One Mom’s Quest to Get Her Sons to do The Dishes

Hi Folks! Let me start by saying my own sons do the dishes only occasionally. That’s why I usually shy away from “parenting tips.” I don’t think there are a bunch of items you have to check off before you can call yourself a Free-Range parent (or even a “good” one). But I do like the way this mom, Melissa, got her kids helping out at home. She’s a mom of 5 kids 9 and under, and started the how-to video site, CloudMom.

The Key to Getting Kids To Do Chores, by Melissa

Widespread media reports of our spoiled and entitled kids have been making me nervous.  So nervous that on weekends, I decided to hand over all kitchen clean-up duties to my three boys aged 6, 8 and 9.

Initially this delegation was met with tears, protests and slammed doors. But now, several months in, they’ve settled into their clean-up duties.  Here’s what worked for us:

1)     Take the Chores Out of Chores.  I tried to make chores not about chores but rather about helping others. I explained post-lunch on Saturdays and Sundays that Mommy was simply too tired to clean the whole kitchen and that I needed help.

2)     Join the Team.  Next up for me was actually getting in there and doing the activities with my boys.  Now, this is just stage one. I hope to embrace the tenets of Free-Range parenting soon by having them figure out their own ways of doing chores, but it’s a process. I found that when I fully handed over the reins (since they’re still quite young) that they would argue about who did what.  You may think that my joining in was a cop-out and quintessential helicopter parenting, but for us it worked.  They were willing to work most of the time. I stood as the team leader and laid out a strategy: “Hedley, you’re on washing, Lachie, you’re drying, Beckett, you’re sweeping, and I’m the one putting all of it away.”  Not feeling isolated, bored or punished, my boys frequently finished our kitchen in under 15 minutes, whereas it usually takes me at least 30 minutes.  Now I know why people had so many kids in the olden days.  They can actually work!

3)     Sincere Gratitude.  I thanked my boys lavishly and I explained how they helped the whole family.  Compare this to my prior strategy of saying “this is your job, do it,” which was a complete non-starter.

4)     Makes Chores a Game. Turning cleaning the kitchen into a competition worked wonders.  “Guys, we’re 10 minutes down, let’s finish in under 5 and beat our prior time.”  With that said, they plunged in with gusto.

5)     Make post-chore time free time.  Doling out special free time is the way to go.

The holidays this year came with a lot of dishes to be done.  It wasn’t perfect, but I was just happy this year that my husband and I weren’t the only ones cleaning up.  Not only did I worry less about my kids being spoiled and entitled, but I had fewer dishes to do! – M

Come and get 'em!

Come and get ’em!


32 Responses to One Mom’s Quest to Get Her Sons to do The Dishes

  1. ladyfleur January 21, 2014 at 3:41 pm #

    To get rid of the sibling bickering, each of us kids had a day of the week to do dishes. Mom would help out as needed, based on the skill level/age of the kid.

    It ended the bickering and gave each kid some 1:1 time with mom. That was important since there were six kids in the family.

  2. gpo January 21, 2014 at 3:59 pm #

    My wife has had my two girls empty the dishwasher every morning for as long as I can remember. She did have to get a couple of magnets for who does top and who does bottom on the rotation. Other than that they just do it.

    I am sorry but my main philosophy with my children is this, I am bigger, stronger and smarter than you. I provide for you. Therefore you will do what I say when I say. Period end of story. If you don’t like it find somewhere else to live.

    Are my kids perfect angels? Of course not. But they know when I mean business. My only goal in life with my kids is to get them to leave my house and support themselves. And if making life a little uncomfortable while they live with me helps the process along then great.

  3. SOA January 21, 2014 at 4:05 pm #

    My philosophy about chores is their main job is to obey me and behave at home and school and do well in school and do their homework and keep their stuff picked up. That is really all I ask and all my parents ever asked of me. I still turned out super responsible. Like one of the most responsible people I know.

    So I don’t think chores are a necessity with kids it is all how you approach it. I am a stay at home mom so the housework is kinda my job and I like it done a certain way so I don’t mind doing it myself. I will make sure they learn how to do it by helping out now and again before they are off to college, but it won’t be regularly required of them as long as I don’t work outside the home.

    However that being said, we do a system where if they want to earn money for toys, outings, junk, they have to earn it. They get money for being on green at school every day. For doing homework. For picking up toys. For just if I catch them being especially good. For doing extra chores like helping me take down decorations or something like that.

