Get Kids to do Chores Willingly

Question: When I get home from work each afternoon, I spend a lot of time and energy cleaning up the house. I keep thinking that I’m doing it all on my own, and I am soooo guilty for not making my children help out around the house. I’d like suggestions on chores for an 8 year old girl and 3 year old girl, and how to best implement this new idea to get the kids to do chores willingly!

Signed: Sue

Answer: Dear Sue:

I think we are all guilty of this to some degree. In the hustle and bustle of everyday life, sometimes it’s just easier to do things ourselves in order to avoid the potential backlash we get when a we ask our children to do something of a domestic nature. It also saves us time as we most likely work at a faster pace than our children do. And often, don’t we just follow behind our children anyway and re-do whatever it was we asked them to do because it wasn’t done to our satisfaction? So we might as well just do it ourselves anyway, right? Still, my mother will re-load her dishwasher after me because she has found a knack for fitting all of her dishes in a certain way – I have not quite yet mastered her way of doing it and probably never will. When I’m over for dinner it’s become a bit of a joke between us. I load, she reaches in behind me and rearranges everything. We laugh now, but I didn’t always appreciate it when I was younger!

Before giving you suggestions on chores, you will have to think about establishing some new routines/rules regarding getting your girls to do chores. So the first thing I would suggest is for you to reassess your expectations. If you ask your eight-year-old to make her bed and you can still see the sheets hanging out the sides, you have to decide whether it’s worth having her go back and do it again, or will that be good enough for you?

The catch phrase “pick your battles” comes to mind. The age of your children will have something to do with lowering or raising your expectations. We must be realistic about what a three-year-old is capable of doing and doing well, as opposed to an eight-year-old. As children get older, they should be able to take on more responsibility around the house and with more efficiency as well.

I would recommend picking a “cleaning day” where you start the morning with a family meeting and put all the chores needed to be done that day into a hat. Everyone randomly picks what they will be responsible for. You can assign partners as well so the three year old is accompanied by someone older and will learn how to do things as she is being shown. It will be a family team effort this way. Regular chores throughout the week could be assigned and a chart could be designed listing chores and ticked off as they are completed so as to keep track of what they have left to do. (You can use a picture chart for the sake of the three-year-old.) If chores are not done within a specific time period, clearly stipulated on the chart, consequences should be imposed.

The “when/then rule” comes in handy in these situations. “When you have picked up the toys in your room, then you may go out side to play.” “When you have taken your plate over to the sink, then you may watch a half hour of TV.” Saying it this way sounds very different and less threatening than saying “if you don’t pick up your room you won’t be watching TV tonight.” Threats only invite conflict. Just practice saying these “when, then” rules over and over until they become a mantra for how you speak to your children about doing chores. They will come to appreciate and respect that they don’t move on to anything else until they have finished what they were asked to do. And be consistent in following through with consequences if they don’t.

You are in a prime position with your three year old. Children at this age love to be Mommy’s and Daddy’s little helper. Let her help- within the limits of safety of course – three year-olds want to cook but it’s not advisable for them to be around hot burners; but she could fold the napkins for the table and get some of the ingredients out of the fridge or cupboard for you. Sometimes when young children ask to help, we often say no because of the potential risk. The message we give is that they aren’t helpful, so why should they bother the next time they’re asked. Just find something she can do that is associated with the task, only safer. Even though she might make more of a mess than actually help out, she will feel appreciated for her effort and she will get better as she is allowed to practice. Your eight year old has probably already grown accustom to not having to help out around the house. You will have to have a conversation with her about establishing some new rules and a new routine and clearly outline the consequences that will be imposed if she refuses to cooperate with chores.

In terms of the types of chores themselves: a three-year-old can help sort laundry, clean up toys, take plastic cups and napkins to the supper table, dust, and sweep floors. An eight-year-old can set the table, unload a dishwasher, wipe off counters, fold laundry, make beds, feed pets, vacuum, Remember though, their age will depict how much and how well those chores will be done. But as they get older, it will only get easier to enlist their help because it is something they have gotten use to doing. Appreciate their efforts and take time to tell them just how helpful their contribution to the running of the house is to you. You might find them starting to give compliments and sentiments of thanks for all you do too.

