Getting Kids to Help with the Chores

It took me years to work out how to encourage my children to help with the household chores. Before that happened, I tried all the usual methods: 

I designed rosters with jobs for each child for each day of the week. I wrote out lists of chores and let my children choose: first in, first choice. I tried a lucky dip system. I tried to disguise chores as games. I let my children experience the consequences of undone chores . By turn, I wheedled and threatened, pleaded and demanded, praised and complained. And yes, the chores got done and we lived in a clean and tidy house. But my children worked only because I prodded them along. They never learnt to gladly offer their help. 

I knew there must be a better way, but for a long time, I was too busy and tired to want to discover it. With a baby crying in my arms, and mess everywhere, I just wanted the jobs done NOW and quickly: “I’ve asked you for help. Please do it!”

Then one day I stopped and thought about how I reacted when my children asked me for help.

“Can you help me with this please, Mum?” one of them would say.

I’d sigh and say, “In a minute.” Quite often that minute turned into hours. Sometimes I forgot altogether. I didn’t exactly give my children the impression that I was eager to help them. Admittedly there were times when it wasn’t possible to help my children straight-away. Babies and toddlers are rather time-consuming and unpredictable, and it wasn’t always possible to do things when asked. But I got into a bad habit of never getting around to helping, even when there was nothing stopping me. Didn’t I already do a lot for my children, without helping them with all the unexpected little extras they wanted me to assist with?

One day I decided to try something new.

“Can you help me with this please, Mum?” asked Charlotte.

I didn’t say, “Maybe later,” or “Can you ask someone else?” or “In a minute,” as usual. 

“Of course I can,” I replied, putting down my own work immediately. I remembered to smile at the same time. It wasn’t easy at first. But old habits can be changed. And I found out that children really do appreciate my help.

“Thank you for taking us to our piano lessons,” says Imogen.

“It was my pleasure,” I say. Even though there are lots of others things I’d rather do than spend a morning driving to and from town, it is a pleasure. It’s a pleasure doing things for those we love. Although helping isn’t always convenient or what we want to do, especially when we are tired, we can still choose to do it. And that’s what I had to model in order to teach my children. 

Regularly throughout the day, Gemma-Rose comes to me and asks, “Can I do anything for you, Mum?” She makes me a cup of coffee. She arranges some flowers in a vase and places them in my bedroom. She smiles and says, “I like cleaning your bathroom. Don’t you just love cleaning toilets?” (I can’t say I do!) She sneaks out and brings in the washing off the line, when no one is looking. I tried doing that once…

I came inside lugging the heavy washing basket and Imogen said, “Mum! How did you manage to sneak outside without us knowing? You should have told us you were bringing in the washing!”

“I thought I wouldn’t disturb you,” I replied. “I managed on my own.”

“But we like helping you.”

Children who like to help? Isn’t that what we all want? And I have discovered I like to help them too, especially when it’s not expected.

“Was it you who swept the kitchen, Mum?” asks Gemma-Rose. “I was about to do that.”

“I thought I’d help,” I smile.

My youngest daughter gives me a hug. “Thank you!” Then she asks, “What can I do to help you?”

Helpfulness begets helpfulness. 

Getting kids to help with chores? I discovered it all had to start with me.



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Comments

  1. Reply

    This is beautiful, Sue! We have come very close to this and I agree – it all started with me. For a long time, the chores were an issue but, after modelling the ideal, the children are now considerate and caring. We still have some times when one child thinks another isn't pulling their weight but, so often, I'm touched by how caring they are towards me.

    After reading this, I think I can improve things more by taking a leaf out of your book. I try not to zone out or keep the children waiting when they want me but I could do a lot better!

    Great post, Sue.
    God bless:)

    1. Reply

      Vicky,

      Beautiful… Thank you! Helping each other IS beautiful. Chores can cause so much stress and lots of bad feelings. These can ruin relationships. But chores can also be opportunities to show love and put others before ourselves.

      Sometimes it is hard to drop everything and respond to our kids when they need help. I am not perfect! But we try. Yes, I'm always touched by my kids' care and consideration towards me too. When I experience that, I feel like I could do anything for my children. I wonder if that's how they feel too.

  2. Reply

    I agree with Vicky, there is a lot of room for improvement here and your sentence about sighing followed by "in a minute" is all too familiar. I'm going to test out your theory now 🙂 At the very least, I'll try! I hope it works as well for us as it has for you.

    God bless

    1. Reply

      Kelly,

      Maybe we should help our children willingly, as much as we are able, even if they don't respond in a similar manner. It's just the better thing to do. However, I do believe kids will learn to be considerate and helpful if they experience our example. Maybe it will take time though. New habits aren't formed overnight. I'd love to hear how you get on!

  3. Reply

    Interesting, it is certainly worth a shot around my house. Most of those parenting shows actually demonstrate how the parents are the ones who change more than the children when trying to get them to behave, etc.