    If they want to buy anything they have to use their money and so it is teaching them a value of a dollar and that you have to earn your money and then spend it wisely and budget. It works really well with my son with autism because he gets that immediate reward that is tangible for a job well done.

  4. SKL January 21, 2014 at 4:28 pm #

    I would like my kids to have more chores, but our life is a little too chaotic for the consistency that is required. They do have some chores: sweeping the floors, cleaning the stable muck off their paddock boots, a few other simple “caring for your stuff” responsibilities, and helping with housework when asked. They can earn money for clearing leaves or snow. That’s about it. When I was their age, I don’t think I had actual chores either – I just did what my mom told me or else. 😉

    Getting our life organized enough to require real responsibilities is an ongoing challenge for me. Can’t expect them to be more consistent than I am.

  5. Stephanie January 21, 2014 at 4:33 pm #

    My two older kids rotate which kitchen chores they’re responsible for on a weekly basis. Daily didn’t work – they’d argue about who did it last. Weekly is long enough that they usually know. They’re not sure that they look forward to when their younger sister is big enough to join in, as I warned them that parts of the job I handle now may be added in at that time.

  6. SKL January 21, 2014 at 4:41 pm #

    A thing about “lavishing” kids with thanks and praise. I have understood this to be a no-no. It would be better to say “that was helpful” (only if it was), with or without a simple “thank you.”

  7. librarian January 21, 2014 at 4:50 pm #

    What breaks my heart is: my 8-year-old 3-rd grader LOVES to do chores with me. She is willing to cook and clean and wash and fold…BUT most of the time I cannot let her do it because of her giant homework load. Even though I know she needs these skills at least as much as her school knowledge, I mostly decide in favor of homework assignments, because, unlike the chores, they come with a deadline…but how much time do I have, until she loses interest in helping?

  8. hineata January 21, 2014 at 5:29 pm #

    @librarian – have you tried simply sending a note telling the teacher she won’t be doing homework today/tomorrow/this week? I am a teacher myself, so know I probably shouldn’t do this, but have done it when my kids were that age, if we had stuff to do I deemed more important. That said, at that age a kid should have some reading to do (say 20 minutes max) and maybe ten spelling words for the week and ten basic facts a night. Maximum. (So I should point out my kids always did that – it was just at the odd lunatic day when the teachers decided to assign some oddball project, like the time my 9 year-old son was expected to write a two page essay, despite the teacher admitting he had give the class no instruction in essay structure, no topic, etc, etc).

    What is your child’s teacher assigning that can’t be done in a half hour?

  9. librarian January 21, 2014 at 5:45 pm #

    Hineata, thanks for answering.
    Daily she has at least 30 min reading, 1-2 pages of math, a page or two of writing. Then there are also longer assignments, say, for an entire week – science or social studies – and these include online research or creating some sort of art objects… And take-home sample tests, since they have their state tests in spring. I work and she is in afterschool, where, unfortunately, not much gets done… The only other time-consuming thing she does is her piano (about 30 min daily+ 1 hour class once a week) – but she’s been playing it for 2 years, loves it…there should be a way for her to keep playing.
    She is smart, gets good grades etc.- but the problem is that she is diligent and honest to the fault. When I was her age, I already knew how to cut corners (no time to read – just write in your reading log something you’ve read at some point in your life), but my kid just looks at me and says “but that would be untrue, mommy”… and what can I say?!

  10. librarian January 21, 2014 at 5:53 pm #

    Just wanted to add that it is NYC public school. A “good one”. I never thought I’d be the one to feel like my kid is drowning in homework – but I do.
    That’s when I realized why I keep seeing these 15-20-year-olds who don’t know that you need to put oil on a frying pan before frying, or how to use a washing machine. If they were that overscheduled – no wonder. When did this start? – or is it just me?

  11. anonymous this time January 21, 2014 at 7:18 pm #

    Librarian: read Alfie Kohn’s book, “The Homework Myth.”

    It will embolden you to stand up to the teachers who assign mounds of home-based busywork, and give you some perspective on how arbitrary the practice really is.

