Children and chores…

There’s no two ways about it,  kids = lots of mess…and when you have FOUR kids the mess multiplies! Now I am generally fairly laid back when it comes to cleaning, I mean I’d rather cuddle the baby or play with the kids any time, but there’s only so much even I can deal with.  Add to that a South African husband who grew up with maids his whole life and you can have a VERY untidy living space very quickly.  The husband I can’t do much about, but the kids need to know there are NO maids here and I am certainly not she. So my kids have jobs that they have to do to help everything run smoothly, because that’s part of being in the family team, right?

I have tried a number of different things, since Kieran, now 10, was quite small (around 5 or so) and one thing I found was to keep the kids helping out, flexibility is key.  Being a teacher, I like the formality of job rosters and have tried a few over the years.  In the past I have linked them to star charts & rewards like stickers, pocket money and even tried to encourage them to do it for love (we’re still working on that one!!).

So here are my top 5 tips:

  1. Start them young. When kids are small, like my two year old Conor, they want to help you, so find something they can do and let them.  Conor is kid jobcurrently fascinated with the cupboard where we keep our plates and up until recently would focus a large portion of his day on getting into it – he even took out a few plates and threw them on the floor to see what would happen! Then I had the idea of letting him “help” me unpack the dishwasher, by putting the plates away (under supervision).  This has worked beyond anything I could have imagined.  Now that he knows what is in the cupboard he leaves it alone – an added bonus.  He also helps out with the washing – handing me things and telling me who they belong to; and is keen for any opportunity to wipe things with a cloth :
  2. Set a standard and be prepared to stick to it. As my boys have got older, they have tried doing a job badly, in the hope that I will get sick of them doing it – this is great for them if it works!  Sadly, I am not that sort of parent.  When the kids take on a new job I show them how to do it e.g. sweeping the floor and call them back again if it’s not done properly.  I am hoping that they will eventually realise it’s easier to just do it properly the first time.
  3. Be flexible.  In my experience most rosters, charts etc. have about a six month life span before they stop being effective and we need to change to something else.  Click here for some of the different ones I have used – feel free to copy and adapt as needed.
  4. Negotiate jobs with the kids.  As my boys have got older I have tried to give them a little more control over how they will contribute to our family life.  We have talked about how having a tidy house benefits everyone, and how helping out means I have more time to share with them. But the key thing that has worked is allowing them to decide what chores they will do.  I have some such as keeping room tidy, which are non-negotiable, but the others they can change but have to stick with for at least two weeks.  Originally I suggested all the jobs (maximum 5 daily jobs including room), but one day Caelan was wanting to swap unpacking the dishwasher – funny how older kids hate it and Conor loves it!! I couldn’t think of anything for him to do, so allowed him to make suggestions until we both settled on something that was truly helpful AND he was prepared to do – he chose sweeping a wheelbarrow of leaves a day. Since that time the boys have really enjoyed thinking up different tasks to do to help out and of course if anyone is stuck for idea I always offer them the dishwasher!  I have been really surprised by their creative ideas, which have included clearing our (Johan’s and mine) dirty clothes from our bathroom to clothes hamper; collecting Papa’s dirty socks (he leaves them in the strangest places!); taking the little kids  dirty nappies to outside bin; and helping Conor to pack away his toys at the end of the day…which just goes to show how different we all are, as I would much prefer the dishwasher option!

I have also tried linking a variety of rewards to jobs, but the most successful to date has been screen time.  My kids can have 30 minutes screen time on a week night, and 2hrs on a weekend day.  Screen time includes tv, Nintendo DS, XBox, Wii.  On week nights they can also watch one hour of tv with the family.  Currently they must complete jobs, homework & instrumental practice prior to having any screen time.  So far it’s working…and they have the option to negotiate an extra 10 minutes by doing an extra job of Mum’s choice.

Extra jobs was something that came about over the Christmas holidays, when the boys decided that as they had more time they should help out more.  So we agreed that each day they would complete a job of my choice!  Maybe the working for love is working out after all!!!



Links for Kids and Chores



  1. Julie Oliver

    I resort to sweeping all the stuff left in the livingroom into a big pile and bring the bin out. They are given a time limit to retrieve (and put away properly) anything of value. Then they have to bin the rubbish and dustpan the mess into the bin. My kids are now very proficient at getting things done more quickly.
    Now my girls are 6 & 9 they will left everything from the floor in their rooms so I or they can vacuum this has taken a couple of years and been through the stage of put that away in that container type of supervision, come back and do it properly etc. They have learnt that we do not get to do any of the fun things of the weekend until the chores are over.

  2. Thanks for your reply Julie, the bin can work well as a deterrent can’t it? My brother-in-law does similar thing with garbage bag & his kids have 24 hrs to collect, or they must pay to get it back. After 3 days he bins it!!! I am not quite able to be that tough…but it works for them 🙂

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