How to motivate your family to keep the house clean
Young girl helping her mother do the laundry

One of the biggest challenges of parenting is keeping on top of the never-ending list of chores around the house. From packing school lunches to feeding pets to unloading the dishwasher, it’s easy to feel like there just aren’t enough minutes in the day to get through it all. Fortunately, putting kids to work at basic household tasks doesn’t just lighten your load - it can also set them up for success later in life. If your kids aren’t used to doing chores around the house, they may resist the idea at first, but with communication, consistency, and plenty of positive reinforcement, it’s possible to bring them around. Here are a few tips to get you started.

Why should kids do chores?

Childhood is short, so kids should be allowed to avoid adult responsibilities as much as possible, right? As tempting as it can be to give your kiddos a break from the unpleasant realities of doing dishes, folding laundry, and scooping cat litter, all of these things can actually be good for their development into happy, responsible adults. Aside from making parents’ lives easier, giving kids a few responsibilities around the house can help them develop time management and organizational skills, and allow them to enjoy a sense of responsibility and accomplishment. 

Start small

While some kids will take to chores easily, others may have a harder time adjusting to their new responsibilities, so it’s always best to start with something easy. No matter how long your list of daily or weekly chores might be, if you start your kiddo on something manageable like putting toys or clothes away in a specific area of the home, you’ll be more likely to set them up for success. 

Be clear about your expectations

With kids as with adults, you can’t expect someone to do a good job if they’re unclear about the objective. With kids, for whom housework may be a totally new concept, the clearer you can be about your expectations the better. Setting out the name of the job, a few specifics about how it should be done, and the time frame on a whiteboard or chore poster can help your child understand the task and organize their time to get it done. 

Suit the job to the kid

Everyone does better work when they’re enthusiastic about the task, and kids are no different. If your child is crazy about the cat or dog, then perhaps they’d take to keeping the pet’s food and water topped up each day. If they have an interest in food and cooking, kitchen-based tasks like putting away groceries or loading the dishwasher could be more appealing than other chores.

Set an example

Everything kids do is about learning, including chores. Set an example of doing your chores faithfully and enthusiastically, and they might be more inclined to follow suit.

Make it fun 

For younger kids, the more fun you can have with chores the more appealing they will be. If you can incorporate a song or a game into household tasks, your kids might be more enthusiastic to participate.

Be consistent

If getting kids to do chores was easy, you probably wouldn’t be reading this, so expect to have a few failures along the way. No matter what happens, though, try to be consistent in your communication about why chores are an important part of life in your family. If you’re confident the tasks you’ve assigned are reasonable, age-appropriate, and as fun as you can make them, stick to your rules and expectations. Kids will test your patience in all things, so try to stay calm and be patient as they test the limits of what you’ll allow.

Reward with praise, not bribes

It can be tempting to motivate your kids to help out by offering them specific rewards like treats, toys, or screen time when they complete a task. These types of rewards can be helpful in some situations, but might not motivate them in the longterm. Remember, you want them to do chores because it’s kind, helpful, and the right thing to do, not just because there’s a cookie in it for them. That’s why positive reinforcement and praise is often a more effective tool (in chores as in many other behaviours) than a straightforward rewards system.

Jeremy Freed is a freelance writer and editor based in Toronto. His writing about fashion, travel, food and design appears in Sharp, Harry and re:Porter magazines, among many others.

Jeremy Freed is a paid spokesperson of Sonnet Insurance.