  12. Patti Jo January 21, 2014 at 7:35 pm #

    I read to my children as they wash the dishes. They are still learning an important homemaking skill and responsibility but it is made a little more fun, perhaps even a time to be looked forward to. (We don’t have a dishwasher so everything is hand washed)

  13. CrazyCatLady January 21, 2014 at 8:47 pm #

    Modeling what needs to be done is a great way to ensure that the kids do things to your satisfaction. When I taught the kids how to clean their bathroom, I took one kid at a time. The first week I showed all the things that needed to be done. I did them all. Wipe down the mirror first, then the counter, then the sink and tub. Last, do the toilet, followed by vacuuming the rug. (Eww on the rug – it was in the house when we moved in. It will be coming out.) The next week, I stood by the child and had the child do all the work while I made sure all was do to my satisfaction and said what needed to be done next. The week after that, the child did on his own, with me checking in every few minutes. The 4th week and after, they do it on their own and I check at the end, if I have time. They do a great job now, cleaning bathroom, kitchen and livingroom.

    They also do their own laundry. Last year we had a bottle of white out, and a couple of crayons go through the wash and dryer. And ruined some good clothing. This summer my oldest son picked up a fist sized ball of tar…and left it in his pants pocket. That was the final straw. Now each kid has their own basket in the laundry room and their own day to do laundry. They have to wash, dry, fold and put away their own clothes and any napkins waiting to be washed on their day. It has taken a HUGE load off of me, leaving me a lot less stressed.

  14. Jake January 21, 2014 at 9:01 pm #

    AS my mother used to say “I didn’t have a maid, I had children.” I was taught that chores are a responsibility. Each member of the family had a duty to the family. My Dad worked full time and then some. He brought home the bacon, if you will, and that was his main responsibility. My mother worked, but also did much of the housework. As each of us got older, duties were hoisted upon us.

    When I was 12, my mom fired the pool guy, and cleaning and maintaining the pool was my job. If we kids wanted to use a bug free pool, I was the one who had to keep it bug free. When got Bar Mitzvahed, I got my own room and shared a bathroom with my brother. It became my responsibility to keep that clean.

    A couple of times a year the three kids would get rounded up to take a weekend, tear apart the house and clean every square inch of it with my mother – called “a big cleaning.” It was not optional. Thanks was not given. As an (upper) middle class family, the condition of our house reflected upon us. Keeping it clean and tidy was a matter of dignity and (self) respect. Slovenliness was not acceptable, and each of us had part of the responsibility to keep it clean and reflecting well on the family.

    To this day, I still keep my house clean. I still do a “big clean” every other month and before company comes over. I will impress my attitude onto my children from day one, and when they are old enough, I will put a spray bottle of bleach and a toilet brush in their hands and tell them that I expect them to clean and help pull their weight in family responsibilities.

  15. Jenn January 21, 2014 at 9:24 pm #

    Our family philosophy with chores is that we are all contributing members to running our household smoothly. Mom and dad work and bring in money to pay for our food, shelter and clothing. They also share their earnings with the children, age 7 and 9, (who are not able to earn a steady paycheque because they are in elementary school full time). Mom and dad also do a majority of the chores around the house but the children are ‘apprentices’ who assist or do age-appropriate chores of their own. Since the children live in the home that mom and dad pay for, they are expected to contribute to running the household. Do they always unload the dishwasher with glee? No, but they sometimes do it without being asked to! When we entertain, the kids are used to being delegated to cleaning the house while mom and dad do all the food prep. They love having people over and take pride in looking after their home. I think that’s my end goal, that my children will have a home of their own that they will be proud to look after.

  16. Reziac January 21, 2014 at 9:32 pm #

    The problem with a bald “It’s your job, because I said so” is that to the kid, it often FEELS like punishment. Far as the kid can tell, he has to do the dishes and everyone else gets to go watch TV. That deprivation is the essence of punishment.

    Yeah, it’s important to learn that sometimes you’re just required to work and your opinion isn’t wanted (after all, most adult jobs are like that!), but I think some parents take it too far by making “Because I said so” the ONLY motivator.

    Kids naturally want to help adults, because it makes them feel like an important part of their world. Take advantage of that, even when it’s just their assigned job. A little task-sharing goes a long way.

    Another problem I’ve seen is when the child =doesn’t= do their assigned job, parents pile it on. Frex, so you didn’t do the dishes tonight? Well, tomorrow you get to do two days worth. And the day after, it’s three days worth. But by then, to a child, that mountain of dishes looks like an insurmountable task, so they’re likely to just give up, if not rebel further. At that point, they need at least a little help, just enough to make them feel like they’re not abandoned to doing the impossible.

