Getting kids to help out around the house with chores can feel like an overwhelming task at times. Very rarely do kids offer to clean up the playroom, put dishes away or walk the dog. However, kids are naturally curious, want to spend time with their parents, and love helping out in the right circumstances. Today, we have Creative Team member Jake Smith, Washington farmer and dad of four, here sharing 1o tips for letting your kids help with the chores. Whether you’re on a farm, in the city or anywhere in between, these tips are great ways to incorporate fun, learning, and responsibility into your chores and projects. Before you know it, you might even start to like doing chores with your kids!
10 tips for letting kids help with chores
Currently, our family lives on a small farm in Washington State where there is an abundance of daily chores. Staying on top of all the chores around a farm is no small task. Some days when I call on my kids to help out, I’m not exactly met with joyous, excited replies. So, I decided to dig a little deeper to figure out how to make doing something monotonous a little less so.
I make no claims to be an expert on the subject of getting kids to help with chores. However, I feel like writing these 10 chore tips is as much for myself as it is for the kids because it’s so easy to get impatient and just revert to the classic, “fine, I’ll do it myself!” manta. At the very least I’m here to provide a glimpse of hope that doing chores with your kids can be fun, rewarding, and will set them up to become capable and creative problem solvers.
You don’t have to live on a farm to teach kids about responsibility and helping out with chores. We haven’t always lived on a farm. Just a few years ago we lived in the suburbs and were able to experiment with and apply many of these same principles successfully. I hope you’ll be able to apply some of these tips to your situation, wherever you live and whatever the chores are.
1. Make it fun
I can’t stress enough how important it is to make helping out with chores fun for the kids. If there’s only one tip you take away from this post and forget the rest, this is that tip. I won’t lie, there are plenty of chores I don’t enjoy doing. Why would I expect my kids would miraculously love doing the things I dislike? They share my DNA after all, chances are we’ve got more than a couple of similarities.
However, when we need to get some work done, it helps tremendously to find a way to incorporate a little fun into the chore. If we’re dreading the chore or if it’s bordering on the mundane, we pump the jams and do dance silly dances while we work. We sing songs or tell each other jokes. Whatever it takes to get excited that day. And while I’m not saying you should bribe your kids, if you happen to have some popsicles you were planning to dole out later that day anyway, maybe some correlation between work done and a reward isn’t a bad thing. Particularly, when they’re struggling to get excited about cleaning up the living room…
2. Offer choices
When getting kids to help with chores, I’ve learned some days they just need options. Kids like feeling like they have some control and say in the decision-making process. If there are multiple chores that need to be done, I give them a choice. Do you want to help feed the chickens or the cows today? Some days they’ll choose the chickens, some days they’ll choose the cows, others they want to do both and we have to decide which to do first. However, we are all susceptible to choice overload so I try not to offer them more than two or three options at a time.
For many of our farm chores, they aren’t big enough yet to do things on their own, so they assist me. It’s not the end of the world if I don’t have helpers. However, it certainly makes it more fun for me when they tag along, carry what they can, and ask a million questions. Before I even realize it, they’re able to do a little more, then a little more. Eventually, they take over a task from me entirely. It’s a beautiful process to observe and bittersweet as they get older.
3. Follow their interests
Following our kids’ interests is more than a small part of why we have our farm. I’m willing to bet our kids were partially influenced by our desire for living the farm life, but regardless, while we were living in the suburbs, farming is what they played, drew, and talked about every day. We worked and sacrificed in other areas of our lives to make finding our farm a priority. A place where the kids could explore their interests and space to develop new ones.
For you and your kids, it may be something other than farming. Maybe it’s sports, going camping, biking, animals, art, etc. Every one of our kids has slightly different interest areas. Our oldest LOVES her chickens. At eight years old she knows more about birds of every type than I do, no joke. Going and collecting eggs, making sure waterers are filled, and checking to be sure everyone looks healthy isn’t even thought of as a chore to her. She loves it. Our kids don’t think about their interest areas being work, they just wake up and want to go do them. Unfortunately, things like unloading the dishwasher and taking out the trash rarely fall into this category so you may have to rely on one of the other ten tips for those guys.
4. Create a daily chore routine
Kids love routine and knowing what to expect. Every day, we try to do roughly the same chores, in the same order, at the same time of day. It gives the kids some consistency and helps with transitions. The kids now know that when I’m finishing up filling waterers for one group of chickens, we will be transitioning to filling buckets of water to pack to another group of chickens further away. They can anticipate the next move, so they run into the barn and argue about whose turn it is to hold the hose to fill the buckets that day. By the time I’ve reached the hydrant, there’s usually one of them holding the other end of the hose ready to fill the water buckets up.
Some of these chores were never ones that I specifically asked them to do or help out with. I just went about my daily chore routine, they followed along and picked up on it. They saw places where they could jump in and help out, based on our routine. Certainly, our chores don’t all happen this seamlessly, and even this example has breakdowns regularly when they can’t agree on whose turn it is to hold the hose. That’s just life.
5. Make it a learning experience
We homeschool our kids and consider our farm part of the learning experience. Farm life is a natural progression to ask questions and invite curiosity. While we’re doing our chores, we like asking the kids leading questions that get their brains thinking about life on the farm. “Hmm, interesting this chicken egg is green, do you know why that is?” “Why do you think the cows chose to eat this variety of grass but didn’t touch that grass over there?” “Wow, the moon is super orange tonight, what do you think causes that?”
