How to Get Your Child to Contribute Around the House
Updated: Sep 5
Many parents think they need bribe their kids do chores. It makes sense, there are a lot of benefits our kids get when they make contributions to the family:
They acquire skills they'll need as adults. We don't want to send them off into the world with no knowledge of how to do a load of laundry or cook a basic meal.
It helps them feel like a necessary member of the family. We all have an innate desire to feel needed. When we send kids away every time we start to do housework, they get the message that we don't want their help.
Having kids help with housework makes less work for the parent. Yes, in the beginning it will take longer (hence why we normally shoo them away). But they will only learn how to fold clothes, wash dishes, or vacuum, if you let them practice. No one is good at something immediately. They have to start somewhere, in order to one day be able to help independently.
It creates kids that are naturally helpful. Kids who help out at home are more likely to jump in and clean up in their classrooms, at a friend's house, or around the community.
Now what happens when you try to make your kids contribute using punishments or even rewards? The child will still learn the skills, but the motivation becomes extrinsic (they're only doing it because they have to) which negates the rest of the awesome benefits. In order to make the motivation intrinsic (they want to help because they have become a helpful person), you need to make helpfulness part of your family values and culture.
This starts with mindset shifts. Instead of believing, "It's easier to do myself" switch to, "Everyone works together in our house". And instead of, "Grown ups are the ones who clean up." teach, "We make a mess, we help clean it up". When you catch yourself thinking, "I'm always nagging them." Remember that reminding does not need to be nagging. Everyone needs reminders sometimes, and we can choose to keep our tone light, playful, or silly as we help our kids remember what needs to get done around the house.
Here are some other strategies to get started:
If you have little ones, start now! Even a 6 month old can help put the toys back in the bin. Obviously the younger the child, the more you'll actually be doing, but when your child grows up always being a part of the cleaning, they won't question it as they get older and can do more.
Create simple routines that can become habits. Clothes go right in the hamper when we take them off, dishes can taken right to the sink after a meal, etc.
Associate helping around the house with becoming a "big kid" or contributing member of the family. Celebrate this! Sometimes our children need extra help (even with something they are capable of doing on their own). In our house I'll ask something like, "Do you need some babying and help getting dressed this morning, or are you feeling like a big kid that can get dressed all by yourself?" This is said sweetly, with no shame or frustrated tone if they say they want to be babied and have help getting dressed. But I do associate feelings of pride with being able to do more helpful things around the house. "Wow you set up the whole table for dinner, you are really become such a big kid helper!"
Model helpfulness. When you see your child completing a task, jump in to help them, even if they didn't ask.
Invite your child to join you in a task about once an hour or so. Don't save all the chores for after kids go to bed or are napping. Say something like, "Come here sweetie, let's move over this laundry". If they say no, that's okay. They can learn even from watching you and might choose to jump in later. If they do join in, make sure they are making a valuable contribution (not just doing something pretend near you, they know the difference). Here is a list of age appropriate tasks kids can help with.
Instead of assigning chores with a chore chart, teach your child to notice what needs to be done, and jump in where they can help. This starts by inviting them to participate like mentioned above, and then can switch to, "It's time to get the table ready for dinner!" Or "It's time to clean up before bed. What should we do first?"
In the beginning make sure the tasks you are giving the child are super simple. This eliminates frustration for both of you and makes it more likely they'll want to help again, since they experienced success. This can be as simple as, "My hands are full, carry this coat inside, please".
Don't redo what they've done. Take time to train them to do a task, but once you hand it over, hand it over. If they see you refold every towel, they're going to wonder why they even bothered.
Enjoy this time spent with your child. Talk to them as you complete the chore, put on music and dance, be playful.
Thank them when you're done, and make note of what you accomplished. "Wow! We got all those dishes done so fast working together." OR "This room looks great, thanks for your help!" This helps solidify the habit and make it more likely they'll help again.
What would you add to this list? How have you created a family value of helpfulness?
If you're not sure how to implement these skills, you can schedule a 1 hour problem solving session and I can help you create a plan. Click here to schedule.
If your child seems more challenging then others and you doubt these skills will work, sign up for my course MISUNDERSTOOD: gaining cooperation from challenging kids. Click here to learn more.