I had an epiphany about twenty years ago while standing in the kitchen doorway yelling for my kids to COME BACK INSIDE and HELP CLEAN UP the dinner dishes. NOW!!
Granted, I had to shout to be heard when they were at the far end of our property playing tag as they were doing that night. But as the reverberations of my harsh, angry words came echoing back to my ears, I suddenly realized two important truths:
First, if teaching my kids to do chores cheerfully were my goal, I wasn’t setting a very good example. And second, if I had been a kid myself, I wouldn’t want to be stuck in the house with an irritated mama like me, either.
I purposed to change my ways right then and there. To be the kind of sweet, encouraging mother my children would want to spend time helping. To find ways to make chore time something they looked forward to doing rather than something they went to great lengths to avoid.
So I quietly closed the door and got busy while my kids continued their game of tag outdoors. Leaving their assigned chores undone for the moment, I propped a hymnal open on the counter so I could sing as I worked, then began baking a big batch of chocolate chip cookies.
By the time the cookies were ready to pop into the oven, I was in a much better mood. Once the evening grew too dark to play, the children started straggling back inside. They smelled the delicious aroma wafting from the oven and immediately joined me in the kitchen. I told them they could each have some milk and cookies — all soft, warm, and gooey — as soon as their chores were done.
They finished cleaning the kitchen in short order, and we all enjoyed our after-dinner snack immensely.
Training Children with a Carrot vs. a Stick
When it comes to teaching our children to be diligent in their work and to do chores cheerfully or cultivating in them a willingness to lend a helping hand, a little encouragement and appreciation is often more effective than criticism and threats of punishment. You — like I — may have tried the latter with varying degrees of success:
- Denying privileges until work is done: “Finish your kitchen chores before running outside to play.”
- Disciplining them for dawdling/ procrastination: “If you don’t clean your room in a timely fashion, you’ll have to stay home and finish the job while the rest of your siblings go swimming at the neighborhood pool.
- Fining them for unfinished work: “I collected all the toys and books you left out overnight, and you’ll have to pay a quarter apiece or do an extra chore to redeem each item.”
Such tactics undoubtedly have their place, but you will catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, as they say. And kids are more likely to develop a strong work ethic in both their schoolwork and their chores if you serve as a cheerleader rather than a drill sergeant.
So next time you’re stumped for a way to motivate your children to do their work heartily, as unto the Lord, try one of the following approaches. These have all worked wonders for the kids in our family.
6 Positive Ways to Teach Kids to Do Chores Cheerfully
Race the clock.
Set a timer and race to see who can finish their chore first. Charge everybody with picking up and putting away three (or five or ten) items before the alarm goes off. Break bigger tasks down into manageable chunks and have each person do one small part to accomplish it.
Put on some upbeat music and all work together.
Crank up the stereo or drag out a boom box to set the mood. Listen to motivating music while you work. Some of our favorite songs to work to are:
- Yakity-Yak – “Take out the papers and the trash, or you don’t get no spendin’ cash. If you don’t scrub that kitchen floor, you ain’t gonna rock-n-roll no more!”
- Happy Working Song – “We’ll keep singing without fail otherwise we’d spoil it. Hosing down the garbage pail and scrubbing up the toilet!”
- Whistle While You Work – “Just whistle while you work and cheerfully together we can tidy up the place. So hum a merry tune! It won’t take long when there’s a song to help you set the pace.”
- How Majestic Is Your Name – “Oh Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (because attending to our work cheerfully is just one more way to worship and honor Him — and this is a lively worship song to clean to. 😊)
Don’t have a boom box? Try singing a song together as you work instead: “Clean up! Clean up! Everybody, everywhere: Clean up. Clean up. Everybody do your share!”
Make chores into a game.
Pick up toys one color at a time. Play I Spy with things that are out that need to be returned to their rightful place. Print out copies of our indoor scavenger hunt (pictured below) and see who’ll be first to finish every task on the list.
Hide incentives under things that need to be picked up.
It’s important to me that my children learn not only to do assigned chores thoroughly, but also to identify things that need doing and do them without being asked. To that end, I occasionally hide treats (a dollar bill or a pack of gum along with a sticky-note of appreciation) under things that are out of place (a dish that needs to be carried back to the kitchen, a stack of towels in the laundry room waiting to be put away, a tool that needs to be put back in the tool chest). That way, whoever shows the initiative to pick it up and put it away gets rewarded.
Listen to audio books while choring.
Some chores, like folding laundry or scrubbing baseboards, are quiet, mindless, and fairly sedentary. If you will take advantage of such work sessions to read aloud to your children or listen to an audiobook together, it will make chore time far more enjoyable and productive.
You can use the Libby app to check out audiobooks from your local library, listen to public domain works for free on Librivox, or join a streaming service or audiobook club like Audible or Christian Audio and get your choice of best sellers and new releases.
Make recognition T-shirts.
When my oldest children were still little, I painted oversized T-shirts with slogans such as “I’m a Big Helper” or “I’m a Hard Worker” or “I Do My Chores Cheerfully” for them to wear on days they were living up to those affirmations.
You should’ve seen the smiles on their faces when I pulled out those colorful tees and let them don them while we worked! This tip may not be quite as effective with teens, but it worked like magic for my ten-and-under kiddos!
Plan a special outing when all the work is done.
You know what they say about all work and no play. After a kids put in a reasonable amount of work, take a break to enjoy something fun together. Keep in mind that the younger the child, the shorter the time between work breaks will need to be.
Motivate them to work fast and well with a teaser of the fun that awaits them: “Let’s all work together to _____ (clean the kitchen/ straighten the house/ put away the laundry), then we will all _____ (play at the park/ go to the zoo/ swim at the pool).”
I hope these tips will help your kids learn to do their chores cheerfully. They made a world of difference in training mine! For more on cultivating a strong work ethic in kids, check out the following posts:
- Free Bedroom Inspection Chart – explains exactly what you expect when you ask your child to clean his room
- Tips for Keeping Kids Bedrooms Clean – ideas for making it easier for your child to keep her room clean
- Taming the Toy Box – suggestions for helping kids keep their toys tidy
- Age-Appropriate Chores for Children – a free printable (and very pretty) chore chart
- Rotating Chore Assignments – we rotate chores once a year; this post explains why
- Should Children Get Paid for Chores? – short answer: sometimes
- The Controversy over Children’s Chores – do chores rob kids of their childhood or teach important life skills?
- Which Should Take Precedence: Chores or Homework? – a reader argues that it would be unreasonable to expect her children to do chores on top of their already heavy homework load