Chances are, I don’t actually know the answers to most of these wonderings, either. But that’s ok. Because we’ve fostered that childlike wonder about everything, the kids are asking me what seems like a million questions a day about things I’ve never even considered. I’ll ask them to keep that question and we’ll look it up when we get back into the house. Every evening we’re looking up answers and learning together. They’re so excited about the things they’re learning, seeing, and exploring they don’t even notice we’re getting chores done at the same time.
6. Lead by example
Kids are observant. Sometimes, they’re a lot more observant than I want them to be. My attitude about a certain task is almost always replicated in my children. If I’m going to have a bad attitude about going out and shoveling snow in the dark for the fifth time this week, there’s absolutely no chance they’re going to want to join me and help out. They may come out and sled down the hill while I shovel, but there’s no way they’re going to help me shovel because I’ve told them it’s terrible either in my body language or in word. Why would they willingly want to do something they know I don’t enjoy?
However, if I make it fun (see tip #1) for myself, chances are it’ll make it fun for them too. We’ve had many snow shoveling competitions to see who can clear the most snow the fastest. The clear winner? Me.
7. Let them take ownership of their areas
This tip fully belongs to my wife, I can’t take credit for it. We were struggling so much with getting the kids to help out regularly with household chores; unloading the dishwasher, cleaning the bathroom, setting/clearing the table, etc. You know, the ones you just sort of do over and over and over again all the time endlessly? We tried assigning chore charts for these. Then we tried a weekly rotating chore assignment. Then we tried no chore charts. You name it, we tried it. No luck.
Kicking and screaming fits regularly lasted longer than doing the actual chore would have taken. Finally, in order to get the kids to help with chores, my wife got the idea to try letting each of the kids have “their areas” of ownership. Areas of the house that involved certain tasks they could become experts in and take pride of ownership around. If the bathroom is clean, I know to comment to my oldest about how great it looks. If the front entryway has all the shoes put away and I can actually walk through it without tripping, I know kid #3 has worked her magic and to tell her thank you.
8. Include them in whatever you happen to be doing
Even though I’m a farmer, I still work my normal 8-5, off-farm job just like everyone else. So, when I’m home in the evenings or on the weekends I like to spend time with my family. Shocker, right? Rather than making all the farm work another thing keeping me away from my wife and kids, we’ve worked to turn chore time into family time.
Kids have a natural curiosity and love for helping out. Just by tagging along in whatever I happen to be doing, they’re observing and learning from me constantly. A lot of the time we gather eggs together, if someone gets a particularly pretty egg they’ll exclaim and show the rest of the family. When we go load haybales for wintertime feed, the whole family comes along. Sure, I do all the work at present while my wife drives the pickup, but they’re observing and learning. In a few years when they’re strong enough to help out, they’ll do so excitedly and the learning curve will be small.
9. Expect them to be beginners
I know this one sounds pretty straightforward but for some reason, it wasn’t easy for me to realize they have never done…well, anything really. Maybe because they’re kids? Like I said in the beginning, I’m not an expert in this parenting business. Maybe I’m the slow learner? But I had to learn to just let them be terrible and take forever at first. Would it have been easier and quicker to just do some tasks myself? Yes, absolutely. And at first, I would do just that. I would take over and complete it myself.
However, now I’m slowly learning to just let them be terrible, to let them learn, to figure it out through some guided trial and error. It’s going to be terrible the first time anyone does anything. The tenth time? A little less terrible. The hundredth time? They might have it down pretty good by then. By providing your kids with a safe space to try, fail, and try again, they’ll learn over time they can figure most anything out and won’t be afraid to take the chance to try. This is probably one of the most empowering things I’ve done for my kids.
10. Have patience with them
Having patience with the kids as they figure out how to help with chores goes hand-in-hand with tip #9. Like I said in the beginning, I’m no expert at this. I’m trying to figure it out at the same time. But, I have noticed one thing, if I’m grumpy or short with my kids while they’re doing their best to help me out, you can rest assured they’re not going to enjoy doing that task again the next time. I try to always be conscious of my attitude and my demeanor, especially around them. It may seem like craziness but I find at least 50% of my kids’ attitude around anything in life directly reflects my own attitude. In reality, it’s probably much higher.
As parents to our precious little children, we’re their whole world. They’re taking in, learning, and figuring out everything through us. It’s all new. They look to us to mimic what to do, how to react, how to feel. So, having patience with them means having patience with myself, and understanding the much greater goal is not to have accomplished my to-do list successfully at the end of the day. The goal is to have lived a life worth living, to have loved my family unconditionally, and to have mattered to those around me.
How do you get your kids to help with chores?
About the author
Jake and his wife Jessica are raising four adorable children on Blackridge Farms in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest. Jake enjoys any time spent on the farm taking care of their various animals and seeing how quickly the kids learn to care for and love their animals. He bounces back and forth between the farm and his 9-5 while Jessica shoulders the bulk of responsibility of homeschooling the kids, keeping the house in order, and keeping a watchful eye on the farm in Jake’s absence. While he has one foot dipped in the 1800s, the other foot has danced around the marketing and tech fields where Jake has worked as a Graphic Designer, Digital Designer, and most recently a User Experience Designer. Beyond those pre-packaged titles, Jake is a creative dreamer with an entrepreneurial streak that believes in the power of one’s mindset, time spent with loved ones, and real, healthy food.
You may also like this post on Cattle Farm Chores for Kids.