am the only one cleaning our house. My husband is self employed and working on remodeling our bathroom. I have the kids do chores on Saturday but sometimes that is just more work for me. I have to follow up to make sure that they are doing what they are supposed to be doing.

So my questions are: How much should I expect from the kids? And how to motivate them to do the work without me pestering or following them around?

My 2 cents:

I personally feel that it’s super important for kids to contribute to the workings of the household. Not only is it a great confidence builder, but it equips them with a host of life skills that they really do need.

Plus, no mom is an island! No parent should have to do all the work.

What you can expect is going to largely depend on each individual child. One kid may have a lot more focus power than another. You know your kids the best. But, chances are we can all expect more from our people than we sometimes require of them.

For the really young (6 and under) we start with the basics: picking up toys when you’re done playing with them and doing the Morning High Five.

My bigger kids (over 6) have set kitchen jobs. We recently found out that our neighbors do the same thing, but they’ve never met another family who did. Instant solidarity! Whoohoo! My boys also each clean a bathroom each week, vacuum zones, and keep their rooms tidy.

As with all learning, however, you do have to follow up. We usually tie chores to fun in the sense that we say “Once your jobs are done, you can XYZ.” It’s typically something they want to do, and we’re pretty firm that that thing doesn’t happen until the work is done.

If you find that all Saturday is taken over by chores and checking up on kids, you might want to spread it out over the week, or even break it down into doing those things daily. When rooms and zones are tidied daily, there’s not much heavy lifting to do at the end of the week.

How would YOU answer?

Help this mama out. How would you help her troubleshoot her chores and kids dilemma?

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  1. One thing I would add is that in my perspective, kids doing chores has two aspects to it. One is that the kids are helping to shoulder the household work load, and it’s appropriate for them do whatever work they can, depending on their age and skill level of course. Mom and Dad don’t have to wait on kids hand and foot! But the other aspect is that kids do need training to do chores. That’s going to add more work for the parents because training someone to do something takes time, just like teaching any subject takes time and attention. It might be faster to do the work yourself, but then the child doesn’t learn the skills. Whether you’re teaching your teenager to change the oil in the car or you’re teaching a much younger child how to fold laundry, I think it’s a good idea to remember that these are skills that the child is learning and that it’s worth it to spend some time teaching them to your child. It will benefit your household and their adulthood in the long run.

    1. Sorry, I think I just rewrote what you had already said in your post, Jessica. (Going on very little sleep today, whoops!) I just thought it was good to emphasize that the time investment is worth it in order to train kids in good life skills. I appreciate that my mom taught me to cook, for example, and I feel bad for some of my peers who had to learn on their own once they moved out. I think it’s worth it to spend the extra time even if the adults could do the chores faster without child participation. 🙂

  2. If chores have become a battle ground maybe it is time to reset the table. Start by letting your kids pick out a chore or two that interests them. You might be surprised by what they want to do. About a year ago I asked my then 7 year old what new task she wanted to try. She opted for scrubbing the shower stall and bathtub. Two jobs I really dislike. She willingly scrubs the bathroom, takes care of the recycling, gathers the mail everyday and keeps her room relatively tidy. Without daily reminders she will usually “forget” to make her bed. I “remember” to remind to make 3 or 4 days a week. She is learning to take care of herself and a household. On balance, I can live with the occasional unmade bed.

  3. My kids are 5, 3, and 9 months. By the time each of the kids are 3, they have regular chores around the house that I expect them to help with. My 5 year old is now able to fold towels, put laundry away, empty the dishwasher, wipe down sinks and counters, and help clear the kitchen after a meal. The 3 year old mostly assists her or me while we’re working. The problem I have is that my 5 year old has a terrible attitude about her chores. She whines, argues, complains, and slams things around. Any suggestions on how to correct that behavior?

    1. Wow! I wish I started my kids that young…I’m paying for it now lol. Have you tried making games out of it? Setting a timer and see how much she can get done before it goes off, type of thing? The 3 yr old would have fun with that too.

    2. You’re doing a great job having your kids comply with chores from the start. One thing you might consider is counting the attitude as part of the compliance issues. We’ve always said that obeying has three parts: all the way, right away (mostly), and with a good attitude. If they don’t do one of those parts, then they aren’t really obeying. That’s something we talk about with the littles a lot.