  17. Carly January 21, 2014 at 10:04 pm #

    When my kids were little, there was a window of time where they were incredibly eager to help…but not always so good at the job they wanted to do, because of their age. I always tried to use those opportunities to try to let them help as they were able, to keep riding the wave, so to speak of their desire to participate.

    It is okay if it isn’t perfect every time, it can be a learning experience.

    Older kids seem to enjoy doing chores more when they have a little freedom, without me hovering nearby

  18. everydayrose January 21, 2014 at 10:14 pm #

    I’m a single mom to two girls, ages 12 and 9, and I definitely expect them to pull their weight around the house. We don’t do babysitters anymore and when I go to work and they’re at home I leave them a list of things to do. Every single time I go to work. They’re in charge of dishes, vacuuming, cleaning the bathroom and living areas, keeping their room tidy, etc. Whatever needs to be done that day.

    It’s interesting because I’ve found that they do a great job when I’m out of the house but for some reason it feels next to impossible to get them to do the same work when I’m at home with them. I send a text when I’m on my way home so I’m pretty sure they scramble to get a lot of it done in the last five minutes, but at least it’s getting done! A couple of times I’ve been locked out and could hear them running frantically around inside which I always found hilarious.

    I come home from work in the evening and I cook dinner but then it’s on them to take care of the kitchen afterwards. They came up with a system on their own where one will be in charge of putting away any leftovers and wiping everything down while the other rinses the dishes and puts them in the dishwasher. They switch every night. I wouldn’t have thought of it but it works great for them and cuts down on the fighting.

    Since I put more of the responsibility on them to do these things I’ve found that when I do step in and do something, like empty the dishwasher, they’ll come to me and genuinely thank me for doing it. They’ve learned not only to work for themselves but to value the work that I do for them too.

  19. Nobody January 21, 2014 at 11:11 pm #

    When we were kids, my brothers and I saved and pooled our money and bought an automatic dishwasher for our parents. Imagine their surprise when the delivery truck from the appliance store pulled up into the driveway.

  20. SOA January 22, 2014 at 12:15 am #

    Just for argument’s sake my mom was a clean freak who kept our house showroom clean and I never had to really do much to help out with it. I still kept up the cleanliness at least before I had kids because I was used to living in a really clean house. So when I moved out I realize I either cleaned it myself to make it look like that or it would not get done. So I did it. I also was never really taught how to clean but figured it out pretty easily on my own. Its not rocket science.

    My Dad taught me to do laundry in maybe 20 mins in college and over time I improved and perfected it as much as I could.
    So they will learn to do it whether you make them do it as a kid or not. I learned as a young adult college aged and had no problems.

    That is why I say with the chores thing there are no absolutes. DH got burned out on chores because his mother made him do dishes almost every night growing up and I can’t get him to do crap around the house. So making your kids do chores does not mean they will grow up to be eager to do chores. It had the opposite effect on DH.

  21. SKL January 22, 2014 at 12:52 am #

    I enjoy cleaning. It’s probably my favorite pastime. Handing it over to my kids will be quite the sacrifice if I ever do it. More likely, I will just let them be in charge of their own territory and their own stuff, and I’ll chase the rest. Or maybe rotate the really crappy jobs between all three of us.

    Now if they decide they like to cook, more power to them. But since I always hated cooking, I don’t know if I would force them to do much of that either. I’ll probably make them learn just enough so they won’t ever starve.

    Funny thing, when I was a kid, I was required to do a lot of chores, and significantly more than any of my 5 siblings. The only thing I wasn’t usually in charge of was the cooking. You would think I would resent and hate housework. Nope. I’m glad that thanks to my early experience, the practical skills were no-brainers once I was independent. I’ve taught many friends how to do things I learned as a young kid. I find cleaning to be a relaxing break from stressful responsibilities.

    So I’m a little conflicted when it comes to handing these experiences down to my kids. Maybe I’ll feel differently as they get older.

  22. J.T. Wenting January 22, 2014 at 8:53 am #

    6) no chores no pocket money, no candy, no new toys, no budget for your smartphone, and no access to the family computer.

    See how eager the lazy buggers suddenly are to get their chores done, and done well.

  23. Crystal January 22, 2014 at 9:15 am #

    Good for her! I think I’ll try this as well.

  24. Dee January 22, 2014 at 1:58 pm #

    Librarian, I am with you. During the week homework can be an impediment to letting my son assist. I also find that having an only child makes it harder to make chores stick. A little sibling rivalry can go a long way!

