Motivate your child to do chores

I have heard from several readers in the last few days asking about how to motivate a child to do things they don’t want to do. Chores, homework, and even specialized classes were mentioned. It’s an interesting question. Nobody really loves to clean the bathroom do they? Okay, you two who do love it—just go with me here for a moment. :) Not to mention who loves nagging others to do those things?

Here are some ideas that you can use to help make unpleasant tasks a little less arduous for your child. The extra bonus is that is requires no nagging from you. I’ll be using cleaning a bedroom as an example, but the basic ideas can be used for just about anything.

  1. Clear instructions to avoid overwhelm.
  2. Break task up into smaller bites.
  3. Set up the environment for success.
  4. Praise all efforts.
  5. Add an incentive for a job well done.

Clear Instructions to avoid overwhelm

This may sound odd. Of course, your child knows how to clean his room! In fact, many children get overwhelmed with too many instructions at once or with instructions that are too general. “Go clean your room” actually means something like this:

“Go pick up all your dirty clothes and put them in the hamper, and then pick up all the Legos and put them in the bucket, and then pick up all the action figures and put them in the bin, and then pull the covers up on the bed, and then pick up all the stuffed animals and arrange them on your bed, and then pick up all the tiny pieces of toys, beads, paper, what have you and put them away or throw them away, and then go through your dresser and pull out all the clothes you don’t wear anymore and put them in the Goodwill box, etc. etc.”

You would never give someone this many instructions to do at once, and yet that simple statement “Go clean your room.” sounds like this to your child. It’s overwhelming. What do children who are overwhelmed do?

  • They refuse to do the task.
  • They put it off until later.
  • They try to distract you into forgetting about it.

Break task up into smaller bites

To avoid overwhelm, give your child one very specific instruction at a time.

    “Go pick up 10 articles of dirty clothes and put them in the hamper.”

    “Go pick up 20 action figures and put them in the bin.”

You can adjust the number of items to the age and ability of the child. (and discover how many figures there actually are!) An older child may be able to take in larger chunks, while a younger child will need smaller pieces.

Setup the environment for success

This may not be so obvious to you, but it makes a huge difference. Make sure that the environment is set up to allow your child to easily finish the task at hand. Some things to think about might be:

  • Is there a properly sized bin or other container for all items to be put away?
  • Are there tools available to help out (such as brush/dust pan for getting all those beads out of the carpet)
  • Is the trashcan, Goodwill box, and hamper in the room so they are not walking around the house where distractions are more likely?
  • Are you available to continue giving directions and praising efforts?

Praise all efforts

You knew I was going to say this one if you read the free report, “Conquering Bad Behavior without stress.” (If you don’t have it yet you can download it here: Once they have completed a task successfully, praise them, “Wow, you picked up 10 items! The room looks better already. Let’s do some more!” (Given with a high five or a hug)

Then you can give the next instruction. It’s a good idea to have the first few instructions make a big difference in the room, so that they can see how quickly they are making progress. Don’t skip this praise step it is CRUCIAL. They will get a lot more motivated by your excitement about their progress than about seeing the room look cleaner.

Add an incentive for a job well done

Some may have a problem with this step. After all you shouldn’t bribe your child to do chores right? Well, if you think about it, incentives are used all the time in our society and as long as you follow some basic rules, I think they are not only very appropriate, but very effective.

Rule #1 – The child must value the incentive for it to work. (I know it’s obvious!)

Rule #2 – The incentive matches the task at hand and your budget.

Rule #3 – The best incentives involve activities or something that will get “used up” fairly quickly

Rule #4 – Incentives should NOT be removed for bad behavior (Once earned it’s yours)

I can probably write another whole newsletter on incentives, but hopefully this is enough to get you started!

Okay, now go get those bedrooms sparkling!

Author's Bio: 

Since 2002, Karen DeBolt has been helping moms struggling with chaos at home who want their children to be happy and successful as a preschool teacher, parent coach, and as a family therapist. Karen has a master's degree in Counseling Psychology with a child and family emphasis. Even more importantly, she has three master teachers at home--her three children, two who have special needs.

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