5 Tips for Helping Kids Develop Better Chore Habits

Positive reinforcement and repetition go a long way.

France, Provence, Marseille, living room. Siblings standing on the couch, throwing laundry in the air, smiling.


France, Provence, Marseille, living room. Siblings standing on the couch, throwing laundry in the air, smiling.

Photo by: Westend61


I recently realized that I might be the biggest impediment to my kids completing their chores. With all the reminding, oversight and teaching them the best way to fold underwear and load the dishwasher, sometimes it feels like less of a hassle to just do these tasks myself. But with a 12-year-old and an 8-year-old in the house, it’s becoming clear that if I don’t do it now, their future roommates and spouses will surely hate me. Plus, I can’t go on like this forever. My back hurts.

The good news, according to University of Phoenix College of Education dean Dr. Pam Roggeman, is that once a system is in place, parents are setting their kids up for a lifetime of self-reliance.

“[Your kids] can really do more than you think,” she says. “Even your 4-year-old can start to make his or her bed. It may not be perfect, but I think ‘done’ is better than ‘perfect...’ [Parents should] praise the completion of the task rather than criticize how [their child] does at it.”

But there’s no getting out of it, parents. It’s our job to remind, oversee and teach — and it’s time-consuming. Here are a few suggestions Roggeman has for making Operation Chores a success:

1. Lay the groundwork by telling kids why they do chores.


Photo by: ONOKY - Eric Audras

ONOKY - Eric Audras

“It’s not a punishment, and I don’t pay for them to do chores,” Roggeman said of her own system. “[My kids] do it because [they’re] a member of this family.”

While she doesn’t tie her children’s allowances to chores, Roggeman does like the idea of adding optional chores for a little extra dough.

2. Choose a stress-free moment to introduce one chore at a time and teach the child how to do it.

Mixed race boy pulling trash can in driveway


Mixed race boy pulling trash can in driveway

Photo by: Inti St Clair

Inti St Clair

“We can’t just assume that our kids know how to do the things they need to do,” Roggeman said.

When training a 7-year-old how to take out the trash, for instance, you show them how full the trash should be when it’s time to take it out, where it goes and that the task isn’t complete until a replacement liner is in place. “And then become tirelessly consistent about that,” she advised.

3. Stay flexible and know to toss the plan when kids are over-stretched from school or after-school activities.

Boy sitting at table doing homework with pencil


Boy sitting at table doing homework with pencil

Photo by: Miguel Sanz

Miguel Sanz

Forcing chores when there’s little time to decompress creates a battle of wills and a negative attitude, Roggeman said.

“It’s a good idea to say, ‘Are you done for the day? Do you want to save cleaning your room for tomorrow?’” Roggeman said. “The goal is not to be right and force them to do something; the goal is to teach them responsibility, to help out around the house and to be a part of the family.”

4. Reminders are key.


Photo by: John D. Buffington

John D. Buffington

Sure, there are apps that can help with that, but Roggeman is old-school and found leaving sticky notes in appropriate places to be extremely helpful. A reminder to make the bed went on the bedroom door, and a nudge to remember Friday’s chore of cleaning the bathroom was stuck to the bathroom mirror.

“For them, it was more effective to have it right in front of their face,” she said.

5. Rewards can be the antidote to those pesky reminders.


Photo by: PhotoAlto/Sigrid Olsson

PhotoAlto/Sigrid Olsson

Roggeman once again stresses that complimenting the completed task goes a long way toward making kids happy — or at least not too miserable — about doing chores. Rewards also come in the form of teaching kids what is gained by completing a task, such as extra time to sleep in the morning when you don’t have to dig through a laundry basket to find something to wear.

Ultimately, the goal is to guide children toward completing their chores independently, but Roggeman smartly reminds us that sitting on your daughter’s or son’s bed with a laptop while they clean up can provide a priceless bonding opportunity for your child to share their coveted thoughts.

“That’s when kids talk to you,” she says. “When you’re doing tasks in tandem, that’s when they open up.”

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