A little while back a reader was looking for advice on getting younger kids to work. Which is, as every parent with young kids knows, a little bit of a puzzle. And also, quite exasperating sometimes. Here’s her question:

We have Saturday morning chores. Everyone has a checklist for the things they are responsible for in their own rooms, then they also are assigned a room in the house to clean (we rotate the rooms every week). We have one daughter (6) who is sooooooo very slow at
everything and HATES to clean or work at all.  We have tried many things to change this, but it usually ends up with her getting in trouble, tears, etc. Have you or your parents had a child like this, and if so, what worked for you or them?

I honestly think every parent has children like this.  It is not natural for most kids to want to clean or to do their share. So the tricky part as parents is to help them figure out not only responsibility, but the joy it brings to have a part in helping a family run smoothly.

I have three ideas that have helped in our family:

1) Tutors

Years ago my parents assigned “Tutors” and “Tutees” in our family. It worked so well in our growing-up family that Dave and I instigated it in our own.

We parents should never underestimate the power an older sibling has with the younger ones.  We haven’t done this in a while, but whether it is a formal assignment to have an older child “tutor” a
younger sibling for a month or so on a regular basis, or whether it’s just pulling aside an older child on a singular Saturday morning and giving them a “special secret assignment” to help a younger sibling, bigger kids love to have this responsibility. And younger kids eat it up. Usually.

For example, there were a few Saturdays when Lucy was lounging around not about to lift a finger to do her jobs.  I pulled Claire aside and in an excited voice I told her: “Hey Claire, I’m going to give you a very special ‘secret assignment’ today.  Your job is to secretly get Lucy to work.  Figure out a game or something that will make her excited to help.  She loves you SO much and if you’re excited about jobs I know she will be too.”

I am telling you, there’s nothing like watching that older child’s eyes light up at their special assignment. And also nothing like witnessing the residual effects of the games they make up to get the job done.  The magical thing about it is that it gets the older child and the younger
child excited to do things at the same time.

2) Make jobs fun

One of our favorite ways to get things done in our family is so simple: We turn on music.  Some of my favorite family memories are working in the kitchen together with music blaring. It is sure to kick kids into gear.

3) Repetition

Let the children know that jobs are not going away.  They happen every single Saturday. And nothing else “fun” can happen until they’re done.

At some point kids realize that they may as well just get those jobs done so they can get on to what they want to do. Because after a few weeks of wallowing around lazily they start to get the picture that they’re only hurting themselves by sitting around on a Saturday.

Lucy learning to work the vacuum cleaner

I also think it’s so important to write down what kids need to do so they can cross stuff off as they go and have tangible evidence that they are making progress. It sounds like this reader did this already.

I posted about how we do Saturday jobs with lists detailing the things to be done. My kids love that part.

I’d love to hear (and I’m sure many other readers would join me in that love) other ideas of what people do to make jobs/chores rewarding and a happy part of the family rather than a tortuous task 🙂

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  1. Brilliant ideas:). I've always loved your Mum & Dad's tutors & tutee ideas.

    Another question: I know that Saturday jobs are important but how do you also teach them the every day jobs that they should do, such as cleaning the bath/shower/loo after they've used them? How do you also get them to pick up clothes etc?

    If they don't do their Saturday/everyday chores do you have consequences for not doing them, if so what do you do?

    I always look forward to your q&a Fridays:)

  2. Forgot to say – your ideas on Saturday jobs are brilliant:). I especially like the list part.

    I also love how you are getting Lucy to help too.

    I wish more British children would help more in the house. They only seem to help if they know they're gonna get paid!

  3. What we do at our house (and not every week end/day my kids are just expected to do dishes etc every day) but what they love when I want to do a big cleaning day is to "draw"…or have a drawing… What we do is we all walk around the house and figure out exactly what needs to be done, I like them to figure it out so we can work on teaching them to take initiative or see when something needs to be done rather then always having to be told… so we make a list of all things needing to be done, we then cut the list up and the kids draw out their jobs out of a bowl, when that job is done they come back for another job. We sometimes have to set a time limit to get everything done so they will work fast. When all the jobs are done they get to draw again for prizes… however many jobs they have completed is how many times they get to draw …. (not really prizes) usually the drawing consists of "an ice cream cone", a trip to the gas station, Out to lunch, a sleep over/late over, A no job day some of them will even just say thank you because I think they need to learn that we all have to clean and we don't always(if ever) get anything for it. It is just part of being a family that works together. Sometimes I will put $1 or $5 etc in the drawing and they can actually get paid for working. My kids love this it is the best way to get them to clean. Even now I have a teenagers and little kids and they all would rather do the drawing then just get paid to clean. The drawing is so fun too, they laugh at each other when one of them picks "thanks" or they laugh together as they pass down their " trip to the gas station ticket" during church to their dad. The other thing I like is when they redeem the gas station, ice cream or lunch tickets and you get the one on one time, they seem to bring it out when they need the one on one time….
    Jut an idea that works for my family!

