Inside: How to encourage kids to do more kid chores and be more helpful around the house.
I came into my kitchen and on my floor was an applesauce pouch, completely sucked empty with the lid just on the floor.
And then I looked up and dirty stocks were on my kitchen table and there were dirty shoes on my couch.
I’m not a the-house-has-to be-perfect kind of mom. Our home never looks incredibly clean except the day we clean it.
But I almost lost my mind because that’s just so out of okay land. We don’t leave trash in the middle of the floor.
So we’ve had to make some changes around here in this sweet little house of ours.
We had to double down on our kid’s responsibility for their chores and we needed to do it quickly before I exploded.
Our kids needed to help out more and do more kid chores.
Why Do Kids Need to Do Chores?
Our kids need to do chores for a lot of reasons.
They teach responsibility and our children learn real-life skills they’re going to need to know later on. Chores also foster their independence when they know how to take care of themselves.
Many hands make light work so teaching children how to do chores makes your life easier-whether you’re a working mamma or a stay-at-home mom. People, even little people, need to pitch in because we all live here.
I explain it to my kids:
- They’re your clothes. Help fold them.
- If you like the food, you need to clear the dishes and help wash the dishes.
- It’s your room. Clean it up.
But I also get real with them when they complain and say they don’t like to do chores. I let them in on a “secret:” I don’t like doing chores either. But…we have to do them anyway because they’re part of making our home more livable.
So we teach our kids to do chores and pitch in because they live here and chores are just part of life.
Chores allow me to do a little bit less and they feel confident that they can do more.
And then I know that when they’re out in the world and they’re on their own, they will know how to load a dishwasher. And they’ll know how to successfully do laundry without ruining their clothes or ruining the washing machine.
And they’ll be able to make themselves a meal.
Kid Chores for Younger Kids
When our kids were younger, we started with Chore Charts.
We made it as fun as we could by turning chores into a game. We often sing the preschool song, “Clean up, clean up, everybody, everywhere, clean up clean up, everybody do your share.”
We read books about doing chores and being helpful:
And we start small, like take your cup your sink.
Even one and a half-year-olds can start to take their cup to the sink. They can help clean up a spill.
We keep their cups down low in the low drawers so they can access their cups and be more independent.
We also give them very specific, small steps. Instead of saying, “clean your room,” we offer them choices and keep it very small even if their room is a disaster: “What do you want to clean up first: The books first or the shoes first?”
Then we can move on to the next step: “Okay, now all the books are away, let’s put all the stuffed animals away. “
And when our kids help, we call them a “helper.” We offer them positive reinforcement to encourage the behavior more: “You are a helper. Thanks for helping us and thank for helping our family. Thanks for helping me.”
Giving them praise and the label of being a helper, will set them up to want to continue to be helpful.
Related: How to Raise Kids Who Are Helpers
Chores for Older Kids
So for the older kids the songs and games don’t work to motivate them.
My kids often complain that chores aren’t fun.
They’re not wrong.
So I had to sit them down and really tell them, “Daddy and I both don’t like doing chores. It’s not fun. And that’s okay. It doesn’t have to be fun.”
We try to make it fun by blaring music and seeing how fast we can do our chores.
But chores don’t have to be fun.
We just have to do our chores because they’re part of living in a house and living with a family.
But I also tell them the faster they can do it without complaining, the faster it’s done and then you can move on and do whatever it is they want with their day.
Chores I Have My Kids Do:
So it’s not fancy, but I made a paper chore chart for my kids because I needed them to do certain things every day. And honestly, I chose my pet peeves and things I needed them to take care of.
So on our list, every day they need to check the stairs because whenever they leave their stuff around the house, I just throw it on the stairs and then I step over all the junk.
Then they step over all their junk.
