Focus on the Family

Motivating Kids to Clean Up

by Dr. Bill Maier

When it comes to getting your kids to help with chores around the house, it's critical to consider the age of the child. At first, very young children are going to need lots of direction and specific, step-by-step instructions on what to do.

For example, with a 3-year-old, you might say, "Bobby, I need you to pick up all of your Legos and put them into the Lego box in the next 10 minutes. I'm going to set the kitchen timer and when it rings, all of the Legos need to be in the box. If they aren't, you won't be able to play with them tomorrow." Then set the timer and follow through.

Assuming that Bobby gets his Legos put away to your satisfaction, you can move on to another task, such as putting his picture books on the shelf or placing his dirty clothes in the hamper.

Although this approach will demand more of your time and attention, it's much less frustrating and anger-provoking than repeatedly yelling, "Clean up this room, or you've had it!" You'll also find that giving specific, step-by-step instructions, backed by consequences, will yield much better results.

With older kids who can read and write, it can be helpful to write their daily chores on a small white board that you hang on their wall or to give them chore cards that spell out the specific actions they need to take in order to complete a task. Again, be specific about the deadline for completing the task and what the consequence will be if they don't get the job done.

By the way, when using consequences with kids, it's most effective to balance both positive and negative consequences. If we simply punish our kids for bad behavior or failing to follow through, they can easily become discouraged. It's just as important to praise and reward our kids for their good behavior. So when your children consistently follows though on their chores, such as cleaning their room, they should receive verbal praise, a hug and even an occasional small reward.

Many parents have found that sticker charts can be a great motivator. Each time a child follows through with a task, he receives a sticker. When he earns a certain amount of stickers, he then receives a special privilege or treat for his efforts.


Age-Appropriate Chores

Do you know which chores your child can do?

by Sheila Seifert

What chores are important for your children to learn, and what are they capable of doing?

First, recognize the difference between a chore (an ongoing task that benefits the household) and a life skill (an activity that children should know how to do before living on their own, such as managing a checking account). The following list does not include life skills. It is a list of chores.

Second, remember that every child matures at a different pace. Adjust this chart to what you know about your children's skills and talents, and realize that no child should do all of the chores listed below every day.

With those two qualifiers in mind, here are some general guidelines for personal and family chores. This list is only meant as a guide and reflects the types of chores that many children in these age ranges are capable of completing:

Ages 2 and 3

Personal chores

Family chores

Ages 4 and 5

Note: This age can be trained to use a family chore chart.

Personal chores

Family chores

Ages 6 and 7

Note: This age can be supervised to use a family chore chart.

Personal chores

Family chores

Ages 8 to 11

Note: This age benefits from using a family chore chart.

Personal chores

Family chores

Ages 12 and 13

Personal chores

Family chores

Ages 14 and 15

Personal chores

Family chores

Ages 16 to 18

Personal chores

Family chores

Would you like help creating a chore chart? Download these PDFs and get started:

Chore Chart for Youngsters Chore Chart for Tweens


Trade Chores With Your Kids

A clever idea changed my perspective on my kids and household duties.

by Heather Trent Beers

One morning, I entered my 15-year-old son's room.

"Jacob," I said. I waited for eye contact.

"Yes, Mom?" His eyes darted between the screen and my face.

"I'm heading out on an errand. Please bring the trash cans in before I get home in an hour."

"Uh-huh."

Now, I've learned two things about Jacob. First, I must say his name and make eye contact. Second, I need to make him repeat what I've said. Both are helpful in the "But I Didn't Hear You" battle.

"What will you do?"

"Bring in the trash cans."

"When?"

"Before you get home."

"Which will be when?"

"In one hour."

"Good. See you in an hour."

I left with a spring in my step. He's growing into a responsible young man. An hour later when I came home, however, the cans were still at the end of the driveway.

Goodbye, June Cleaver. Hello, Mommy Dearest.

I fumed as I pulled into the garage. "Why do I even bother?" I stomped to the end of the driveway, jerked the cans off the ground and wheeled them to the garage. My blood pressure soared, and my heart thumped wildly.

I knew Jacob needed a consequence for his inaction, but all I could think about were the chores that awaited me, and here I was doing his simple chore on top of it!

Swap chores

Suddenly, I smiled. If I'm doing his chores, he can do mine. The simple brilliance of the plan filled me with hope.

I whispered fervently, "God, please let this work!"

Upstairs, I stopped by my son's room. "Hi, Jacob!" I was pleased with my friendly tone.

"Hi, Mom!" He flashed a quick smile and continued his game.

"You left the trash cans at the curb, so I brought them in."

"Oh . . . I'm sorry," he said, grimacing. He looked at me, but his fingers continued tapping.

In the past, I would have made a smart remark like " 'Sorry' doesn't change things." This time I said, "That's all right. You can do one of my chores. The laundry needs folding."

Jacob froze. He knew he'd been had. While he hung shirts and folded socks, I read a few pages of a novel. I thought about what just happened. Bringing in trash cans: One minute. Folding laundry: Six minutes. Five extra minutes reading with my feet propped up. I could get used to this.

I whispered a prayer of thanks.

