Expert Parent Advice

Get Kids Helping At Home This Summer

There's no free ride in your family and everyone should be expected to help - even your littlest ones (Don't worry; it's good for them and for you too!) We'll share ideas for kids of all ages to help at home and give parents strategies to diffuse power struggles around family jobs.

I’m Amy McCready, founder of Positive Parenting Solutions, and I’m proud to team up with Kids ‘R’ Kids for the Expert Parenting Advice series.

Today, we’re talking about the Top 5 Ways to Get Kids Helping at Home this summer

Just because kids are on summer break doesn’t mean that you should be doing all the heavy lifting at home.

All kids – toddlers to teens – should contribute around the house.  Don’t worry, this isn’t child labor.  It’s going to be good for you and your kids.  When kids contribute, they feel capable and empowered, they learn important life skills, and they learn the importance of family teamwork.

Let’s get right to the Top 5 Ways to Get Kids to Help Out:

1.  Take Time for Training

Before we can expect kids to help out at home, we have to Take Time for Training so they know WHAT to do and HOW to do it.  (By the way, this is one of the reasons kids always seem more capable in the classroom than they do at home – because teachers take the time to TRAIN kids on important tasks in the classroom.) 

Below you’ll find ideas for training opportunities by age.  With all of these tasks, it’s important to set kids up for success by breaking the training into small steps and allow your child to practice.

Ages 2 ½ to 4

·         Wipe down chairs, tables with a damp sponge

·         Pick up toys and clothes

·         Meal Prep – tear lettuce, chop cucumbers with plastic knife, cut banana slices for fruit salad

·         Feed pets and pour water in bowl

·         Clear dishes from table

·         Use small, hand-held vacuum for spills and messes

·         Fold small towels

Ages 5 to 7 (All of the above, plus…)

·         Wash dishes, load and unload dishwasher

·         Help prepare lunch

·         “Swiffer” the floor

·         Make a list for the grocery store

·         Sort laundry – transfer laundry from washer to dryer

·         Fold simple items and put away own clothes

·         Bathe pets

Ages 8-11 (All of the above, plus…)

·         Help change bed sheets

·         Help wash and vacuum car

·         Prepare snacks and light meals

·         Run washing machine and dryer

·         Change light bulbs and perform household projects (with parental supervision)

Ages 12-15 (All of the above, plus…)

·         Cook meals

·         Grocery shop from a list

·         Mow lawn (with supervision for younger ages)

·         Wash windows

Remember, training is a journey! It requires effort on your part but it will be worth it as you see your child become more capable and self-sufficient every day!

2.  Be Clear About Responsibilities

After you Take Time for Training, Be Clear About the Responsibilities.  Work with your child to make a list of her daily jobs.  For kids who can’t read, use pictures instead of words on your list.  You can post the list on their closet door or on the fridge – or better yet….

Empower with a Clipboard!

There’s something about a clipboard that gives young children a grand sense of personal power.  Empower your kids by putting their list on a clipboard and allow them to “check” each item as it’s completed.  It gives them a sense of accomplishment with each “check” they add to the list and most importantly, you don’t have to remind or nag them about the jobs that have to be completed. 

You can keep a list on your computer and print a bunch of copies so you have them handy.  Be sure to add a blank space or two for anything you want to add to the list.

Sophie’s Daily Summer Jobs

_____Make Bed

_____Hang PJ’s on hook

_____Feed the puppy

_____Fold the laundry (mom will leave basket by your door)

_____Clean the patio table

_____Make fruit salad for dinner

_____ Other chore is added here

3.  Avoid Correcting and Encourage, Encourage, Encourage

Chores vs. Contributions

The biggest difference between a “chore” (which by definition implies “drudgery”) and a “contribution” is knowing that your efforts matter to someone else.  Be sure to follow the Do’s and Don’ts below so your kids feel ENCOURAGED about their contributions.

The Don’ts

·         Criticizing – It’s okay if the job isn’t perfect.  The important thing is that your child made an effort!

·         Re-doing the job – This is a big no-no!  Adjusting the comforter after your child made the bed is guaranteed to discourage her from wanting to help in the future; and even though your perfectionist urges may be screaming when you see the big glob of peanut butter she missed when cleaning off the counter – let it go! (You can always do more training down the road to help your child improve her skills, but we don’t want her to feel that she’ll never meet our expectations.)

The Do’s

·         Encourage ANY movement in the right direction!  We’re not going for perfection - we want to encourage the EFFORT!

·         Don’t feel that you have to wait until the task is finished – encourage him along the way.  “Wow, I can see you’re working really hard on that – thanks!”

·         Feel free to jump in and help your child every once in a while.  It will model great teamwork in your family.  “I love when you help me with my jobs, would you like me to help you today?”

