Why Some Kids Are Willing to Help with the Chores


I said that I have to be a good example if I want my children to help me get the house organised each morning… I have to jump out of bed and go out there and dive into the chores. I have to be willing to help so that my children are willing to help me.

Sometimes when I go to the kitchen and see the dishes (waiting to be washed), I don’t want to do them. I think: Somebody else will come along and do that in a minute and they probably would. I have to fight the temptation (to ignore the dishes) and go off and do what I prefer to do. I could get away with that because I’m the mother.

Sophie once said to me, in an interview, that sometimes she gets the feeling that parents think they’re better than children, that children have to do all the hard, dirty, uninteresting work of the family. They do all the chores while the parents just make all the decisions. She was saying that she’s glad that I help and that my husband helps. We all dive in and are part of the team, and she’s thankful for that because she doesn’t mind working when she knows everyone else is working as well. We’re all in this together. We support each other.

And working together has great benefits. It draws us together. Even though we might not like the work, it does strengthen family bonds…

It took me a very long time to work out how to get kids to do chores. I guess I was of the mind that kids have to do the work while the parents do the organising of the chore list. I thought that for quite a long time and I was always doing a lot of shouting about it: “You haven’t done your chores. You haven’t done your jobs on the list. Come on, you’re lazy. When are you going to get them done? You’re letting the family down.” And then when the chore list didn’t work, I would try bribery: a reward system.I tried lots of different things before I worked out exactly how to get everybody to cooperate.

It was very, very simple. I have to be a good example. I have to help others if I want them to help me. It’s a very, very simple idea, but it’s a very, very difficult thing to do because all of us are tempted to be lazy. It isn’t easy to keep on being a good example. Sometimes I get fed up. I want to be lazy. I just want to sit there and do nothing. Being a mother can be very difficult.

I had a moment… where I let myself down, where I just didn’t want to be that good example for my children. And I didn’t even realise it at first. It happened one lunch time. My daughter Imogen had decided she wanted to go shopping after lunch and she invited Gemma-Rose to go with her. Now Gemma-Rose was drying dishes and Imogen told her to hurry up: “Hurry up and get those dishes done because I want to go out. You’re holding me up.”

And I told Imogen that instead of nagging her sister to dry the dishes more quickly why didn’t she pick up a tea towel and help her? The dishes would get done a lot faster and it would be a lot more pleasant. There was some truth in what I said, but what I should have done was get up off the sofa myself and say, “Look, you want to go out shopping? You go. I’ll finish those dishes for you.” That would have been the better thing to have done. Because I ended up nagging in my own turn.

Now, Imogen, because she’s a very nice person, didn’t complain. She just went and dried those dishes with Gemma-Rose, but I felt bad later. I thought, If I’m not willing to step in and do something above and beyond what I’m expected to do, how can I expect my children to be generous as well? We want to teach our children to do, not only what has to be done, but to go beyond that, and be, as I said, generous.

I had another occasion… Every Saturday morning, Imogen has a singing lesson. She has to leave the house just before 9.30 in the morning. The rest of us have a leisurely morning. We might get up a little bit later than we do in the week, get in the shower, potter around doing the morning chores because they still have to be done, but do them at a more leisurely rate.Anyway, Imogen dashed out of her bedroom. As she was thrusting on her shoes, and pulling on her coat, I said to her, “What chores have you done this morning?” And she said, “I haven’t had time to do any.” And I said, “You didn’t get up early enough to get yourself organised. You should have got up a bit earlier to get some chores done to help the family.”

Imogen didn’t say anything. She just went out the door. But afterwards, I thought, no, that wasn’t very nice. What I should have said was, “Don’t worry about the chores. I will do them for you.” Kids don’t need to be told that they have to get up earlier. And the act of me doing her chores for her would have, I am sure, inspired her to step in and help somebody else in a similar situation another time.

It’s not about doing things evenly. It’s about helping each other out and doing things in a loving manner.

