Thursday? It’s Thursday? (5 Steps to Teach Your Child to do Chores)

edited to add the real post.  scroll down to see it.

Well, today we’re going to be talking about how we get our children to do their chores.  Obviously I need to work harder on remembering my own chores because I completely forgot to get this post done last night.

While you’re waiting for me to shower and drink a cup of coffee, visit the other 3 moms to see what wisdom they can share.  I promise I’m not stalling just so I can plagiarize their posts, though I could probably learn a lot from them.

I’ll be bock. [read that with an Austrian accent]

Why We Teach our Children to do Chores

Chores. {cracks knuckles and clears throat}.  Helping with household chores is an important step in teaching children that we are not islands, nor are we a collection of bachelors sharing a house.  We are part of a family, and our responsibilities extend beyond making sure that our own dirty laundry makes it into the hamper.  Helping with household chores is one way that we learn to serve one another.  Ideally this service is done with a Christ-like attitude, but that takes practice.

On a more practical level, teaching children to help with chores also prepares them to run their own household someday.  Contrary to what modern culture tells us, I believe that childhood is not 18 years earmarked for wasting; it is a time of training and preparing for adulthood.  The better trained our children are, the more smoothly they tend to make that transition.

One last benefit of helpful children is to lighten the mother’s burden, especially in a large family.  Some believe that a mother should do all the housework, and expect large-family moms to be worn ragged.  This creates the impression that children are a terrible burden, and none of us can really bear more than one or two.

On the other hand, helpful children in a large family can see what a blessing they are to the entire household; they see that being a mom of many doesn’t mean being worked to an early grave.  Rather, it means working side by side with those you love best toward a common goal.  This is Christian living in action!  Yes, Christian living happens in smaller households and often looks different, but this is the shape it takes in our house and we think God is pleased and glorified by it.

That’s why we teach our children to do household chores.  How we teach them is a whole other matter.  This is an area that requires as much diligence on the parts of the parents as the children.

How to Teach Your Child to do Chores

There are many ways to do it.

The easy answer is to give birth to at least one child who is naturally responsible, hard-working, and self-governing.  This child will see what needs to be done and do it without being told.  She will even do the chores assigned to her less responsible siblings.  The more children you have, the better your chances.  I have at least one, but I can’t tell you her name.  She is currently in the witness protection program, and divulging her name might put her in grave danger.

Other ways involve complicated systems of rewards and recognition.  We have tried some of these methods but none worked for us over the long term, primarily because either I or the children eventually lost interest.

But there is another way.  I’m not good at it because it means my attention span has to be longer than that of my children.  Here it is in 5 steps, easily said but not so easily done.

5 Steps to Teach Your Child to do Chores

  1. Let your children help you, even when it’s not helpful. They want to help while they’re little, but it slows you down.  I know it.  You know it.  They don’t know it, and you shouldn’t tell them – at least not until they’re older and you’re explaining why they should let their 2yo sister help wash dishes.  These early years go a long way toward forming a child’s opinion of work.  If washing dishes gives them warm fuzzy memories of time with Mom, you’re well on your way to having a child who actually enjoys work.
  2. Work alongside to train them. It’s too easy to give instructions and then walk away, coming back later to check.  But if you haven’t properly trained your child to do the job, it’s not fair to expect him or her to do it properly.  Training must happen together.  Also, see “warm fuzzies” above.  It’s nice to work alongside children who already know the job well.  Dishes are more fun when you have company at the sink.
  3. Set a clear standard. You may think straightening a  room is no big deal, but details (baseboards, mirrors, under sofa cushions), definitions (clean? straighten? pick up?) and degree (just how clean does it need to be? white glove, or just non-hazardous?) are subject to interpretation.  Make sure your children understand exactly what you expect them to do, especially when you want them to work independently.
  4. Praise lavishly. Am I the only mom who feels like a failure at this? I want to help my children excel at what they do, and too often this takes the form of nit-picking.   How often do we accuse our children of shoddy work and fail to recognize that details which seem obvious to us are all new to the inexperienced eye?  There is a fine line between approving careless work and setting impossibly high standards.  Try to find it.  Let me know when you do, because I’m still looking.
  5. Inspect what you expect. Yes, you really do need to get off your – um, chair – and go see if the results are up to your expectations.  You need to do this often so that children who are inclined to play the odds will lose when they gamble.

