Start the New Year Right By Finally Getting Your Kids to Do Chores — Here’s How

Welcome to the New Year! Though we’ve just entered the new decade, chances are you’re getting pretty sick and tired of reading about everyone’s 2020 New Year’s resolutions: Less Netflix, more reading. Less caffeine, more water. Yadda, yadda, yadda. While we wish everyone the best in their endeavors, chances are these people will be the ones complaining about how they’ve already opted for a Netflix binge instead of a long read in three weeks. But not you. This year, you’re going to set an intention that you can actually keep. Yes, this is the year you are finally going to get your kids to help out with chores — and it’s not going to be a complete struggle.

Convincing kids to help out around the house is impossible, you might say. Not so! The key is to treat chores as a normal — and dare we say, enjoyable — part of everyday life, says Lauren Cook, MMFT.

“If your kids see you dreading chores, then they’ll learn that they should avoid them, as well,” Cook tells SheKnows. “If they see you engaging in the activity without complaining or making a fuss, they’re much more likely to jump in. Thus, modeling for them and working alongside shows them that every member of the family is a contributor and has a part to play.”

Sorry, but that means that you shouldn’t gripe about cleaning the toilet within earshot of your kiddos, no matter how disgusting it is. While you’re at it, there are a few other things you should avoid if you want to establish consistency.

What Not To Do

Ditch the threats, “especially things that are unrealistic, like canceling Christmas or never eating dessert again,” licensed professional clinical counselor Stephanie Juliano tells SheKnows. Additionally, avoid things like spanking, yelling, and bribing. “When kids aren’t pressured, it’s more likely that they will help out and have internal motivation,” she adds.

If you want to create lifelong habits, you’ll also need to lower your expectations a bit — at least, initially, says psychologist and anxiety specialist Tamar Chansky. “You are building up good habits for your kids, so be flexible and not critical at first,” she says. “Go for cooperation and getting the routines down. Unless it’s completely a slacker’s effort, bite your tongue on being a perfectionist.”

And yes, that also means that you should avoid micromanaging or rushing to fix your kids’ work immediately after they’ve finished. Let them feel good about their contributions, and know that over time things will get better.

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What To Do

Sadly, there is no magic potion that will make your kids love doing chores, but there are some things you can do to make cleaning more enjoyable. Start by involving your kids in the decision-making process, says Chansky. “Rather than telling your child what to do, ask your child to think of tasks they can do that are useful to the family,” she says. “Even young kids can chime in about what needs to be done, and you’ll get some creative answers and, most importantly, buy-in on the project.”

Another way to encourage ownership is to assign them a zone “that is theirs to supervise,” Chansky says. “So instead of correcting kids for dropping their shoes anywhere, your child could be the director in charge of keeping the entryway neat,” she adds.

And remember, the less daunting the experience seems, the more fun — and productive — chore time will be. Cook recommends playing fun music, singing and dancing, and turning tasks into games to keep kids engaged. Working in shorter stretches helps too. Set a timer and have everyone (yes, even you) get to work for 10-15 minutes. Then, get your wiggle on, read a short book, or have a quick snack before restarting the timer.

When everyone’s done, think about other ways to reward kids aside from money. “You can offer activities that they will look forward to — perhaps it’s watching a movie together, getting 10 minutes on the PlayStation, or going to the park,” Cook says. “This will also help them get through their chores quickly, rather than mope through the task.”

If you are assigning chores, make sure that you’re specific. “Saying ‘Clean your room’ will frustrate kids and adults alike,” Juliano says. “Saying ‘Please put away your shoes and put all of your puzzles on the shelf’ is specific and clear.”

To get the most out of your kids (and to ensure that everyone is safe), make sure that you assign age-appropriate chores. Ahead, we’ve compiled a list of tasks by age group recommended by cleaning experts Melissa Maker, host of the YouTube channel Clean My Space; Ben Soreff of House to Home Organizing; and Alexa Fung, CEO of Upparent.

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Chores for Kids by Age Group

18 months to 2 years: 

  • Sort laundry by putting their clothes in a hamper
  • Help you fold laundry by emptying out the dryer and handing you pieces of clothing
  • Get the hang of sweeping by following you with a toy broom
  • Pick up their toys and sort them into the correct bins or storage spaces

2 to 4 years: 

  • Sweep (Maker suggests taping off a square on the floor and having kids sweep into it — fun and efficient!)
  • Put toys and books where they belong (Soreff recommends labeling things so kids know)
  • Bring you their dishes when they’re finished eating – bonus: they can help you load and unload the dishwasher if you feel confident in their capabilities
  • Throw things in the garbage and recycling bins
  • Wipe and dust (Maker suggests using only safer products — for example, things that contain water, vinegar, baking soda, and dish soap — for these tasks)

4 to 6 years: 

  • Make the bed
  • Help with meal prep
  • Fold clothes (just don’t expect Marie Kondo-like folding here)
  • Collect dirty towels and replace those within reach
  • Strip sheets from their beds
  • Empty lunch boxes and backpacks every day
  • Help carry and put away groceries

6 to 10 years: 

  • Help take care of pets (grooming, feeding, and cleaning up their areas)
  • Vacuum
  • Mop
  • Dust
  • Set and clear the table
  • General lawn maintenance (rake leaves, pull weeds, help plant flowers)

10+ years:

  • Take trash and recycling bins to the curb
  • Mow the lawn (with supervision, of course)
  • Watch and help younger siblings
  • Clean baseboards, windows, and mirrors
  • Clean toilets, tubs, and sinks

Of course, these are only suggestions. Ultimately, you are “the person who knows best what your child is capable of, what they will be good at, and what you won’t have to redo,” Soreff says. Play around with the task list and see what sticks.

Finally, be sure to thank your kids for their contributions. “Praise goes a very long way,” Maker says. “Teach your kids to take pride in their work. This will eventually become natural to them, and they may have things they just love doing (like vacuuming). If they feel good, they’ll want to do it more.”

We can always dream, right? Happy cleaning!

Kid chores by age

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