Other things on their daily list:
- clear their dishes from the table to the sink
- hang up wet towels on the floor
- empty backpacks
And then there are chores our kids need to do throughout the week, so we rotate :
- empty the trashcans,
- take the trashcans to the curb,
- set the table,
- feed the dog,
- pick up the dog poop,
- empty the dishwasher,
- help with meals
And most importantly, they need to do it all without complaining. Because not complaining about the chore is part of how we do the chore.
But to make any chore chart work, even my not fancy paper one, there’s one key I missed when they were younger.
I have to be consistent in reminding them to complete their chores.
When they ask for screens, I tell them to check their chore chart.
When they want to play at a friend’s house, I ask them to check their chore chart.
When they come home from school, I remind them to do their homework and then their chores.
Because no matter how pretty your chore chart is, it’s easy to ignore it.
And we are working on remembering the life concept, do what you need to do first, then you can do what you want to do.
Teaching Kids to do their own Laundry
Chores are one thing, and then there’s laundry.
Each day of the week one of my kids does their laundry. They put their clothes in the washing machine in the morning before school. (For the first year, I stood there and audited the amount of soap and button pushing until I was confident they wouldn’t ruin their clothes or the machine).
And then throughout the day while they’re at school, I transfer the load to the dryer.
When my kids get home from school, they empty the dryer, and they fold and put away their clothes.
In the beginning, I helped them, and showed them how to do it.
But now, they can do it independently. Will they be folded how I would do it? Nope.
But done by them is better than done “better” by me.
How to Spend Time Now to Save Time Later with Kid Chores
When I started teaching and as I was getting my credential, they taught us this trick called ‘Spending time to save time.’
The concept is to take the time now to teach our kids how to do chores because it will save you time in the future.
Of course, I can fold laundry faster than my kids.
Of course, I can empty and load the dishwasher faster.
Of course, I can sweep more effectively.
Eventually, they’ll get faster and I won’t have to do the chores, but I need to take the time now to show them how to do common chores like loading the dishwasher:
- We don’t start with the dishes at the bottom of the sink.
- We start with the dishes on the top, or everything’s going to break.
- We put in the silverware face down so we don’t get poked.
- We align the plates so they can actually get clean.
And all of that takes time.
But eventually, you can just say, “Can you please load the dishwasher for me?” And they do it.
They’ll know where everything goes because you’ve spent some time showing them. They know where the measuring cups go and the water cups go and my favorite coffee cups go.
Giving Up Control on Kid Chores:
If we want our kids to partake in the chores, we have to be able to give up control.
I’ve had to let go of perfection because I’d rather them do the chores than me doing it “perfectly.”
I often offer suggestions like, “Hey, can I show you a trick to make this easier for you?”
But if they’ve already done the chore, and it’s not great, unless something is dire or they’re going to break my washing machine, I let it go.
“Made beds” where the sheets are still hanging on the floor, but the cover is pulled up is fine. It’s a step in the right direction. We’re getting there.
One of the biggest chore challenges I had to let go was how they put away their clothes. When my kids were little I would fold their clothes and put them away.
So then it all perfectly fits into their dresser.
When they do it, they shove it in the drawers. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter because I’m not staring at it and I’m not doing it.
Things that do matter to me are shoes in the middle of the walkway or dirty socks on the kitchen table.
So I pick my battles, I figure out what is really important to me and I let the rest go. And that’s really, really hard because sometimes I’d rather just do it.
But there’s such power in empowering them to let them do it and then praise them with it.
One Caution With Kid Chores
One caution: Be careful to not to accidentally slip into gender-specific chores for my kids.
I had my son doing the trash cans and other outside chores and I had my daughters doing more inside chores.
And so we just switched it all up so now I randomly assign chores because they need to see that everyone can do everything.
Dads can vacuum, dads can do laundry, moms can mow the lawn and moms can take out the trash.
My daughter’s laundry is in the washing machine right now and I need to go switch it to the dryer for her so that she can come home and fold it and put it away.
Because doing chores helps our kids feel like they’re part of this home and his family and it creates a stronger family identity.