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Pick Up Your Room! A Parent’s Guide to Children’s Chores

Humans are messy. We do not enter this world seeking to organize and tidy up. If you’ve been a parent longer than five seconds, you know this firsthand. And if you’re the parent of a toddler or preschooler, you’ve probably experienced how hard it is to convince them to pick up their toys and do their chores. 

So what should a parent do to motivate their child to do chores and clean up after themselves? We’re glad you asked.

Motivating Your Child

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: Kids and adults aren’t that different. Think about the last time you had to do something you didn’t want to do. Was there a lot of moaning and groaning, either in your head or voiced? 

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The difference is that most adults have learned how to motivate themselves to do unpleasant tasks. But that didn’t come naturally or quickly. It took decades

Here are some ways to set your child down the path of self-motivation and completing tasks (aka chores) that they’d rather not do.

  • Cut distractions. A lot of times, the reason kids don’t want to do their chores is because they’re doing something way more fun. Turn off the TVs, switch off the tablets, or put away the toys that are keeping your child from doing their chores. Tell them they can get right back to the activity once their chores are done. Viola! Instant motivation.
  • Do chores together. The likelihood of your child being more motivated to do their chores if they see you doing yours is much higher. Do your respective tasks together, and maybe …
  • Set a time limit. See if your child can get their tasks done in an appropriate amount of time. The potential downside is rushed chores that aren’t actually complete. Don’t be afraid to throw a flag and make them redo the task if it’s sloppy. Time limits can also help overly reluctant kids. The declaration of, “You have 20 minutes to do your chores or it’s an early bedtime,” can get your kid in gear. 

Why It’s Worth the Hassle

Some people may wonder what the fuss is all about and whether kids should even have to do chores.

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While those intentions may be good, there’s research that shows it’s harmful. One study found that the best predictor of success in young adulthood was whether they had begun doing chores at an early age.

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“When young people have been expected to roll up their sleeves and pitch in, and to ask how they can contribute to the household, it leads to a mind-set of pitching in in other settings, such as the workplace,” says Julie Lythcott-Haims, former dean at Stanford University.

Age-Appropriate Chores

Kids aren’t ready to mow the lawn the second they start walking. Here is a list of chores that are appropriate for toddlers and preschoolers. (These chores stack; anything a 3 year old can do is also something a 6 year old can do.)

From ages 2 to 3, kids can:

  • Put their toys away.
  • Fill the pet’s food dish.
  • Put their clothes in a hamper.
  • Wipe up spills.
  • Set the placemats for dinner.

From ages 4 to 5, kids can:

  • Make their bed.
  • Empty wastebaskets.
  • Clear the table.
  • Water flowers.
  • Use a hand-held vacuum for spot cleaning.
  • Wash plastic dishes in the sink.
  • Make a bowl of cereal.
  • Help with preparing meals (with supervision).
  • Help shop for groceries and put them away.

For ages 6 and up, kids can:

  • Sort laundry.
  • Sweep the floors.
  • Set and clear table.
  • Help pack their lunch.
  • Weed and rake leaves.
  • Keep their bedroom clean.

Should I Pay My Child to Do Their Chores?

Let’s be honest, money is a big motivator for human beings.

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However, a big discussion among parents is whether to pay their children for chores. The debate centers around two real truths:

  • In life, getting paid can help motivate people to do things they don’t want to do.
  • In life, you have to do things you don’t like without getting paid to do them.

So what do the experts say? Most fall into the camp of not paying your child to do simple household chores. Chores should teach children about responsibility and how to do simple household tasks. 

If you are going to give your child an allowance, attach it to work that benefits the entire household. Making their own bed or cleaning up their own messes don’t count.

Also, rewarding your child with money for going above and beyond while still fulfilling their basic, daily, unpaid chores is a great route for families. Just make sure to define what chores are required and unpaid versus extra and paid.

If you choose to use money as a motivator, make losing money part of the equation, too. Are they whining or procrastinating with their normal chores? Lose a dollar. Are they doing their chores but sloppily or half-heartedly? Impose a fine. Did you have to do the chore for them? Take your cut!

Reminders for Parents

Helping kids with chores can be frustrating for parents. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you help them learn responsibility and being a part of a group.

  • Perfection is NOT the point. They will not do their chores perfectly. And you most definitely could have done it faster and more efficiently. But this isn’t about that. Kids doing chores is about learning how to be responsible, do their best, and contribute to the group.
  • Be strong. Despite all the whining and protesting, have a chores system that makes expectations clear. Don’t deviate unless — as a whole family — you decide to change the system or how chores are done.
  • Encourage them! Don’t hold back praise or think it unnecessary. Let your kid know how much you appreciate their help and hard work.

It may not be glamorous or easy, but getting your kids involved in household chores is an incredibly important gift. The lessons they learn by contributing back to the family and taking care of their environment will pay off in big ways years and years from now. 

 

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