Dear Boston Mamas: How to Get Kids to Do Chores

It's been a while since I've posted a Dear Boston Mamas query and I'm thrilled to do so today! Reader Debbie (mom of two, ages 4 and 6) wrote in to ask about chores; specifically, how to get her kids to do them, whether there should be allowance tied to chores, and what kinds of special privileges seem appropriate and will make doing chores feel like a positive milestone. Here are my thoughts; thanks for writing in Debbie!:

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As readers of Minimalist Parenting know, I feel very strongly about kids doing chores! Chores represent a double parenting win: by building them into your family routine and system, you are equipping your child with essential life skills (you do not want your kid to leave the nest and be clueless about how to toast a bagel or do laundry!) AND delegating so you're not shouldering all of the chores. I have found the below 8 tips on how to get kids to do chores particularly effective:

1. Be matter of fact about the job. Present chores in an emotionally uncharged and non-negotiable way. Your kids may bristle about housework, but simply be matter of fact about it and express that since they are a part of the household, they also need to help with housework. End of story.

2. Offer options. One of the simplest ways to make parenting easier is to offer options. For example, instead of asking, “Will you set the table?” (which conveys that the task is negotiable) ask, “Would you like to set the table or prep the salad?” Kids like to feel like they have control; giving them choice does that.

3. Meet them where they’re at. Kids will get frustrated if you present them with tasks that are too hard then freak out if they make mistakes. Check out this chore chart for some ideas about kids and chores by age. Remember, as soon as kids are verbal, they can help. Case in point: 2-year-old Violet knows to bring her plate to the sink at the end of a meal!

4. Embrace imperfection. When you start kids off with chores, they probably won’t do it as perfectly as you want. Embrace it and let them make mistakes and work on their skills. Give helpful tips if need be but don’t hover or yell at them if they don’t do things perfectly. I used to be uptight about kitchen tasks, wanting vegetables to be uniformly cut or cookies perfectly shaped. But I let go of that and Laurel has developed the skills on her own. She now makes us dinner on occasion and can bake chocolate layer cake (and many other things) from scratch! WIN!

5. Make it fun. Especially with younger kids, it’s easy to turn chores into a game. For example, give your kids a spray bottle of water and a rag and have them find all the spots to clean on the floor. They’ll love being able to spray things! Turn on some music while you work to amp up the fun.

6. Do chores together. Use chore time as together time; you tackle the grownup tasks while the kids take care of their chores. I've found with Laurel (now 9) that it's often easier for her to talk to me about challenging things when we're working side by side on chores vs. sitting across the table from each other making eye contact. So, chores as together time can also offer a unique window for communication.

7. Build in incentives. As I mentioned earlier, I don’t believe in paying for everyday chores but you can incentivize in other ways. Completion of chores can unlock other privileges (e.g., a special snack, story, or game) or one thing we’ve done with Laurel is offer a small payment if she wants to do a task that seems out of the ordinary.

8. Keep at it. If your kids belly ache about chores, don’t give up! Keep building it into your routine and they will eventually get it. I used to ask Laurel every day to make sure she did her homework and emptied her lunchbox and school papers. And then a couple of months into the school year I realized I couldn’t remember when I last asked her to take care of these tasks. With persistence, Laurel learned to build those tasks into her daily routine. It took a lot of reminders but now it is utter bliss to have her own those tasks!

Do you have other chore methods that have worked well for your family? Feel free to share in the comments! And if you have a Dear Boston Mamas query for Christine, drop her a line at

Image credits: Christine Koh