  4. Thank you for answering my question, Shawni!! We listen to music when we do our Saturday morning chores, but I hadn't thought about it for after dinner. Great idea! 🙂

  5. A couple of things my parents and older siblings would do to get the little kids to help clean up is to set a time limit, like a quick 5, 10, or 15 minute clean up. These would usually just be to tidy up. I don't know if anyone watches commercials these days, but if we were watching a TV show, commercials were quick clean up times. If you're making cookies, you can have a quick clean up while they're baking and then a lovely treat afterward.

    You can also give everyone a number (or draw numbers) of how many things they need to pick up. You can assign number values to certain tasks like taking out the garbage, washing the dishes, cleaning the toilet, etc.

    If we were given specific chores, my dad would usually have us report back to him right when we were done so that he could check it and make sure we did a thorough job. If we missed anything, he'd have us do those things and report back to him again.

    Another thing is the gunny sack. If we were told to clean up our stuff, we could expect that if we don't put our things away, they'd all get put in the gunny sack (a big bag, sometimes the dumpster)and we might not ever see them again. This one can be brutal sometimes, but kids usually learn quickly that if they don't keep there things picked up then they might just disappear.

  6. Great ideas! My girls are little still (7, 3, 1), but we are already trying to "train" them to contribute with chores. I really like the suggestions made by "Christenson's". I am definitely going to try drawing for prizes as well as having my girls help us figure out what needs to be done. Great! Thank you!

  7. I have a question for you about modesty. You have four girls, has it every been an issue for you or your family? What are your rules for modesty during swimming, or exercising? It can be so hard to find long shorts, long undershirts or modest swimsuits. Where do you get them for your family? What are your rules on modesty when working out? Do you think that there is ever a reason to not be totally modest? As a child, YW or as a mother? It can be hard to always be modest here in Arizona, but I have a personal testimony about how important it is to always be modest.

    I love your blog and I love all of your pictures! I have also been able to meet your brother Josh a couple of times at Hope Arising meetings. Are we ever going to get you to go Africa with us? You would LOVE it!

    Thank you!

  8. I put my kids jobs on popsicle sticks. I have containers with the kids names on them. Every morning I re- draw out the kids jobs. This way they know through-out the day what they are in charge of getting done. Each morning they do their assigned jobs and then in the evenings too. It helps me out, and teaches the kids to be responsible!

  9. I think a lot of times what you call clean is not the same as what your kid says is clean. I have found that if I teach them exactly what I want, it can help. But I also don't expect too much. Empty the dishwasher every morning has been last child's job forever. It can't go wrong!

  10. I find that simple is best. It really doesn't matter what strategy I've used- if it's too complicated for me or my kids (usually I'm the one who has a hard time following through on complicated!) then it's not going to get the job done. My lists, reward systems, and other things I've tried have flopped eventually because they are too complicated.

    My most recent strategy has been to constantly tell them how much I appreciate their help, how great they are at _____ job, how they are such a blessing to me and to our home and family. etc.

    It's amazing to me how much more willing my daughter is to empty the dishwasher or my son to take out the recycling when I am almost constantly telling them how much I appreciate the hard work they do- not just at home, but at school and in their other activities. A little positive reinforcement goes a long way!

  11. One thing that my husband does that really helps the kids to stay on task is to get a long stick, like the handle of a broom or a toy light sabre, and point to an object and say "Parker, pick this up" or "Travis, go put this in the toy box". I think the kids get overwhelmed in a really messy room with not knowing where to start, so that really helps keep them focused and the job doesn't take all that long in the end.

  12. My girls are still little (4 and 2), but they help the best when we make it a game. When it comes time to clean the toyroom, sometimes I will hide 10-15 Skittles or nickels under toys. Then we race to see who can find the most while they clean. It is amazing how quickly they can clean a disaster if it is a competition, and the small reward doesn't hurt either. (and when all is said and done, I get to watch them choose share their rewards because it is just too hard to see sister sad when she worked too. Proud mommy moment to see their compassion…)

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