    However, I notice your little helpers are all girls. Girls are empathetic. They are more social and can pick up on cues like this. I have seven boys ages 15 down to 3 (and a 1 year old girl as well). My boys are all too happy to sit around and watching TV without lifting a finger. Boys are self-absorbed and have a "what's in it for me" attitude. I imagine us doing quite a bit of helping without any help in return.

    I will try your method and see how it goes, perhaps I will have some changes by the end of the summer and I can report back. Who knows, miracles have been known to happen.

    1. Reply

      Thomas,

      Boys… I wonder if they react differently to girls. It is true my youngest children are all girls but I do have two adult boys as well. Actually my most considerate child is one of those boys. He is very sensitive and considerate and would do anything to help. These days with the boys both working or at university full-time, they don't get the opportunity to help around the house in the same way the girls do. However, they will text to ask if I need anything picked up from town, they are willing to look after their younger sisters if they happen to be home, they do thoughtful things like buying flowers, they cut grass and help fix cars… Even though my boys are grown up, I'm still willing to give them lifts if their cars are off the road, wash their clothes if they haven't got time, iron a shirt at a moment's notice… I guess we're still helping each other.

      "what's in it for me" attitude." I wonder if we parents also have this attitude. Are we only willing to help our kids if they will help back? Could it be that we should be living this way anyway, doing the better thing, without expecting a response? There's a good chance kids will reciprocate. They do respond to love. But maybe that shouldn't be our sole reason for deciding whether to adopt a new approach. This is a new thought. I wonder what you think!

      Kids often surprise us. I hope you have success!

      By the way, you have a beautiful family. I followed the link and saw a photo! Thank you for stopping by my blog.

  4. Reply

    Sue, sometimes I feel like you are reading my mind and heart! I am struggling with this very issue yesterday and today. I got rid of the chore charts and now the kids are still not helping me get my house ready for my mom and so I become a lunatic. There is something about cleaning the house for guests that turns me into a mean mom unfortunately. I also put my kids off too much. I was going to ask this on the list but maybe I will ask you….when guests are coming, I get crazy. Then if we have to go someplace, I usually lecture the kids in the car for at least five or ten minutes. How can I stop doing this? I remember my mom doing this to me and i hated it! I felt trapped in the car! Any advice? -Gina

    1. Reply

      Gina,

      I hate getting the house ready for visitors too! I do wonder though whether I am much too particular. I have a wonderful friend who doesn't mind at all if we drop in unexpectedly and her house is a mess. She is so welcoming that I never notice if her house is tidy or not. If we do have a guest coming, my children will rally round and help me get the house in order if it is important to me. I wish it wasn't important. A change in attitude perhaps. It's strange how we can put others ahead of our children whom we love more than anyone else.

      I know what you mean about lecturing kids about their behaviour! I used to do that all the time. Then one day one of my children said, "Don't you trust us?" I guess I didn't. I'd hate it if my husband told me how to behave before going anywhere. I can imagine how that would feel, so I can understand why kids don't like to be lectured.

      Perhaps we worry too much about other people's opinions, and this influences how we parent our children. If they do something wrong while they are out, we might get labelled as bad mothers. Believing in our children, trusting them to do the right thing, and making sure they know they are more important than anyone else, might help our relationships with our children and therefore their behaviour. What do you think?

      I am not good at giving the right advice. It would be very interesting to hear other people's opinions. Perhaps you should also post your questions on the unschooling list. I'd love to hear what everyone has got to say too!

  5. Reply

    We started this recently. I will behonest, the girls (8 and 11) aren't doing as much, but then the plus side is that I am not as stressed over them doing as much. I probably spend the same time picking up the slack as I used to "nagging" them into helping. Also now if I say can anyone give me a hand they jump at it. I have also seen my girls simply get up and do something, like bring in the washing, empty the dishwasher, etc. I haven't even had to ask anyone to set the table and before despite it being a "chore" I used to have to ask!

    1. Reply

      Lisa,

      Sounds like you've got things worked out perfectly to suit your family. I hate stressing too. I bet household chores cause more stress than anything else in everyday family life.

      Doesn't it feel good when a child does something to help without us asking? Chores can turn into acts of love. I've discovered that myself. I love coming in and taking over the washing up half-way through, relieving Gemma-Rose of the task. Her face always lights up with gratitude and that makes me feel wonderful.

      Thank you so much for sharing your own chore story!

  6. Reply

    As DH was just saying to me — we are nice to them and they are nice back.

    Today's example — the router died. DS and DD saw I was busy getting dinner started and trying to figure in a dash to Best Buy. First they said they didn't need computers right now. It wasn't an emergency. Then they talked and said they would run up to Best Buy. Be right back and then we'll all have dinner.

