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How to Get Your Kids to Do Chores

7 ways to motivate your kid to participate in household tasks

Published on: August 26, 2020

girl with an armful of laundry with the washer dryer in the background

Getting kids to help around the house isn’t typically easy. More often than not, our attempts are met with some form of resistance. The latest studies reveal that kids today are spending less time doing household chores than ever before.

Although there is a common misconception that young children cannot participate in domestic chores, some researchers say that there are many benefits to assigning chores to kids as young as age 3. Studies have found that giving kids age-appropriate, regular household tasks:

  • Helps them develop important skills, such as responsibility, self-reliance and accountability
  • Benefits kids socially, emotionally and academically
  • Fosters their autonomy
  • Increases their sense of being needed

According to Marty Rossman, a retired University of Mississippi professor of family education, involving kids in chores is worth the effort. Beginning in 1967, Rossman collected data over a 25-year period to try to determine whether asking children to help with chores starting at age 3 or 4 had any correlation to success later on when those children were in their 20s. His research suggests that starting chores at an early age is among the greatest predictors of success as an adult.

Both Julie Lythcott-Haims, author of the book “How to Raise an Adult,” and Harvard Medical School faculty psychologist Richard Bromfield, author of “How to Unspoil Your Child Fast,” agree. In their view, letting kids skip household chores prevents them from developing important skills they will need later on in life.

Here are 7 ways to motivate your kid to participate in household chores:

Be specific.

If you’re like most parents, you want your kids to participate in household chores, but you don’t know how to begin.

According to Bromfield, the first step is to clearly define exactly what you would like your kid to do, and what you want to achieve by assigning them chores.

Focus on your objectives:

  • Are there specific skills you would like your child to develop? Which chores can help you accomplish this?
  • Do you want them to participate in chores that are meaningful for the whole family or only those that directly concern them (such as making their bed or cleaning their room)?
  • If you expect your child to set the table, be specific: How often? Every day? One meal or all meals?

Be firm and consistent.

Many kids will resist household chores once they get past the age when helping to set the table is fun. That’s why it’s important for your child to know that participating in household chores is not an option. They need to know that everyone who lives in their home must participate in chores.

You can only be firm and consistent once you know what’s negotiable and what’s non-negotiable. Being firm also means fighting the urge to do things yourself to save time — or messes.

Be willing to negotiate.

Evidence suggests that negotiation strengthens family bonds, and kids raised in families in which their voices are heard are more likely to cooperate. Take the time to listen to your kids. Be flexible. Tell your kids which household chores need to be done and then ask for their input:

  • How can the chores be distributed in a fair way?
  • Who does what, when and how often?
  • Duh, duh, duuhhh … What happens when the chores are not done?

When kids feel involved in making decisions that concern them, they are far more likely to stick to those decisions.

Choose age-appropriate chores for your kid.

There are many benefits associated with assigning children household chores, but that’s only if those chores are age-appropriate. Even children younger than age 3 can participate in simple tasks, such as picking up toys.

Remember that as your child grows older, they can take on more chores, but they should also reap more benefits when they do so. Associating benefits that come with additional chores with important milestones for kids (for example, on birthdays or at the start of a new school year) can be a great way to make the chores easier for kids to accept.

Chores by age

This list of chores provides broad guidelines for age-appropriate tasks, but your child’s ability to do a chore will also depend on their level of development.

What chores can kids younger than 3 do?

  • Pick up toys and books
  • Dust surfaces
  • Throw their diapers in the trash can
  • Water plants

What chores should a 3- to 4-year-old do?

  • All previously assigned chores
  • Put away toys
  • Put their dirty laundry in the laundry basket
  • Set and clear the table with help
  • Help clean small surfaces with a wet cloth
  • Wash hands by themselves
  • Help put away groceries
  • Fold their clothes with supervision
  • Choose their outfit and get dressed

What chores can I give my 4- to 5-year-old?

  • All previously assigned chores
  • Make their beds with minimal help
  • Help in the kitchen with supervision
  • Take care of a pet (e.g., feeding, brushing)
  • Hang up their towel after bathing

What chores should a 6- to 7-year-old do?

  • All previously assigned chores
  • Make bed without supervision
  • Answer the phone
  • Put away their laundry
  • Mop the floor
  • Put away clean dishes
  • Fold their clothes by themselves

What are appropriate chores for 8- to 9-year-olds?