·         Let them know their efforts make a difference for you!  “I know unloading the dishwasher can be a drag, but I want you to know how much that helps me – thank you!”….”I really appreciate your teamwork!”…. “I would have never finished this job without your help today – thank you!”

Your encouragement may not make them enjoy folding the towels any more, but it makes the task a lot more bearable knowing their hard work makes a difference to someone else.

4.  When-Then Routines

We don’t want daily responsibilities to turn into a power struggle so consider using when-then routines.  When-then routines require that the yucky stuff (the tasks they don’t enjoy) get done before the more fun parts of your day (like playing, TV and computer time, etc.) If you’re consistent with When-Then Routines – the routine becomes the boss!  There’s no need to continuously remind or nag – the routine becomes the “law” – it’s just the way we do it every day!  Here are a few examples….

Morning When-Then Routine:

WHEN you are:

·         dressed,

·         your bed is made,

·         your hair is combed and

·         your backpack and lunch box are by the door

THEN…we’ll have breakfast.  But remember the kitchen closes at 7:30 a.m.

If Jr. arrives in the kitchen in his pajamas on a school day, don’t lecture or remind.  Calmly say, “It’s so great to see you! When you are dressed and the rest of your morning list is done – then we’ll have breakfast.”  If he wants to complain or argue, keep your smile, walk away and busy yourself with something else.  When you disengage and walk away – there’s no one with whom to argue.  It implies, “There’s nothing to discuss and I have complete faith you’ll get it done.”

Family Jobs When-Then Routine: WHEN your family jobs are finished, THEN you can play outside with your friends / have your TV or video time, etc.

Bedtime When-Then Routine

WHEN you:

·         finish your bath

·         are in your PJ’s

·         brush teeth and floss

·         put clothes in laundry

·         pick out clothes for tomorrow

THEN…we’ll have story time and snuggles.  But remember, lights are out by 7:30 p.m.  (That requires that he hustles through the nighttime list so he has plenty of time for stories and snuggles.)

Parents LOVE When-Then Routines! They motivate kids to get the yucky stuff done without Mom and Dad having to continuously nag and remind.

5.    Have a Back-Up Plan for Whining and Badgering

Last but not least – have a back-up plan for whining and badgering. 

When kids roll their eyes and give a big sigh about doing family jobs, we can empathize.  After all, we don’t enjoy unloading the dishwasher any more than they do and we understand that it’s not their favorite thing to do.

However, we don’t want to get sucked into a power struggle.  You know how it goes…”Why do I always have to do it?  I did it yesterday. Jason never does anything around here.  Blah, Blah, Blah.”

Kids learn that they can get their way by whining, badgering and negotiating.  Or, if they complain enough, Mom or Dad will do the job for them because that’s less painful than enduring the griping and groaning.


Once you’ve taken time for training, been clear about your expectations, encouraged rather than corrected, and used When-Then routines – there’s no reason to respond to whining and badgering.  Just follow these simple steps:

1.       Reveal in advance how you’ll handle whining and complaining.  Wait until a time when everyone is calm and relaxed and have a family chat about how you’ll handle whining and complaining.  (Don’t try to have this conversation in the middle of the whine-fest; it will just turn into a power struggle.)

Simply say…”We’ve talked about our summer routines for helping around the house and I want you to know what a difference that makes for Mom and Dad.  However, we’ve also noticed that there has been some complaining and arguing about the family jobs.  So – in the future, (this is the “reveal in advance” part) if we hear whining or complaining or negotiating about the summer jobs, we’re not going to respond.  We’re going to walk away.”

2.       Practice the “ignore and walk away.”  This is especially important for younger kids so they know what to expect.  Do a role play in which your kids pretend to moan and groan about doing their jobs and you practice ignoring and walking away.  Then – switch roles and let your kids play the parent and you be the complainer!  Let your kids practice the “ignore and walk away.”  This is a great way to let them know what to expect.

3.       Implement when necessary.  The next time your kids begin whining about their task – simply ignore and walk away!  You’ll only have to do this a few times and they’ll quickly learn that there’s no point arguing about it.  Remember – if you respond in a way to the complaining – you are giving attention and power to that behavior which guarantees it will happen again!

Your kids can express their dissatisfaction about helping out at home, but that doesn’t require a response from you!  Instead, ignore griping, groaning, complaining, arguing and negotiating and your kids will be contributing in no time.

Have a fabulous summer and visit us often for more helpful solutions from the Kids ‘R’ Kids Expert Parenting Advice video series.

Amy McCready is the Founder of Positive Parenting Solutions (linked to site: and the author of If I Have to Tell You One More Time (Tarcher/Penguin, August 2011).