Hard Time Getting Kids to Do Housework?
I Used to Be a Slob
Confessions of a slob, right here! Growing up I had very little responsibility. There were things that were expected of me, of course, like being polite, brushing my teeth and not talking back. But when it came to actual cleaning up, I was a literal mess. My room was a huge disaster! I had a hard time throwing things away. My laundry and trash cans overflowed. My parents did most of the chores around the house and I pitched in very minimally.
Happy childhood? For sure! But as an adult, I didn’t have the skills in place to keep up with housework. I sort of fell into the same routine with my oldest son. I’d clean up around him while he played. When I remarried (to a neat-nik, no less!), my husband insisted that we teach the kids housework and chores. I will admit that it was really hard for me at first. I am in the camp of “If you want something done right, do it yourself” so it definitely took a lot of work on my part to let the kids do housework. But I promise you it has paid off over the years.
Can Kids Even Do Housework?
Your kids aren’t going to wake up one day and have the desire to clean house! And they aren’t automatically going to know how to properly do the tasks either. These are life skills that must be taught (and the younger the age of the child, the better to start). If you think they can’t do something, you’re wrong – they just haven’t learned yet!
I can tell either of the older kids to “clean the bathroom” and they know exactly what that entails. They empty trash, put out recycling, clean mirrors, unload and load the dishwasher, sort laundry and vacuum. They can sweep, mop and wash a car.
My preschooler helps with laundry, like transferring clothes into the washer and then into the dryer, folding cloth napkins or putting things away into drawers. It hasn’t been easy teaching the kids to do housework, but it’s a life skill that I’m passing down. And they do have the ability to do it (the desire, on the other hand, isn’t always there – more on that later!) So how do you get kids to do housework? Keep reading for what has worked in my family.
Find Age-Appropriate Tasks
Every child can learn how to make a bed. But only older children can be trusted to make scrambled eggs for breakfast. Make sure that the chores you assign are appropriate to the age and not too difficult or dangerous. Leave the use of chemicals for cleaning to big kids and make sure they have been taught safe use.
With very young kids, you might find yourself doing the chore while your kid watches or “helps” in their own way (dumping toys on the floor so they can clean them up alongside you!). Find small things that your preschooler can help you with while you teach, here are a few examples:
- Holding the edge of a blanket as you fold it in half
- Rinsing fruits and veggies in a bowl filled with water at the sink (teach them gentle hands)
- Watering plants outside with a small watering can (show them how to pour water on the roots)
- Collecting dirty laundry from the hamper (you hold the laundry basket while they empty clothes into the hamper)
- Sweeping up crumbs after a meal (you sweep and they hold the dustpan)
Break Up the Housekeeping into Small Tasks at First
If you’re just starting to teach kids how to do housework, you’ll need to break it down into bite-sized learning increments. This just means that you can’t tell a kid to “make the bed” until they know how to do make it from the bottom up (otherwise they’ll just toss the blanket over the mattress and call it good!).
Always aid children through the housework first before you ask them to complete the task alone. Start by showing kids how to do things step by step (ie: fitted sheet, flat sheet, tucking in the corners, putting on a pillowcase, adding a comforter, folding a blanket, etc). You might not be able to teach all the things at once, because a kid’s memory and grasp of a concept takes repetition.
It’s Okay to Ask For Help (But I’m Not Going to Take Over)
You want to make sure that kids understand all the steps before they can do it on their own. Issues can come up while doing housework. Something can get stuck in the vacuum. A spoon might fall into the garbage disposal while washing dishes.
When getting kids to do housework, these are some of the things to bring up during the teaching process. And you’ll want to make sure that kids know that it’s okay to ask for help if there’s a problem. However, your intervention to assist with the problem doesn’t mean that you jump in and start doing the job. Fix the problem and let kids complete the task!
Make the Task Clear
If I were to tell my kids to clean the bathroom, they would know what to do. This is only because we’ve explained what the task includes. They know that cleaning the bathroom means wiping out the sink & faucet, wiping down the toilet, scrubbing the bowl, replacing the towels and cleaning the mirrors. Make sure kids know each task detail so that when you tell them, “Clean your bedroom” or “Do your laundry” they know exactly what you expect.
Older kids can follow step-by-step instructions better if they are written down (like our instructions for operating the washing machine and dryer). Consider running through tasks physically with your child first several times until they are able to do them. Then write down basic chores and having kids (that can read) learn how to follow the directions on their own without your assistance.