  • All previously assigned chores
  • Clean their bedroom
  • Take out the trash
  • Rake leaves
  • Prepare simple meals

What chores can 9- to 12-year-olds do?

  • All previously assigned chores
  • Change their sheets
  • Wash dishes
  • Do homework by themselves
  • Vacuum and mop
  • Mow the lawn

Generally speaking, the more a kid practices, the easier it will be for them to complete an assigned chore alone. If your child seems to struggle with a specific chore, help them do the chore until they are able to do it by themselves, or modify the chore to take their abilities into account.

Develop an effective family plan to encourage your kid to participate in household tasks.

Giving your child chore cards can be an effective approach to help them participate in chores more easily. For example, you can write down all the chores to be done and let your child pick the chores they want to do. You can ask younger children to pick fewer chore cards and older ones to pick more cards. You can also propose different cards for different kids to ensure that each of your children has age-appropriate chores.

Chore charts can also be highly effective in motivating kids to participate in household chores.

Show them how.

It’s easy to assume that your kid will automatically know how to perform household chores. But the truth is that your definition of a “tidy room” is unlikely to match that of your child’s. To avoid conflict, be clear about the chores you expect your child to do. If the chore is to dust the bookshelf, show them exactly what they are expected to do. If you want them to clean their room, be clear about what you expect (e.g., all books in the bookshelf, all clothes in the wardrobe, no shoes and socks lying around).

If they don’t do what is expected, focus on the future — “Next time, I’d like you to … ” — until they do the chore as expected.

Be sure your child is aware of consequences.

Now that you have determined age-appropriate chores for your children, what should you do if they don’t follow through or if they do a mediocre job? Once again, negotiation can come in handy and make it more likely that kids will cooperate. Ask them to come up with the consequences of a poorly done job:

  • Should some privileges be taken away?
  • Should they repeat the chore?
  • Was the chore not age-appropriate?
     

How to avoid chore wars with your kid

  • Let your kid participate in making decisions. The more your kid feels involved in the decision-making process, the more likely they will be to do the chores and to accept the consequences when chores are not done. Even something as simple as letting them pick their own chores from a list of predetermined, age-appropriate chores can go a long way in helping kids complete their tasks.
  • Be willing to let go. There’s no way your 6-year-old daughter will make her bed like you would. That’s just the way it is. But does she have to? There’s no point in assigning chores to your child if you keep jumping in to “improve” upon what they’ve done. Remember that what counts most is their participation, according to their abilities.
  • Ease your kids into chores. Not all kids are willing to participate in chores, but certain strategies can make it easier for them to accept and do chores. For instance, once you’ve assigned a chore to your child, asking them to help you do the chore or telling them to start it with you stepping in to help them finish it can be effective ways to motivate them to do those tasks. Chore charts or chore cards can also help your kid accept tasks more easily.
  • Be clear about your expectations. If you expect your kids to set the table every day, make them set the table every day. Giving your kid chores and failing to follow through teaches them that chores are optional.
  • Positive reinforcement goes a long way. Kids thrive on positive reinforcement, but that doesn’t mean that you have to offer them gifts in exchange for doing chores. It merely means that simple acts such as praising your kids’ efforts can motivate them to do their chores. Remember to be specific when you’re offering praise. You could say something like “It’s great how you’ve dusted every book on the shelf.”

Should you pay your kid for doing chores?

There are divergent views on whether or not kids should be paid for doing chores. Many believe that doing chores is every family member’s responsibility and therefore no remuneration should be tied to the chores your child does. In other words, being a member of a family means participating accordingly in that family’s household chores. While the decision to pay kids for chores is largely personal, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Young children are rarely motivated by money.
  • Paying kids for specific chores that you would pay someone else to do can be a good way to teach kids about the relationship between work and money.
  • Compensating kids for basic chores can breed a sense of entitlement.

Assigning chores to your kids is only one of the many ways of raising them to be happy and confident adults. For more practical examples of how to incorporate chores into your child’s development and many other resources for fostering your child’s autonomy, growth mindset and critical thinking skills, check out the author’s workbook “This Is What It Takes to Raise a Happy and Confident Adult.”

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