Calendar and to do lists hanging on refrigerator

Getting your children to help more around the house can be tricky. Whether it’s putting their dirty dishes in the dishwasher or picking their things up off the floor, getting kids to stop treating you as their personal maid or butler can be frustrating.

Here are some easy tips to help you cut down on the push-back you get from your children when it comes to chores, as well as simple ways to their increase their cooperation.

Kids ages 4 to 6

  • Musical chores: Singing songs while you clean can be effective. Many parents know the “Clean-Up” song. It’s sung at most childcare centers. Songs are great for putting children into a jubilant trance-like state while they clean up their messes.
  • Chore games: Equally effective is making a game out of cleaning. It can be a race to see who cleans up their toys first using an egg timer.
  • Pretending: Pretend play is a great tool to use with very young children. If your child has seen the movie Toys, you can even pretend it’s time to put the toys away so they can have their quiet play time in the toy box.
  • Simple Simon options: Every kid wants to be noticed. So, catch them being good! Take a funny face picture of your child doing a chore. Post it on Facebook with a praise statement. Ask family members for likes. Another option is to simply use encouraging statements or visual reinforcing activities. You can create a “Praise Box." During the day, fill the box will praise statements about your child's helpfulness.

What should you do when your children doesn’t want to help and begins to whine? Stay calm. Three deep breaths should do the trick. Next, tell your child to sit in the take-time-to-think chair. There they can think about a better way to respond to your instructions by looking at you, saying okay and doing what was asked right away. Once they are ready, repeat the instruction.

School-aged kids

  • Spoonful of sugar: This time-tested program shows using a four-praise-to-one-chore instruction ratio often increased cooperation. This may not work for every kid. But, it’s worth a try for every parent.
  • Supply and demand: Our children get hundreds of instructions a day from adults. Increase the likelihood that your child will do what you ask by sandwiching your chore instructions between the things your child wants and is willing to earn to get. For example, your child asked to go out to play with friends. Say, “Before I answer your request, I have a request. Go in your room and put all your clothes not hung up or in drawer in the hamper before this timer goes off. If you beat the clock, you can earn time with your friends.”
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff: When you ask your children to complete a chore and they don’t do it completely the way you would like but it is an improvement from last time, praise the improvement and have them redo the small stuff without giving them criticism. You could say, “Good job picking up the clothes that were on the floor. I placed the timer for five minutes. See if you can pick up the clothes on your bed and chair before it goes off.”

What should you do when your child is constantly off-task during chores? Don’t give them a big chore. Instead, give a series of small instructions that are timed, monitored and reinforced that will complete a bigger chore.


  • Enlist your teens: Teenagers want more freedom! Let them know the way to earn more freedom is to enlist/volunteer as a helper around the house. Explain that you need their help and leadership — especially with younger siblings. When they volunteer their help around the house, this shows they are growing and maturing. Most teens are happy to oblige with volunteering when there is the promise of increased free time and independence.
  • Help teens develop autonomy: Give your teenager the freedom to pick from the chore list and to request the time when they can complete their chores based on their schedule (work, school, sports, volunteer time, etc.). Remind teens that there are consequences when they don’t keep their word or chore schedule. Teens will lose trust, free time and the independence to make decisions.
  • Scheduling problems: Most teens today complain about not having enough hours in the day to meet all their obligations. Work with your teen to make a realistic daily or weekly schedule. Include float time, mental vacation time and emergency time to avoid major problems or slowdown in their schedule. Practice with your teen good decision-making sills, how to manage their time and how to maintain their autonomy to complete a task. Have discussions about how to help them solve problems to better manage their time and daily task.

When teens have jobs and their own money, they are less likely to help with chores. So what can you do to motivate your teen to help around the house? Limit the number of chores your teenagers must do (bedroom and one house chore). This is especially important when their schedule is very full. Still, it’s important to hold teens to the schedule they agree upon. Remind them that freedom outside the home is not free. It must be earned.

Be sure to thank your children and show your appreciation for their help.


Bridget Barnes has more than 30 years of experience as a Health and Human Services professional. Bridget joined Boys Town's Family Services Research and Development department to assist with creating what is now the evidence-based Common Sense Parenting program.

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