How to not make 'chores' a dirty word

Some kids love to help out, while others might run the other way when the word 'chores' is mentioned. Here are a few tips for recruiting kids of all ages to help around the house. 

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff/FILE
This 2008 file image shows Tony, 16, who had fetal alcohol syndrome, as he folds the laundry. Tony's adoptive parents Beverly and Sam Gardner have adopted 12 special needs kids - one passed on. They also have four biological kids.

Getting kids to do their chores is a chore in and of itself. So much so that many parents choose not to fight the battle, end up feeling resentful and unappreciated, and a failure for not teaching their children to be helpful.

When my son was a young teen, I overheard him and his friend trying to better each other with how many chores they had to do. It told me how important helping at home was to their self-esteem – and their bragging rights. Expecting to pitch in to help the family work gives children a strong sense of belonging and importance.

So how do you get through to a resistant child who refuses to do what you ask? Here are some tips:

Start small with toddler help:

  • Toddlers naturally want to help – run the vacuum cleaner, sweep, use the hose, mow the lawn, just about anything they watch a parent doing. Hence so many toys that mimic just about everything in a home. In the effort to get work done as quickly and easily as possible, parents typically do housework when children are not around to slow things down. This is the first mistake. We don’t take advantage of the child’s natural desire to do household tasks when they are a pleasure but instead wait until children have more important things on their agendas and begin insisting that they do what they no longer want to do.
  • If you are in the toddler stage, know that taking the time and having the patience to let your child water some plants, feed the dog, push the vacuum cleaner, and load the dishwasher (only as long as they want) will pay off in the long run.

Encourage helpers

  • Show interested children how things work and express your appreciation for their “help”. From this stage gradually ask your children to help when you need it. A few options for asking can include, “Who can carry a grocery bag in the house so I don’t have to get them all?” or “I need help. Would you be willing to bring a couple of plates over to the sink for me?” or “I would so love it if you could put all the red toys in the bin while I get the other colors.”
  • Be sure you are being realistic with your requests and expectations. Never forget developmentally, your child’s job is to get what he wants when he wants it. Build on your child’s desire to want to help you. That involves lots more than chores.

Don't call them chores

  • After using the word many times, let me say that I hate the word chore. I bet you do too, and I know your child does. Try eliminating the word and asking for help and talking about jobs or work that needs to be done.
  • Give kids a job, not a demand

    • Motivate your child with statements like, “I know that you are a great helper and I want to use your helping skills. Here are some things I need help with (write down a list even if your child can’t read). Which job would you like to do?” When children are yelled at or feel put down when they resist, they will only dig in their heels deeper. When you know that of course they would rather play, then your expectations will be more realistic, and you will approach your requests for help with understanding and kindness.

    Provide room for discussion

    • For older kids who are already in the habit of resistance and know they can get away with it, approach the process very carefully to avoid frustration or criticism in your tone. Let your child know that you genuinely need and want help. Say that it is not working for you that you cannot expect her help and you want to change that. Explain that you realize that stopping what she is doing to do something you want is not high on her priority list, but you know that that does not mean she is not a helpful person.
    • Work with your child to determine what and when will work for him. Present a list of a few things you would like his help with and ask him either to pick one or two or come up with something you haven’t thought of. Ask what a convenient time would be for him to accomplish the tasks. When your child is engaged in the process and doesn’t feel pressured or put upon, success will be more likely.
    • Keep in mind that your disappointment and anger over resistance does not motivate your child to step up. Quite the opposite. So choose your planning time wisely – have the job talk when you are rested and calm and your child is in a good place.
    • Allow griping and even some procrastination. Your child doesn’t have to do these jobs happily. Saying to yourself, Of course she doesn’t want to do this” will keep you in a more neutral space when you say out loud, “When can I expect the trash to be emptied?”

    Working for the weekend

    •  Set up Saturday jobs for everyone making sure that each person has a say and a task or more to accomplish. Then do something fun as a family.

    Place the value on the work instead of a reward

    • Do not attach allowance to chores. Allowance is for learning the value of money, chores are for being a member of the family team.

    The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Bonnie Harris blogs at

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