Helpfulness begets helpfulness. I wrote that in a blog post once…

This transcription was taken from episode 41 of my unschooling podcast: Chores and Our Typical Unschooling Day

The next section of this podcast starts with the words:

I’ve been thinking about how our life does look rather conventional. What makes our life… different from any structured homeschoolers’ life? Is it any different? How do we tell if someone is unschooling or not? We don’t stay up really late at night, we don’t drift through our days doing exactly what we want at all times, we get up very early in the morning… We don’t share these things with some unschooling families. Does that mean we’re not unschooling?

I could answer that question next time.

My children are always asking me, “Can I do anything for you, Mum?” I get asked that question dozens of times each day. Do I have exceptional children? Maybe I’m just lucky. Perhaps this simple idea of being a good example won’t work for everyone? I don’t believe that. I think all kids are capable of being generous. (It just might not happen overnight.)

That’s my opinion. But what do you think?

I’m sorry about the poor sentence structure in this transcription. I didn’t say things perfectly in the original podcast. I was tempted to rewrite the whole thing, but maybe you can understand my thoughts without me doing that.

You can find my Stories of an Unschooling Family podcast on

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  1. Reply

    I remember this podcast well! I'll readily admit that we still don't have the family work/chores balance right. It's me, my husband and our older son doing most of the work while the girls somehow wriggle out of their duties. I agree that setting an example and also involving the girls in the work that I'm doing helps to train them, but I still find laziness is an issue with them. I'm hoping this will change over time, that the girls will be more responsible and want to help more. You're right – being a mother can be very difficult!

    1. Reply


      I remember Gemma-Rose grumbling over chores when she was younger. I think the problem was everything looked very overwhelming to her. It's completely different now. She works as hard as her siblings. With time, she followed their example. She now likes working with them.

      I also remember how my little kids loved doing things like handing me pegs when I was hanging out the washing. Maybe younger kids can play a part in the household chores even in a tiny way. Every willing effort is valuable. We all have something we can give. For a long time, all Gemma-Rose gave were lots of hugs and kisses. I loved those. I miss those days!

    • Hwee
    • January 24, 2016

    Gosh, I can remember myself speaking in a reprimanding tone to Tiger about chores as well! I'm so embarassed now, having read how it all sounds to the receiving party (i.e. Tiger). I think perhaps it's a also a lack of faith/trust that our children from watching good examples rather than from us having to keep pushing them "to be good"…. Thanks so much for this timely post, Sue. I really needed to read it today. 🙂

    1. Reply


      I was embarrassed writing down these words, and telling my recent stories. It's hard saying the right thing and being a good mother.

      'I think perhaps it's also a lack of faith/trust that our children from watching good examples rather than from us having to keep pushing them "to be good"' I think you are so right about that. Kids are better people than we give them credit for. I bet they would be happy to do the right thing if only we gave them a chance.

      Your comment set off another train of thought. I love how discussions do that! Anyway, I wonder if I can put my extra thoughts into words. I shall see!

  2. Reply

    Thanks for the reminder since I took this idea and tried to apply it when first heard of. It's tempting to push off their seemingly insignificant requests when the workload is already overwhelming.

    I've also been trying to demonstrate and gently remind my children of the importance of having a prayer life, preferably first thing. "but bear your share of hardship for the Gospel
    with the strength that comes from God." 2 Tim 1

    1. Reply


      Oh yes, sometimes if we have to do anything extra, we know we're just not going to cope. Workloads can be overwhelming. I know you have little ones in your family and so it's much harder for you than it is for me.

      I've been thinking about prayer lives too. Mine needs some work. I get so distracted with everything else that goes on. I'm not always a very good example.

      Lovely to chat with you!

  3. Reply

    No! Don't rewrite! Thanks-

    1. Reply

      I'm glad to hear that rewriting isn't necessary. Thank you for reading my post and for your comment!

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