15 Ways to Get the Kids to Help Out Around the House

Family Matters on 02.07.12
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Photo: Elizabeth/Table4Five/Creative Commons

Moms and Dads often wear many hats, including personal chef, chauffeur, counselor, financial provider and homeschool teacher. One role we don't necessarily have to play 100% of the time, however, is that of a full-time cleaning service. Sure, it's often faster just to pick up toys and handle all of the chores yourself, but doing so can be counterproductive because:

a) It doesn't teach your kids a thing about caring for their possessions and home, and

b) It's really, really annoying to pick up the same crap over and over again (can I get an amen?).

But with a newborn in the house, I am ready to lead the pack of mess-weary parents by employing a few easy tricks to get my older children to pull their weight.

Turn it into a Game

1.Time them. My brother was an evil genius when we were kids. Being seven years my senior, he knew exactly how to get me to do his bidding, and I intend to use his technique to fool my children in the same vein. The premise is simple: all you have to do is dare them. With chores, tell them you bet they can't pick up their toys in, for example, 10.42 seconds, and then watch as they try to prove you wrong.

2. Make it a race. Pit your kids against each other, you, or their father. Whoever picks up the most junk in the fastest amount of time wins. Little kids don't even need a prize to make it enjoyable; children love a good race.

3. Play categories. First everyone picks up red things, then blue things, then small things, then big things...you get the picture.

Make it Easy for Them

A five-year-old isn't going to be able to wax your car -- or not well, anyway. Make sure that whatever chore you choose is age-appropriate.

4. Assign table duty. Toddlers can place silverware in the drawer (except for knives, of course) and put away plastic food storage containers. Older children can set the dinner table -- glassware and butter knives included.

5. Create a chore chart. Set up an easy-to-read chore chart with a picture of each kid and a picture or description of their chores by day or week. Older kids can dust non-breakable items and even run a vacuum now and then. Small children actually enjoy washing windows, even if they don't do the best job.

6. Test their limits. You know your child's capabilities better than anyone else, but don't be afraid to branch out. You could discover a pre-teen's skill for baking that you never realized existed. Imagine a world in which you didn't have to cook absolutely everything! It boggles the mind.

Appeal to Their Interests

Many teens, in particular, have skills that can be put to good use around the house. Yes, it actually is possible to channel the skills of even the surliest teen when cleaning and organizing. For example...

7. Let a Type A personality take charge. Task your little Monica Gellar with organizing, filing and labeling photos in those albums you bought a year ago.

8. Channel latent entrepreneurial spirit. Have they been bugging you to let them have a yard sale to generate extra cash? Challenge them to go through their overflowing closets to determine what to keep and what to sell. You'll wind up with less junk around the house and they'll spend less time in front of the Wii. Win-win.

9. Encourage a future career. Is your kid a budding film director? Have him commit those hours of family footage to DVD before they get lost forever. Have a math whiz? She can help you clip coupons and scour the sale ads for the best deals.

Provide Child-friendly Tools

10. Invest in handy home storage. Make it easy for little tykes to properly stow Barbies and cars by labeling storage bins with a photo or drawing of the appropriate type of toys that should be placed in each.

11. Stock up on toys. Child-sized brooms and even toy vacuums will lay the groundwork for a lifetime of helping out around the house. Hey, you might as well take advantage of it while they're young, right?

12. Get your garden on. Kids of all ages enjoy digging in the dirt, so pick up some child-sized gloves, a trowel, and watering can for your little ones to use. Bonus: Gardening together gives you plenty of opportunites to teach them about nature. 

Incentivize Them

13. Offer a cash allowance. Duh.

14. Tantalize them with a favorite experience. Create a sticker chart every month to document what tasks each child is responsible for, and award a gold star every time one is completed. If the child achieves a stellar record, provide a reward: a trip to your town's most annoying kid entertainment venue, or an inexpensive toy.

15. Offer a certain amount of freedom. For teens especially, nothing resonates like potential independence. Calmly explain that people who pull their weight earn privileges (an extra half hour on their curfew, gas money, stuff like that). Then watch your kids trip over themselves as they run for the vacuum.

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