    This was after a day at work for DS who is a wonderful worker according to his Dad as he's learning the tile and marble trade.

    And the same day DD just automatically got up and helped carry in and put away groceries when I got home from shopping. It needed doing and she did it.

    Both with pleasant attitudes.

    What lovely kids. No, they are teens. Adults even. 🙂 And just a pleasure to be around.

    And never a chore chart in their lives. They are just nice and generous because they have been treated with generosity.

    Even if I do sound a little braggy. 🙂

    1. Reply

      Nance,

      I'm so pleased you shared your story. I love your husband's words which I have found to be so true.

      I can just imagine how lovely your kids are. You're not braggy at all. I sometimes wonder whether I should write about the virtues of my own children or not, but I reason they are people in their own right and deserve to be told I'm proud of who they are.

      It sounds like you found out the secret to helpfulness long before me. I'm glad I got there in the end!

      Thank you for visiting my blog and stopping to share your family with me.

  7. Reply

    WOW! Where was this kind of advice when my children were small?? Where was my head when I was a, well… a bit of a nag..?

    What a model of holy living.

    1. Reply

      Nancy,

      I can't imagine you nagging!

      A model of holy living… I think we can start out modifying our behaviour because we want to modify our children's behaviour. However, I'm beginning to think we should all live generously regardless of any possible rewards. Would that be holy living?

      Did you ever have a bean jar during Lent when your children were young? A bean is popped into the jar for every sacrifice a child makes over Lent. Our children love doing this. They're always on the lookout for ways to help other members of the family to earn beans. Andy and I join in too. Wouldn't it be nice if we had this attitude all year round? Doing things for others results in so much joy. I guess all we need to do is look at chores and helping in a different light. They could be the source of so much grace and love.

  8. Reply

    What a beautiful thought, thanks for sharing this!

    1. Reply

      Wendy,

      Thank you for taking the time to comment. I appreciate it!

  9. Reply

    Oh Sue! I do say "in a minute" a lot! And I sigh sometimes if I'm in the middle of something! Hmmm…you've given me so much to think about here. Trying to get my daughter to do chores is like pulling teeth and I think you are onto something here regarding our own example.

    1. Reply

      Mary,

      Yes, "in a minute"… I find it so hard to respond to my kids when I'm doing something on the computer. Yes, that 'minute' can turn into hours without even realising! I've started to say, "I'd love to help you!" when asked to do something. Those words are so lovely to hear when our children say them, so I thought they might like to hear them too.

      Pulling teeth… I know what you mean. Painful!

  10. Reply

    Thank you for the beautiful reminder.

    1. Reply

      Stephanie,

      You're welcome! Thank you for taking the time to stop and say hello.

  11. Reply

    Great post, Sue. I've shared it on one of our blogs http://ununschooling.com/chores/

    1. Reply

      Wendy,

      Thank you for visiting and linking this post to your blog. That was very kind of you. I'm looking forward to hopping over and visiting your blog!

  12. Reply

    So often I will be helping one child with his school work, and another will want me for something. In this scenario, I'm always saying "in a minute" and I end up feeling trapped because someone is always put off. Any suggestions?

    Jen

    1. Reply

      Jenny,

      Oh yes, that is such a difficult situation. I remember days when I was bombarded with requests for help from all my children, all at the same time. I felt like running away sometimes! I guess we can only do our best. We can't always drop everything and respond to a child's request instantly. I know that when we had babies, the older children learnt that a baby's needs had to be seen to first. But I did make a point of remembering to get back to a child as soon as I could, if that was possible.

      Maybe if everyone pitches in with the work of the house, there will be more time for individual attention. Or could an older child help a younger one? I often ask my older girls to help the younger ones when I'm not able to. They never mind doing this, as they know I'm always willing to help them in return. My older children used to take turns entertaining the little ones while I gave time to some of the others. I even remember them doing this when I needed time for my own writing. They must have got their own turn with me too.

      Being pleased to help one another… maybe that's an attitude we need to foster in our children, by showing we are pleased to help them when we can. I wonder if kids are more content to wait for help when we don't require an instant response from them either.

      There was something else I did. When I felt overloaded and trapped, I just gave in. Perhaps we were doing too much. We'd pack a picnic or grab a pile of books and just spend time together having fun. Do something together rather than have lots of people involved in different activities. Sometimes school work and housework and everything else can wait. Relationships are far more important.

    2. Reply

      Jenny,

      I finished this comment in a hurry as someone needed me. I'm sorry! I'm not very good at giving
      other people suggestions. I am very aware that I have it a lot easier than many people because we no longer have any little ones in our family. It can be difficult remembering all the details of how we coped with different situations. So if I have been totally useless, I apologise. I hope you will feel welcome to stop by another time.

      PS Somehow I read 'Jenny' and typed in 'Jane'. I'm sorry! I must be tired this evening.

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