Consider Creating Step-by-Step Instructions for Older Kids:
- Washing machine and dryer
- Lawnmower and weedwacker
- Cleaning a room top to bottom (kitchen, living room, bathroom, etc.)
Kids should start to notice their world around them. Point out to them that you want them to pay attention to when household chores need to be done and that they can complete the task unprompted. An overflowing waste basket should be emptied before it gets to that point. Random toys on the bedroom floor should be put back into a proper place when playtime is over.
Kids don’t have to be oblivious to the world around them and if you point things out as you see them, they’ll start noticing too! Kids who are paying attention to their surroundings should be able take care of the task without reminder. Rather than waiting for you to tell them to clean the toothpaste off the mirrors or to put their cup into the dishwasher, they’ll start doing it on their own.
Okay, so your kid made their bed and it looks like it’s already been rolled around in. Resist the urge to “fix” it. And don’t give up and start doing the chore yourself because your child isn’t doing it “right”. Better that they try than to have you finish their work. That will definitely give them the wrong message.
Older kids can take correction more than little ones. We call that “constructive criticism”. Temper all things with love and not from a critical side and they’ll be more apt to listen. If you need them to do a task over, that’s okay to do. Just tell them why they need to repeat the task and point out the facts (the blanket is falling off the bed, the pillow cases aren’t pulled up all the way).
Make Cleaning “Fun”
Yep, just like Mary Poppins said, “The job’s a game”. If you have reluctant housekeepers, like I sometimes too, give them an “element of fun” in their chores. We toss matched socks into a laundry basket across the room. I always drop wet t-shirts onto my preschooler’s head when she’s pushing clothes into the dryer.
Let the kids get involved with meal planning and prep. My parents used to put on a CD of John Philip Sousa marches when they did housework and it kept things peppy. Make it fun and your chores will be less like a…chore.
Housework is a Regular Thing
Instead of just requesting that kids chip in occasionally, make sure that chores are done on a daily basis. Kids can be expected to keep their rooms tidy, with toys put away and beds made each day. The table can be set at dinner and cleared after eating. Lunches can be packed for the following school day.
Find little things that kids can help with each day to make housework a habit. Older kids can understand the concept that things have to be maintained on a daily basis. It’s easier to keep up on housework if you do a little each day rather than let it build up. Follow these decluttering tips to organize and clean up the house (including free printable checklists!)
Create a Chore Chart (For Little Kids)
Keep the chores simple for little ones and they’ll be more likely to complete the jobs with minimal assistance. A visual chore chart with incentive marks or stickers will help with goals.
Create a Chore List (for Older Kids)
Now that my teens can tackle just about every housekeeping item in the house, my husband and I came up with what we refer to as the “ultimate house cleaning list”. My kids have certain things on the list that they do every day (like cleaning the bathroom sink, making beds and wiping the kitchen counters after dinner). Other things are only occasional (like vacuuming out the windowsills, wiping down the ceiling fan blades or scrubbing the bath mat in the shower).
Having an ultimate list reminds us of what tasks we need to complete. I laminated the list and keep it in the same place so everyone knows where to find it.
Recognize and Reward Work That Goes Above & Beyond
How much should you pay your child for chores? That’s something each family should decide on. We don’t pay our kids for household chores. We believe that we’re teaching our kids lifelong skills and responsibility. However when our kids do something that is out of the ordinary or particularly challenging, we will reward. Sometimes it’s a special treat, a few dollars or dinner out. It’s also important to thank them on a daily basis to let them know you appreciate their efforts.
Respect for the House
I’ve found that since getting my kids do housework, they are actually less likely to be making big messes. When cooking in the kitchen, my high schooler is a heck of a lot neater when he knows that HE is the one who has to clean it up afterwards!
Dealing with Grumblings in the Ranks
Of course teaching and enforcing housework in our house doesn’t go without some grumblings from within the ranks. We frequently hear, “Why do I have to do this every day?!” Or “I just cleaned this, who got it dirty again!” A little complaining is allowed, after all if it wasn’t a job, it would be called something else.
The whining doesn’t deter from the fact that things still need to get done. I just remind my kids that chores still have to be completed properly, whether you like to do them or not. My goal is to raise kids who know how to do things independently and who can take these valuable skills with them into the world. After all, soon enough they’ll be adults and will need to know how to clean their own homes! I’m certainly not going to be doing it for them.