My daughters have 2 recommendations on the topic from Vision Forum:

I’ve posted in the past about the chores our children do.  The list changes every few months and kids are allowed to request particular jobs if they have a preference, but generally speaking a child is on a job until she masters it.   If she dislikes a chore assigned to her, I tell her to do her very best at it so that she can get a new job in the next rotation.  After all, in the adult world how often is it a good idea to simply quit and move on because we don’t enjoy our responsibilities?


  1. Ann,we’ve been given an eye opener in the past 18 mts as to how much is modeled and how much comes naturally to children: )
    While we have 5 girls(with 1 tomboy-type),all the girls always played with dolls.No cars,trucks and no loud banging,throwing things or running into walls.
    Then along comes our Boy.From the get-go he hasn’t played with anything girly(throws them down with a look of disgust),anything soft or fluffy.
    He loves tools,bolts,tractors,and will tolerate Action Man.
    But none of this has been modeled,we have simply provided toys our children have shown interest in.Never in a million yrs would we have thought there can be such a huge divide as to what they play with: )
    So I believe in most cases stereotypies exist due to our natural instincts.

  2. I’m so relieved to know that I’m not the only mom who forgets to praise her children, focusing on what hasn’t been done, instead of exulting verbally in their attempts, whether completely successful or not. “Praise lavishly.” Yep, still perfecting that one.

  3. Having worked with children for over thirty years I do have to say that the majority of kids do seem to pick gender stereotypical chores/games etc. I had aunts who attempted to teach me crocheting, sewing, etc, “typical” girl things of their generation. But I was more happy doing “boy” things-carpentry, marbles (beat all the boys lol), outdoor chores and such. Course I was a tomboy to the max! My sister was the “girlie” one (and still is!).
    I have to wonder how much of it is modelled behavior of yesteryears? Todays parents seem to be ok with giving kids opportunties to explore outside the expected behavior of their gender. (hope that makes sense!)
    THanks for answering!

  4. Thanks for this! My 3-almost-4 year old is a great, cheerful helper (most of the time). Your post has prompted me to think that maybe it’s time to give her some more regularly assigned job to help out, rather than just leaving it up to her mood. I love hearing what you assign to each child.

  5. I know some families divide chores along gender lines..ya know, women’s work (basically inside cleaning/cooking) and men’s work(outside/physical). Doesn’t sound like your family follows this method but maybe you do?

    • ann,
      We don’t do this. We think it is important for both genders to master all the chores inside and outside the house for many reasons. However, several of the girls and I prefer to do inside chores when we can get away with it, and in my experience boys will gravitate more toward the outdoors – my brothers always did. Maybe they can get away with more high-energy stunts and noise out there?
      These are not limitations or even expectations, but personal preferences. Isn’t it funny, though, how often those preferences tend to gravitate toward the stereotypes? 🙂

  6. Ugh, I really struggle with the the “praise” and “inspect” steps. I was hoping you would have some great advice for me! LOL!

  7. To clarify: we don’t have quite as many CHILDREN as you (7). We definitely have as many chores. Lol! 🙂

  8. Great tips!! We don’t have quite as many as you, but I read back on the chore list you posted as well – good stuff. An important thing we add in our family is that there are no boy chores and/or girl chores…just family chores. Our boys iron and bake; our girls mow the lawn and take out trash, etc. I think it’s supremely important (and helpful for future spouses) if the person is pretty darn well-rounded too. 😉

  9. Great tips!

    My husband and I have started to teach our infant to be helpful. While she obviously can’t do chores at 6.5 months, we have found ways to turn her attention to being helpful now that she has enough control of her body/limbs. When I am dressing her I ask her to push her arms into the sleeves, sit on her bottom to help me pull her shirt down, hold her feet while I am changing her diaper, etc. I always praise her for whatever effort she gives me.

    My hope is that these little steps will set a foundation for a helper mindframe. Hopefully before long she will be helping her dad fold laundry while they watch Sunday football!

  10. LOVE this post! Thank you! I will be sharing it on fb!

  11. Lol. Enjoy your coffee. I look forward to your post. I’m about to re-do my children’s chore charts so this is right on time.

    I’ve been enjoying this series. I linked to you all on my own blog today.

    Off to read the other posts!

Don't just think it: say it!

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