Trading duties is effective

Two days later, I asked 9-year-old Rebekah to put her shoes away before lunch. I went through the "Say Her Name and Make Her Repeat My Instructions" deal. She passed with flying colors. Lunch came and went, but the shoes didn't. So I put them away myself, without saying a word or sighing like a martyr. I was planning my next five-minute escape.

After lunch, I said, "Rebekah, you didn't put your shoes away, so I did it."

"Oh, I'm sorry, Mom," came the usual reply.

"That's OK. I need to vacuum the den, so you can do that for me."

Rebekah looked as if I'd slapped her. "That's not fair!" she wailed, eyes wide with shock.

"Well, it's certainly not fair for me to do my chores and yours. Since I did yours, you can do one of mine."

Her face fell. She hates vacuuming, so she didn't do it with the best attitude. But it was done, and I got my five-minute reading date.

Over the next several days, I assembled my to-do list with glee, calculating how many chapters I might finish if all went well. I asked the kids to help more, and they did with improved attitudes. I started to feel less like the Lone Ranger and more like Mom.


Inspire Your Kids to Do Chores

Don't despair. Here are a few great ideas that parents have used to motivate their kids to take responsibility for their chores:

For Babies, Toddlers and Preschoolers

Make the bed

Draw a quilt with 30 patches. Each time your child makes her bed, let her color a patch. The goal is to complete the quilt. In the same way, you can motivate your kids to pick up their toys. Draw a toy chest and cut out 30 pictures of toys from advertisements or magazines. If your child picks up his toys at the end of the day, let him glue a picture in the toy box. The goal is to fill the chest.

— Jennifer Bussey


Pick up toys

Children enjoy blending music and work. While you show them how to do developmentally appropriate chores, use a well-known tune and make up lyrics to fit the melody. For example, if you choose "The Farmer in the Dell," you can sing words similar to the following:

We're picking up the blocks.
We're picking up the blocks.
Hi-ho, the derry-o.
We're picking up the blocks.

You also can add a child's name to the song.

Josh picked up a toy.
He's such a wonderful boy.
Hi-ho, the derry-o.
Cleaning is a joy.

— Sharon Wilkins


Feed the pet

Give your child a measuring cup and show him how much food to put in Rover's bowl. Then help your son fill the water bowl as well. Because he can't yet reach the sink on his own, he can fill a cup with water and transfer it to the dish. When he sees Rover chowing down on the food, praise your child for taking care of his pet.

— Abigail Cleveland


Water the lawn

Children long for cool, refreshing water in the summer heat almost as much as plants do. Take care of both by allowing your child to water plants with a small watering can. Help him fill it with water from the garden hose, and teach him how to pour water slowly on a plant. After he's finished, reward his effort by turning on the sprinkler and letting him run through it.

— Melissa Lehman


Rake the leaves

A large pile of fallen leaves makes a great playground for children and a fun family activity. Buy a small, plastic rake so your toddler can help. Be sure to sift out any limbs or material that could hurt your child if he jumps on the pile.

— Melissa Lehman


For School-age kids

Neglected Chores

My husband and I tired of reminding our four sons to do chores. We told our boys that if a chore was not completed by a predetermined time, another sibling could do it. Then the neglectful sibling had to pay the one who completed the job. Giving hard-earned money to a brother motivated them, and we no longer had to remind them.

— Sue Heimer


Motivate with a point system

At our home, we've adapted a point system to motivate our kids to take on chores. The system also encourages other ways of helping. It's a fun way to instill responsibility and ownership without resorting to nagging or scolding. Here's how it works:

  1. Each time your child completes a chore or task on his own, award points. The more important or difficult the task, the more points are earned. Especially kind or generous acts earn "bonus" points. Take away points for misbehaviors or failure to perform expected chores. The key is to be consistent. Be sure to decide on a point value system in advance.
  2. At the end of a predetermined time period (such as one month), the child with the most points wins.
  3. Make sure every child benefits regardless of who wins. In our home, the winner gets to decide where our next fun family outing will be — bumper bowling, the family arcade or a kids' movie night to name a few. The winner earns the power of choice, but siblings still get to join in the fun.

— Dan Kassis


Chore charts

Did you finish your homework? Have you set the table? My children and I grew tired of my daily, ineffective interrogations.

One day I laminated a chore list for each child and set up a magnet chart that had their names and the days of the week.

Later, my children picked a small number of inexpensive items they wanted. I labeled each with a "price" of a specific number of magnets that needed to be earned before receiving the prize.

Whenever my children completed their chore list without being reminded, they placed a magnet on the chart. If they did not do their chores, they had to remove a previously earned magnet. Once a child earned enough magnets, the child could redeem an item from the prize box.

— Melinda Means


Build relationships through chores

I felt myself slipping out of touch with my six children. When my oldest boy stressed over his chores, especially doing the dishes, I worked alongside him, giving him an occasional elbow nudge or playfully splashing him. Soon his wall of resistance vanished. Now I view chores as a family relationship builder instead of a burden.

— Brandy Brow


Next Steps/Related Information

Additional resources to motivate your kids to do chores

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