Get Your Kids to Do Chores without Threats, Bribes or Rewards

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Today’s guest post is brought to you by Carletta Sanders of Successful Homeschooling.  She’s got some great ideas on getting your kids to help out around the house.  Enjoy!

One question I’m asked quite frequently is, “How do you do it all?”  My honest answer is, “I don’t do it all!” My children and I do everything as a team. I don’t get an allowance, and neither do my children. I don’t get to complain, and they don’t either. We are each an essential part of maintaining a neat and orderly home. If you’re struggling to get your kids to help around the house, consider these tried and true tips for getting kids to do chores without using bribes, threats or rewards.

Don’t Send Them Off to Play

Children learn by imitating those around them. From their earliest days, their goal is to become more like us. During the younger years, they think helping mom around the house is fun. In my experience, they will continue to think housework is fun if we don’t shoo them off to play so they don’t get in our way. Encourage your children’s early efforts to “help” you. Let your toddler hand you clothes to place in the washing machine, show him how to place toys in the toy box, and help him hold the dustpan while you sweep. Be sure to clap and smile and say, “Thank you!” This early encouragement feeds a child’s desire to serve others.

Don’t Underestimate their Abilities

I have learned over the years not to underestimate my children’s abilities. When they ask me if they can start folding big towels or swish the toilet – yes, they actually ask these types of things – I take time to show them. My 4-year-old is my right-hand man, and he takes his job very seriously. Filling water cups, setting the table, and placing dirty plates in the sink are necessary and important tasks that pave the way to one day taking silverware out of the dishwasher. We’re weird, unsocialized homeschoolers – my kids look forward to these kinds of promotions!

Give Them the Tools They Need to Succeed

One of the keys to involving kids in chores is giving them the tools they need to succeed. Use natural cleaners that are safe for children. Store items on shelves that are easily accessible, or provide stools so your children can reach items they need. Place limits the number of toys, clothes and keepsakes you own so your children don’t get overwhelmed. If you have a child who tends to be a packrat, show him or her how to think about what to keep and what to throw away. Although I love chore charts, I’m not organized enough to use them consistently. We have an overall rhythm to our day that takes care of routine tasks like making beds and cleaning the kitchen, and I assign other tasks as needed. I also post checklists in specific rooms that list tasks that need to be completed each day. When I say, “Go clean your room,” my kids can look at their lists and see exactly what that means.

Remember, Your Investment Will Pay Off

When you give your children responsibility for chores, you will have to spend time showing them how you want things done over and over and over again. It will take much longer to complete tasks, and you will have to go back and correct some mistakes. However, remember the added time you spend is an investment in the future. You will one day work yourself out of a job!

Chores for Specific Ages

Children vary in their level of readiness for specific tasks so I don’t have any hard and fast rules for what my children do at specific ages. I look at their abilities, their interests and our needs as a family. Here are some of my children’s current chores:

  • My toddler just hangs out with us while we do housework. He is mostly in the way, but still receives plenty of claps and attaboys.
  • My 4-year-old picks up toys, makes his bed, carries laundry baskets, folds small towels and napkins, folds his clothes, puts baby clothes on hangers, sets the table, carries plates and drinks to the table, helps prepare dinner, and runs errands like getting diapers for the baby or putting trash in the trashcan.
  • My 7-year-old is responsible for managing items she needs for sports practices and games.  She also picks up toys, keeps her room clean, moves laundry from the washing machine to dryer, takes clean clothes out of dryer, folds clothes (mostly her own, but sometimes helps with siblings), dust mops the floors, sweeps, vacuums, checks mail, answers the phone, and helps with lunch. Her new task this year is tidying the kids’ bathroom.
  • My 10-year-old is not naturally organized so we have frequent conversations about neatness. He picks up toys, cleans his room, changes trash bags in the kitchen and bathrooms, take trash out to the trash bin and moves it to the alley for pick up, unloads the dishwasher, sweeps, vacuums, folds clothes, checks the mail, make phone calls and answers the phone, pays for items at the farmers market, and puts groceries away. He is also responsible for making breakfast every morning, and will learn to mow the lawn this year.

If your children aren’t used to helping around the house, start with one or two tasks and build from there. You don’t have to “do it all” your own. Many hands make light work!

Carletta Sanders is a homeschool mom of four who provides information, ideas and inspiration for homeschoolers via her website, Successful Homeschooling. You can learn more about Carletta’s family by visiting her blog.

This article was written by a Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers guest author. See the author's full bio in the body of the post.

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  1. I really second the idea of limiting the amount of stuff you own…with less to organize, less to pick up, your kids are also not overwhelmed by what they have. We're slowly whittling down our toy stash as we've noticed that it hinders more than entertains.

    But I have to say – we love our chore charts. We have a permanent list that stays on the fridge that when it's chore time after breakfast, the kids know exactly what is assigned to them on any particular day – and it works well for me! I don't have to follow and remind them which task to accomplish, they check out the chart, do the next deed, and can be successful on their own!

  2. I grew up with a mom hating the chore of keeping her house clean. But I realized early on with a mentor speaking into my life that that wasn't going to help my kids or husband!
    I love resources like the Managers of the Home and Managers of the Chores books. Perfect for many kids and for non readers
    Also, Gail Martin's 'What Every Child Should Know Along the Way' is a great resource for age appropriate chores.

  3. great ideas, cause when mom becomes outnumbered, the extra hands should pitch in to help out. we don't do allowances here, no free money for that. but they are earning wages for things they do cheerfully so that we can teach them hard work pays off and we can also teach them how to manage their finances early. these were such great ideas, thanks for sharing!!

  4. aslansavz – I think chore charts are great. I just haven't had any success using them because of my own disorganization.

    Seven's Heaven – I love MOTH. I haven't looked at Mangers of their Chores, yet. I will have to check it out.

  5. Great post! My own MIL is shocked at how much my kids do. I told them we are all members of the family, and if we want to live by the kids' ridiculous "I'll take care of my own stuff" (yeah, right) rule, then that means I don't make their dinner, or wash their plates, or provide clean clothing. We all have to work together, and that's what family is about, for us.

  6. Heh. Heh. I just found this looking for articles on kids and chores. Love the name of the blog! I'll be taking a look around!

    Lindsey @

  7. I have done this their entire lives, but the last several years, after a brief exposure to “other” children, they stopped helping and it has been a complete battle since then. What would you do with multiple ADHD-labeled kids? They waste the entire day trying to get out of working, and don’t do a thing unless I am literally standing over them every second. Sometimes I have to take their hands and physically force them to pick up the things and put them away. Nothing motivates them. I can’t stand over them like that. I need to be earning money so I can buy food to feed them. My kids need to grow up, yesterday.

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