Out of the Mouths of Babes-Parenting from a Child's PerspectiveAnswer by Dyan Eybergen, author of Out of the Mouths of Babes: Parenting from a Child’s Perspective. Dyan, a pediatric psychiatric nurse, has more than ten years experience working as a therapist and parent educator.

Dyan and her family were guests on the cable television show “For Kids Sake”, along with parenting expert Barbara Coloroso. Eybergen resides in St. Albert, Alberta, with her husband and three sons.



  1. Oh, am I guilty here! I like things cleaned in a very specific way, so I have not let my children help out beyond putting their laundry in the hamper!!! Boy, did I need this article… thank you… gotta run and wash the floor, lol:)

  2. Bernadette says:

    We always struggle with ‘what is allowance worthy’ and what is just plain part of being a family and having responsibilities. Any suggestions for making those distinctions? Sometimes it’s more obvious—like walking the dog goes along with the responsibility of having one— cleaning their rooms (which makes Mom happy and, as they’ve pointed out–isn’t something important to them)– is added to the chore chart. Also, when it comes to allowance–we started with a basket of goodies–which included a dollar or two, along with other things–more often than not, the dollar was the last thing left in the basket. What amounts of money do you think are appropriate allowances for various ages? Mine are 8 and 10 years old.

  3. We like a scaled down flylady schedule for our kids at home. When the kids do their tasks with minimal parent, um, encouragement – we give up to $1.00 per day (.50 am & .50 pm). What works for us is that we are not paying for the chores, which should be one to help our family/community, but rewarding independence. Also – our bank allows us to transfer the $$ directly into their accounts w/out fees, so they get the immediate gratification of seeing their accounts grow & no lost coins!

  4. This is a fantastic article. I am one of those mom’s that used to re-do anything and everything my daughter tried to do. I still find myself re-doing it days later after she’s forgotten, but I’ve noticed she now pays more attention and wants to do it like mommy. She is 7 yrs old, and has certain small things she is expected to do. But I really like Vanessa’s idea of having the allowance transfered over immediately. Great ideas here, and I look forward to more great info I can use in the future.

    • Just a thought as I am a single dad with a 5 yr old girl and 7 year old boy. We dn not do allowance, but they do get “wages” (I forget what the Dave Ramsey course calls it). I’ve recently decided that as their money grows, they will get gift cards for a store. The card is always theirs to spend as they want, but they know they can’t spend more than card is worth. So far i have one child who wants to save cards for a large purchace and one who likes to spend whenever the chance comes. they both love the idea of it being their money and their learning valuable lessons.

  5. I like all these ideas! I’ve learned with mine – 9 and 7 – that it really works when I honestly let them know that I need there help. I often call it needing some “kid power” – works great for unloading groceries from the car! Make it fun – once I had taught them how to dust, clean mirrors, water plants, feed the cats – we all pick 3 chores, turn up our favorite music and have fun getting it done all together. It has definately become easier over time. I also firmly believe from all my reading and parenting classes that allowance should not be tied to household help. The purpose of allowance is to teach them how to handle money. The chores are part of being a family team. So we give just $12 to each child per month and they have 3 envelopes to divide it between – spending, saving and giving. They love getting to choose the charity or cause to give their donations too. And they take their own money to the bank to deposit. It helps their math skills to count their money, divide it out, see how it all works and make decisions about how to use it! Good luck to everyone!!

