This is sort of an exploratory question, as I haven't really been confronted with the issue (yet).

I've been looking around for ways to get kids to do chores. I'm a bit put off by the fact that pretty much every source I can find suggests creating a reward system (possibly with punishments), and further, those rewards are often financial. It's my understanding that using punishment and rewards is bad because it basically makes the behavior contingent on whatever external motivator you've arbitrarily chosen, and thus the behavior will disappear when the motivator disappears (see "Punished by Rewards" by Alfie Kohn). And using money as the reward strikes me as a particularly bad choice, encouraging greed.

Nonetheless, the question must be asked: how DOES one get kids to do a task that "must be done," but which is inherently uninteresting? I'm leaning towards "be a role model" (in particular, don't expect to offload all the work you don't want to do on your newfound slaves) and trying to get the kids to understand the reason it must be done anyway (e.g. dishes must be washed so we don't get sick). But I admit I haven't got any experience.

So I guess my question is, aside from setting up a reward/punishment system, how can one encourage children to participate in tasks that need to be done, but aren't really fun/interesting?

3 Answers 3


While I personally have a number of issues with Kohn's book, I do agree that "do-this-and-you-get-that" is a poor system, fraught with problems.

The stance that we are taking with my son (who is still only two, but its never too early to start expecting participation) is that chores are things that just need to get done, and that we expect him to do those chores that he is developmentally capable of.

So far, we're still at the stage where he actively wants to participate, so all that is necessary is to say "would you like to help me feed the cats?" or "would you please put your milk cup in the sink?", and he (usually) eagerly helps out. In fact, since the few tasks we've assigned him so far are very routine, it has gotten to the point where he gets very upset if we don't let him do his part (I once was in a hurry and fed the cats without him, and he was in tears).

For tasks that aren't as routine, there is sometimes resistance, and no doubt this will become an issue at some point with the routine tasks as well, once he gets older.

In those cases, we simply tell him that those tasks must be done, because everyone has things they have to do around the house. Rather than "do this because we say so", we emphasize the consequences of not doing the chores. Not in the form of threats, but rather examples: "if you don't pick up your toys, then you won't be able to find the ones you want, we might trip over them or step on them and hurt our foot, and the house won't look very nice", or "well, the kitties are hungry, and they'll be sad if you don't give them food".

We also point out the things that we do around the house: "mommy and daddy both cook dinner, and clean up the dishes, so we can eat each night and have clean dishes to eat on. Mommy does laundry so we have clean clothes to wear. Daddy takes out the trash so the house doesn't smell bad", etc..

If he refuses to complete routine tasks, then he loses routine privileges. If he absolutely refuses to clean up his toys, we put those toys away and tell him he won't be able to play with them for a while since he can't take care of them.

We also point out the benefits of doing the chores whenever incidental opportunities occur. If my son can't find a specific toy we may point out "see, this is why its a good idea to put your toys away, so you know where they are."

I firmly believe that financial rewards should not be a part of basic chores. An allowance is not a reward for doing what you are supposed to. An allowance is a tool to help teach financial responsibility and the value of money. As such, if you do give an allowance, I would not suggest withholding it as a punishment (although requiring a small portion of the allowance going towards reparation for something damaged may be appropriate).

As such, some small rewards may be offered for tasks that are not routine, but which fall within the child's ability. Shoveling the snow off of the driveway may be worth a few bucks. Holding the ladder and handing mommy or daddy tools when we're fixing something may be worth a small reward. One of my favorite blogs discusses this and other methods of teaching finance to children in great detail.

  • Old post but I upvoted just the same-better late than never. I couldn't agree more that paying kids to take on their fair share of housework is a bad idea. I was actually searching for confirmation of our policy not to provide an allowance for regular chores bc our kids' friends' parents all think paying the kids to clean up after themselves is the only way to justify making them do it. Surprisingly, I had a hard time finding someone who has sense enough to see how this creates false expectations. As an adult no one will pay u to pick your towel up off the floor. :-)
    – Jax
    Commented Jun 24, 2016 at 0:36

First off, rewards do not have to be financial. They can be encouragement, praise, getting to stay up a little later...anything

Secondly, as adults we do chores not because we want to but because we know the consequences will be more work later in tidying up - children can be taught this from quite an early age.

When they are very young they don't have that much of a concept of future, or consequences. They know that things are magically tidy in the morning when they wake up so what motivation do they have.

Our initial tack was to say that they had to help us with chores so we could all do the things we wanted when the chores were done. This way it was a team effort.

By the age of 5 or 6 they wanted to do the chores, and then after that they could understand why they were necessary so they just knuckle down and do them while not necessarily enjoying them.

  • 1, I didn't say the reward had to be financial, just that some sources suggested it. 2, kind of goes with what I was saying - get them to understand why the chore needs to be done. Am I right in understanding that the main thrust of your answer is to try doing the chores together?
    – Kricket
    Commented Jul 11, 2013 at 15:35
  • At a young age, yes. Before they know it is a chore it is just activity - if you look like you enjoy it they will 'play' alongside you.
    – Rory Alsop
    Commented Jul 11, 2013 at 16:36

A blog I read suggested giving a task that must be done to the youngest child capable. This is because than the child gets a "big person" job, and not the same childish job they have been doing for a long while. Also, older children see their younger siblings are also asked to help out.

Children frequently are motivated by thinking of themselves as more grown-up, so if you cast it as something a big boy or girl has to do, and model that you also do chores, I think they are more likely to do it.

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