How to Motivate Your Kids to Do Chores

Krista Anderson-Hill, Senior Chores Correspondent

August 05, 2019

No one really likes chores. They are not exciting or super fun but they are important. Chores keep the household running and every family member can play a role. Chores illustrate on a daily basis that we all need to pitch in, work together and help each other. So, from feeding the dog, doing dishes and taking out the trash, how do we as parents motivate kids to do chores without the moans, groans and endless questions? Here are five tips:

1. Start Early

Like many things, starting early helps.  Expose young children to household tasks you would like them to do independently when they get older.  For example, if you would like your children to fold their own laundry in early elementary school, invite your toddler to help you fold clothes.  Show them how it is done, allow them to practice. One of the best things about little ones is that they are eager to help. If a child can’t remember a time when they didn’t do household chores, chores will become a normal part of family life. As a mom, I know all too well that it is often easier to do a chore myself and just get it done. But the investment in involving small children in household chores will pay off; a messy toddler today, is a helpful kid later. 

2. Give Choice and Autonomy

Here is a pearl of wisdom that I often need to hear myself: bossiness is NOT motivating. Being on the receiving end of someone barking orders and reading a list of chores does not spark joy or engage helpfulness.  Children want to be part of the process and give input. The more independent children feel, the more motivated they will be to take on a task and do it well. A fun idea is to write chores on popsicle sticks and have your child pick two chores sticks blindly and then two chore sticks where they can see the chores. Siblings can also swap chore sticks. Or, make a list of chores with your child and ask your child to pick his or her top three that he or she would like to do, then you assign three. 

One of the best things about little ones is that they are eager to help.

3. Work As A Team  

Doing your household chores while the children do theirs, fosters a feeling of teamwork; a feeling that we are all in this together. In my house we create a list of chores and do a “Power Hour”. We blair the music and all try to do as many chores as we can in one hour. After that hour, we have a hard stop, and do something fun as a family. For families of smaller children, a Power Fifteen Minutes, might be more appropriate; set the timer and go! Another family I know does after dinner clean up with a family dance party. Even the most mundane chores can be fun if you work as a team and make it into a game, dance or race.

4. Don’t Use Chores as Punishment 

The most productive way to view chores is as an expected responsibility that needs to be done to keep the household running.  As family members we do chores to take care of each other. Chores should not be framed as negative or a consequence. The aim of chores is to develop a child’s own initiative, desire to help and be a contributing member of a family team. 

5. Use a Reward System

Rewards help motivate and inspire. They provide positive reinforcement and recognition for a job well done. We all like rewards. Rewards for chores can be a weekly allowance. Many families use the allowance system with great success. But, if the allowance reward is not your family’s thing, there are many more ways to praise effort: your child can pick a movie, choose what is for dinner, choose a family activity, a special playdate or earn 30 minutes extra of screen time.  Rewards can also be as simple as a high five and words of praise.  

Children want to feel needed and important. When parents include them in household chores, there might be some complaining and resistance, but the underlying foundational message is: you are needed, your work contributes to the running of the home and your are an important member of the team.