  6. Such a relevant topic! My 1st 2 children are 12 months apart and #2 and #3 are 20 months apart…in the toddler years I struggled to keep up with them much less my own chores!
    As the children got older and more independent, I started instituting the family team work ethic…when the kids were 2, 3 and 4 and my husband was deployed, I realized I needed the help!
    As I made dinner, I would call the children to wash hands, clear the table of their things and take turns setting out plastic water cups, a fork at each place, and a napkin as well. I wouldn’t serve food until their
    job was completely done…because we were “all helping each other and working together.” Later, I had them clean their rooms and put their toys back in the toy bins when I started cooking, and then clear and set the table.
    They actually like the idea of being my waiters. They also scraped their own plates and cleared their settings. Now, they are 5, 6, and 7 and I wash and fold all their laundry and each of them puts away their own pile of clothes…every type of clothing has a specific drawer. All of these “shared” chores help me maintain sanity and order in my home!
    I have had stressed out times when I would get frustrated and yell, or get angry and impatient, but usually that just dealt with external behavior and not my kids’ hearts and will.
    I have found that if I just implement this kind of routine with gentle consistency and reinforce the “no eating until each of our jobs get done” my job being the cooking, then the kids follow suit. I even applied the “you may be excused from dinner until you can eat without complaining” rule. Very effective after just a few attempts! I make it about their own choices, they can help out and appreciate mom’s efforts, or they can forgo the benefit of eating a meal with the family and go contemplate life in their rooms.
    I’ve used repetition and gentle redirection for night-time routines of shower, getting PJs on, bringing dirty clothes to the laundry room and brushing teeth, and all three are very good at taking care of their personal routine, morning and night with just a little help and guidance from me.
    Sure, in the beginning it was hard and they resisted… but the consistency pays off. Now I am expecting my 4th, 5 years after the 3rd child, and we have such a great routine down that I don’t feel frazzled at all. My first three children are looking forward to helping me with the baby and I know that they truly will!

  7. love the when/then idea.
    love the everyone doing their own to help the family, rewarding independence, we call it : everybody doing their part to run a house cuz mom cannot do it alone.
    we pay allowance for compliance to requests, we do not pay for chores.
    that means I need a happy face when they are asked to do something to help run the house and i have to give a happy face when they complete it (even if it isn’t done perfectly)
    we also encourage putting away stuff after we are done using it. I admit, I’m always learning on this one. I love to drape yesterdays clothes over the back of the chair in my room, I love to read the paper and leave it out thinking i’ll come back to it, etc. My mom once joked that she should build a house that doesn’t have any flat surfaces cuz she just stacks stuff everywhere! We are getting better about the clean up/put away since I made a place for everything- or at least designate a laundry basket to each kid for quick clean up trips. When we all clean up behind ourselves, it is also easier for me to do the dirty work of scrubbing the floors, laundry, etc cuz I can see the dirt instead of all the stuff.
    and don’t forget to include Dad- kids love to see dad helping run a house, and my hubby will gladly do the clean up behind himself if it means that he doesn’t have to the dirty work of scrubbing the floors/ the toilet/the cooking! PS I love to cook- it’s my favorite chore! shhh, don’t tell my kids.

  8. Love this advice about chores. I too have an 8 year-old and struggle with how to help her learn responsibility through doing chores. The “when/then” is great advice.
    Regarding the question about paying allowance and example of encouraging kids to save their allowance, I got my daughter a fabulous “bank” for Christmas that has been amazing at encouraging her to save her money. It’s “The Savings Machine” from INGdirect for only $19.95. It’s an interactive toy/bank that teaches kids how to save instead of spend money. To learn more, go to While I also have a savings account for her at ING, it’s not the same experience as her feeling and seeing the real money grow. INGdirect is also a great place to set up savings accounts particularly for kids and they have Planet Orange-an interactive website that teaches kids about financial responsibility. Check it out at I promise I have no interest or affiliation in INGdirect, I’m just a super happy customer and am a huge fan of anything that helps kids learn to save money.

  9. If you liked the Super Nanny, you may want to get all those great ideas in a book form. Easy reading and so appropriate for parenting children of all ages. The original book is out of print. It’s called “Systematic Training for Effective Parenting.” I don’t remember the author, but can be found through Amazon by the title (and very cheaply). I used it with my own child and now using it for over 30 years (working as an occupational therapist with children who have disabilities). Parents can’t believe how their dreams for their family have become a reality. They are finally having a loving, peaceful, happy family with respectful, caring and responsible children. Both parents must be aligned, however, for this simple program to work.

  10. Read the book “Money Doesn’t Grow on Trees” It is excellent, and easy to read. I believe it is just what you need to solve your problem. Blessings. Lyn

  11. My kids are 7 and 3. When it came to chores, I just browsed the net and found some chore charts (my kids liked the designs in the website kidrewardzone). We filled up the chores and columns to mark a star in each chore. There is a minus for each negative behavior, like tantrums, not using dustbins for trash, and so on. They would get bucks for each star minus each negative mark. A trip to the park on Saturday, if BOTH get all the stars (here I don’t count the negatives)for the week. Now, there are no arguments, yelling, and shouting. Its only “YAAAAYYY…”