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Kids and Chores

Emma and Lily run on towels to help absorb water from our ice dam

Emma and Lily run on towels to help absorb water from our ice dam.

One of my goals for February is to get the kids more involved in chores and helping out at home. There’s still plenty of room for improvement, but here’s what I’ve learned so far:

  • Don’t expect to have “me time” while the kids work. It’s actually a lot more work for me to have my kids help with chores than for me to do them alone, but I feel like it’s important to get them involved in running the house they live in. They tend to be pretty cheerful after cleaning, and hopefully they will grow up knowing how to keep a clean home!
  • Don’t expect the chore to get done quickly – at least in the beginning .
  • Where possible, let them do it their way. For example, my mom used to dump a bucket of water out on the floor and have my brothers soak it up instead of making them mop the floors the traditional way. They were happy, and the floors got much cleaner!
  • Give concise instructions. I told Emma to clean up the floor of her room, and she did – by putting everything on her bed. She had done what I said to do, but obviously not what I intended for her to do!
  • Clear organization helps and encourages kids to clean up. My kids are much happier to do straightforward chores, like putting toys in the correct bin.
  • My kids prefer to clean right after breakfast, before they are involved in a game or tired/hungry. As an added bonus, starting the day off by cleaning seems to leave them in a better mood!
  • My kids LOVE racing me at chores – parallel chores, where I do one chore and they do the other, and we see who can finish first.

Is there something that works with your kids that I’m missing? Please share!

MaryAnne lives in Silicon Valley with her Stanford professor husband Mike and their four children. She writes about parenting through education, creativity, and play. Mama Smiles - Joyful Parenting is a space to share crafts, hands on learning activities, and family outings that enrich lives and bring families together.

15 thoughts on “Kids and Chores”

  1. Turning chores into a game.
    I have read a lot about it and though I do not always have the energy to start inventing games, once I push myself to do it, it ALWAYS works.

    Example: All my daughter’s dolls are all over the place. I tell her, they absolutely have to hurry up for that Tea Pary on the sofa, or her bed , so they don’t miss it! She picks them up in a jiffy!
    My son’s matchbox cars have to race to their appropriate boxes, otherwise he won’t be allowed to sit w/ everyone for dinner untill they do. And they do…ever so slowly.
    Noone should get discouraged from having creative ideas, the more I practiced, the better I got at it! :)

  2. thanks!! I am trying to get my kids involved too. One thing I do is set a timer for 5 minutes and work on a room. I lay out a piece of candy (an m & m or a skittle) after every 5 minute room and at the end, they get to enjoy their treat. It is amazing what 5 minutes of picking up a day can do to a room!

  3. I liked this post and all the ideas in the comments very much. I agree – being specific and breaking the task into smaller steps helps. Usually we also have a special activity after cleaning, so daughter is motivated to hurry up and finish her task as soon as possible.

  4. Elisa | blissfulE

    Your learnings are terrific! I don’t attempt to clean much (except frequently used surfaces), but we do alot of tidying. One thing that works for us is setting a timer and seeing how much we can get done in that time.

    I hadn’t thought about cleaning putting my kids in a good mood… I’ll have to try that!

  5. Elisa | blissfulE

    Oh, and something I learned from my sister on the phone just this morning…

    With Nikki, I can just ask her to “clean up toys” and poof it magically gets done. Ask Michael the same thing and he wanders around aimlessly.

    My sister explained that to some people like her, they don’t actually see the mess, and once it’s pointed out to them it seems so overwhelming they don’t even know where to start.

    So I used this insight to ask Michael to work on a discrete task, “please put the chairs away.” When he finished, he came up to me and told me he did that, and asked what else he could do! So I showed him the dishes in a corner of the kitchen and asked him to get a storage bin and put them in the bin where they belong. He did, and when he finished the corner he started in on nearby dishes as well. He was very content and I was delighted – he wasn’t trying to be unhelpful; he simply needed advice on getting started.

  6. I’ve been working on this, too. I recently went room by room in my house and made a master list of every deep cleaning chore I want done in the house on a semi-regular basis. We’re going to stick to one room every day for about half an hour, doing the chores one by one until that room is done, no matter how many days it takes. I stuck the pages in a page protector sheet so the kids can then use a dry erase marker to cross off each chore as they complete it.

    A couple of days ago, I told the kids it was time for “Family Work.” “Boring!!” Asher cried out (he only recently started using this word, much to my chagrin). But then when I explained that Family Work that day involved scrubbing the dining room table, he exclaimed, “Oh, that’s fun!” And he meant it!

  7. I think you’ve got good ideas. I remember one time telling my oldest (she was 6 or 7 at the time) to go pick up her desk and she came back crying and said, “but it’s too heavy”. So, yes, being concise and clear helps. :) For me, though, it’s still something I struggle with… especially the whole which chores are appropriate for what age dilemma.

  8. LOL about Emma putting everything on her bed. Sounds like Abby! She likes to put everything in a blanket and roll it up in a ball in her closet for us to find later!

    I can’t imagine dumping a bucket of water on the floor, but that’s a great idea!

  9. I love your mom’s way of mopping! Very fun and creative!

    LOL about Emma and her cleaning method.

    No real help here. I pretty much do what you mentioned above as far as having bins and such to make putting away easier for the kids, and we also do the bulk of chores first thing each day.

    Consistency to me is important, and having the kids understand that consequences follow if they don’t do their chores. I also like to make sure they know that their chores help our home/family function better as a whole–point out specifics as to how doing their chores helps/what differences they make.

    I think you do a great job of involving your kids on all levels!

  10. With me and my son, I found I was my own worst enemy. I was always in a hurry and it was quicker to do things myself rather than let him work it out and be independent. I wish I’d had some of your ideas when he was young!

  11. I agree, having children “help” certainly makes chores take a whole lot longer (and requires a whole heap of patience).

    We often sing a “pack up song” when we tidy up. This is just a song that I make up – sometimes if we need to pack up a little faster I sing faster and this usually helps keep everything light hearted while we pack up quickly. Sometimes asking Savvy to pick up a certain number of toys, or bits of paper (if we’ve been cutting) works well as she will happily count while she is packing up.

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