Kids need to do chores. Chores teach them responsibility, ownership, practical skills, teamwork. But getting them to do chores isn’t always easy. Just like adults, they would rather play than work.
And while kids and chore time will never go together like peanut butter and jelly or bacon and eggs, there are things you can do to make the process more productive and less painful.
1. First of all, don’t try to use someone else’s chore list for your kids. Someone else’s chart can be a good place to start or can give you ideas, but your kids and your family are not the same as others and you need to create a system that works for your family.
2. Create a system that works for your family. One way to create a system is to simply decide what you want each kid to do each day. For example:
Before School: Make bed
After School: Dust one room
Before Bed: Pick up toys
Another way is to make a list of all the chores that need done daily, weekly and monthly and assign them to different kids.
3. You must be consistent. If you’re going to be hit and miss on doing chores, don’t bother even starting. All you’ll do is frustrate and confuse the kids. That doesn’t mean you can’t miss an occasional day or two – but most of the time you’ll need to follow your plan in order for it to work.
4. Teach them. Kids don’t automatically know how to clean. You’ll have to spend time teaching them. Yes, it takes longer when you do that but it’ll pay off in the end. Teach them when they get started and teach them whenever you introduce a new chore.
5. Inspect their work. Children do what you EXPECT. If they can get by with shoddy work, they will. If they know you’ll make them do it over if they do a bad job, they’ll be less apt to do a bad job. But you can’t assume they did it right. You have to check – at least some of the time.
6. Expect children to complain. Oh, yes. They’ll complain. But just ignore it unless it gets out of hand.
7. Be specific about what you expect them to do. Don’t just say “dust the house”. In the beginning, take them through each room and show them what they need to dust. What seems crystal clear to you may be as clear as mud to them. And children are literal – so be sure what you say is very clear and specific!
8. Put their responsibilities in writing. Yes, I’m talking about a chart of some kind. But don’t make it fancy. The problem with making a fancy chart or some cute system is that it’s labor intensive for YOU! Kids might be excited about the chart at first but it won’t last. And you don’t have time! So keep it simple. Make something on your computer and print it off. Don’t even bother having stickers – just use checkmarks. There are even blank chore chart forms you can buy at stores like Target, Michaels, Hobby Lobby, etc. Seriously, trust me on this, keep the chart simple!
9. Have consequences if they don’t do their chores. You’ll have to decide what you want the consequences to be, but you have to have them. The kids have to know that it’s not acceptable to skip their chores. And it can be a good idea, depending on the kid, to put the punishment right on the chore chart. Then if they mess up, they can’t say they didn’t know.
10. Be flexible. If there’s some reason the child can’t do their chores, let them skip or trade with another child or do it a different time.
11. Do chores together. I really think this is the best approach to getting kids to do chores. No one likes to feel like they’re the only one cleaning. But if everyone else is cleaning, it’s not so bad. My teenagers and I always cleaned the house on Monday afternoons (I homeschooled). They knew that every Monday after lunch we did chores. I pulled out the notebook which had a list of chores in a sheet protector and set it on the counter. We each picked a chore, marked it off and went to work. When we finished that chore, we chose another one and marked it off. When the chores were all crossed off, we were done. Not only does doing chores together get them done faster, but it’s more fun.
12. If you can, let the kids have a say in what chores they have to do. Have a family meeting and share with them the list of chores that need done. Then let them tell you which ones they’d like to do. Most kids like being able to choose rather than being told what to do.
13. Schedule chore time in advance. Unless it’s a special situation, don’t suddenly tell your kids it’s time to clean. No one likes to be interrupted when they’re in the middle of something. And if you do it that way, they’re sure to complain. The best approach is to have a regular cleaning time, like I did, or tell them ahead of time that you want them to help clean at 4:00, for example.
14. If your kids do a bad job, figure out why. Is the chore too hard? Are they being lazy? Do they not understand what’s expected? Don’t just automatically switch them to something else. Figure out why they did a bad job and try to solve the problem.
15. If a young child is doing a job that’s a little too hard and they don’t do a good job, go ahead and do it over – but never let them see you do it.
16. Have a routine. Kids like routines and schedules. They like to know what’s expected. So as much as possible, have a cleaning routine so they’re not surprised and know what’s expected and when.
17. Rotate the chores. Don’t make them do the same chore forever! After they’ve done a list of chores for a while, let them do something different.
18. Don’t be afraid to add more. As they get older, they’ll be able to do more.
19. Don’t be afraid to reduce the load. As they get older, they get busier with school and jobs and activities. That doesn’t mean, though, that they shouldn’t do anything. Just be sensitive to their schedule and don’t overload them.
20. Even very young children can do chores. Just choose easy chores and help them do them. You may end up doing most of the work, but that’s how they learn.
It’s been a while since my kids were at home and I was teaching them to do chores. What tips did I miss?
A list of other cleaning articles is available in the Cleaning Index.