      If I do what my boss says, but I grumble about it, I’m not really a great worker, am I? Like the work itself, it’s another life skill to teach our kids.

  4. I agree that it is important to have children do chores. It is more work, but worth it. One thing I read years ago that really helped was to **not** rotate chores frequently- have each child own an area and train him/her in that area so that it is mastered. I would say it takes about a month per area (bathroom, living room, kitchen…). After that, we rotate every 3-4 weeks.

    I also keep detailed lists of what is expected daily for each area. Saying to a 7 year old “clean the bathroom” will probably not work. I have a list with each thing that needs to be done including empty trash, refilling toilet paper roll, and making sure the toilet paper shelf is stocked.

    We have one more intensive chore day a week, but it only takes about 30 minutes because we *mostly* keep on the regular chores.

    My children are older now (youngest is 10yo) and we have had ups and downs, but we have done it this way since my 30yo was little. Our “starter chore” when my boys were little (2yo) was to unload the silverware from the dishwasher (we didn’t actually have a dishwasher when my adult children were little). I set the dishwasher caddy on the table along with silverware caddy from the drawer. It is a great job first job- I think it seems very grown up to a little one to do that chore.

    One more thing I heard way back- inspect what you expect. Even now, when my boys are slacking on their thoroughness, I instruct them to come get me when they are done with their chores. This allows us to review what is expected.

    1. Yep, we’ve found that weekly rotation doesn’t give a kid enough on-the-job experience. We rotate monthly and that seems to work.

  5. We start chores as soon as a child can physically handle it. Our first chore is gathering the little trash cans around the house and returning them when I get done dumping them.

    I think trying to do chores on one day is real hard to do with kids. Especially if they view that as their day off from school, etc. We have daily chores and I add one or two extras every day to get things done. My kids (10, 9, 3) are usually done in 15 minutes with all jobs. Some days we have to do a quick extra round if things get messy. Our rule is no games or such once I say “job time” unless the jobs are done and pass inspection.

  6. chores – sigh.
    I was late to the chores bandwagon not because I disagree with the ideas but because I’m not great at housework and I couldn’t cope with having to teach it and argue about it too

    However now we have a weekly room inspection to earn tv – doesn’t help with my eldest dd who is sadly like me and lives in a sty except for inspection day ;p

    But it never gets THAT bad if I push it weekly

    So now they’re on their rooms, and they share a list of chores each weekend – they rotate our two bathrooms and the dog’s pen cleanup [so three bathrooms I guess LOL]

    Not that I don’t deal with bathrooms in between but it’s a start – given how long their school days are [and transport etc] I don’t like to overburden them with chores on school days.

    I also don’t like to have to ride herd on them with the chores – so we have made it a rule that instead of more weekly chores they simply will hop to when called without ‘tude and with helpfulness – I find this FAR more helpful to me in getting things done.
    as a result:
    The older two can handle laundry solo [height issue LOL]
    I can get the d/w or trash emptied with a word whenever I need it
    last minute cleaning for guests is a shared burden
    cooking is not all on me – older two can fix their own meals as needed – youngest can do some of the same and can also bake from scratch completely solo – dessert coming up!

    THIS feels more like sharing the workload to me – plus it’s not extra mom work to handle

    I also have some jobs I just don’t care for and those are usually available for hire – usually it’s my son who participates in this which is fine – weeding the flower bed, vacuuming the stairs [ugh!], cleaning the porch and deck etc – he made a few dollars [and had a fine time] the other day cleaning off the chairs in the yard with a hose after the long winter’s mess

    I must give you credit though Jessica – while I always wanted to make my kids self sufficient you’ve been a real inspiration to me!

    1. Well, don’t give me too much credit. We’re still working on all these things. And I’ve still got little people. It’s good work, but it’s still work.

  7. Never got past the not having to follow behind them to make sure it was done properly stage in my household. Although I will say don’t judge the fact you have to follow behind them as to whether or not they’ll develop a sound work ethic. My older two are adults that I had to chastise to put dishes or clothing away and both are doing quite well in the work sector(the oldest was just offered a raise and a shift management position and has already paid cash for a little red mustang, the second works 2 jobs and is bound and determined to put money away for her own house.) Yes, kids are a labor of love, but they are work no doubt about it.