  25. hineata January 22, 2014 at 2:50 pm #

    @Librarian – that amount of work sounds crazy for an eight year old. I agree with ‘anonymous this time’ – the Alfie Kohn book sounds a good place to start with trying to get the school to get some balance. A kid is much better off doing stuff with the family (chores 🙂 ) or playing than doing that amount of homework.

  26. SKL January 22, 2014 at 2:59 pm #

    The homework / study thing is an issue for us, too, as are extracurriculars.

    When I was my kids’ age, before the days of homework for primary kids, we didn’t have daily chores. I guess my parents felt that school was enough work. My mom would round us all up on Saturday mornings and make us all clean house before we could have our weekly allowance. This would take probably an hour or two, depending on what needed to get done, and then we would be given our allowance in pop bottles (remember those days?). And we’d walk the few blocks to the nearest store, exchange the bottles, and have the rest of the day to do as we pleased. 🙂 Ah, those were the days.

    When we were in upper elementary, we were given daily kitchen chores (both cooking and cleaning). Everything else was still weekly.

    My kids are a lot busier with academics and extras than I ever was. I guess around 4th grade, sports will be offered at school during after-care hours, so maybe we can drop some other stuff and focus on our home in the evenings. We’ll see.

  27. Donna January 22, 2014 at 6:07 pm #

    librarian – That sounds like a lot of homework for a kid that age. My daughter is also 8, but only in 2nd grade due to a late birthday. She is supposed to read for 20 minutes a day (but I never enforce it because she reads a ton anyway) and has a single math or writing essay question each night Mon-Thurs. As an advanced reader, she also has to read a couple chapters of their chosen book (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe this term) for book club each week but that is just for a handful of kids. That’s it. No projects. No weekend homework. She literally spends about 20 minutes total a week doing homework (since I don’t count the reading).

    Now getting her to do chores with all her free time is an uphill battle.

  28. shannon January 22, 2014 at 6:12 pm #

    Our rule was that whoever did NOT cook was on the clean-up crew. That inspired boys to cook, sometimes.
    If they did not cook, they did do the dishes, and this took a little training. They could choose to play any music they liked–loud–while doing the dishes. This was a big perk!

  29. SKL January 22, 2014 at 11:43 pm #

    Speaking of homework – I find it interesting to hear the range of experience. My kids’ load seems to be a little on the heavy side, especially in the reading department. They have an annual goal which essentially requires them to read (and successfully test on) about 120 chapter books similar to the Magic Treehouse series. (This is for 2nd grade.) For an average reader, this works out to a lot more than 20 minutes per day. 😉

    I don’t really mind the fact of the homework and reading requirements. But I wish the homework was correlated with the in-school lessons, so I wouldn’t have to supplement on top of that for my challenged kid. And I could do without the “projects,” which are designed to require intensive parental involvement.

    Not to mention the pile of work that is periodically sent home with the complaint that the kid didn’t get it done during her so-called free time at school.

  30. Let Her Eat Dirt January 23, 2014 at 6:01 am #

    Five kids 9 and under? Whoa! My hat’s off to this family…

    I agree 100% on chores — good, old-fashioned, you-do-it-because-you-are-part-of-this-family chores. Kids should do their part to feed themselves, wash their clothes, clean the house, take care of any animals, prepare for company, and so forth. They get to live rent-free in the house for 18+ years; they should do their share to keep the household running.

    Chores are fundamental — they’re a basic part of learning how to be a decent human being who won’t park in handicapped spots or litter on the highway or mooch off of friends. They instill humility and a sense of personal responsibility, and if you don’t learn that when you’re little you may grow up with a debilitating sense of entitlement.

    Let Her Eat Dirt
    http://www.lethereatdirt.com
    A dad’s take on raising tough, adventurous girls

  31. SOA January 23, 2014 at 6:56 am #

    Let her eat dirt: I never had chores growing up besides do my homework and pick up my toys and yet I have never illegally parked in a handicapped parking space, littered, or mooched off friends. So there goes your theory.

  32. Papilio January 23, 2014 at 12:18 pm #

    My brother and I did the dishes in the weekend, and of course we cleaned up our own rooms, and later our studyroom too, and the second bathroom. We cooked occasionally, which I hate and he loves, so he winded up doing it more often.

    But we had chores in school too. So even if your parents TRIED to spoil you rotten, you still had to water plants, hand out book etc to your classmates and put them back in the closet afterward, clean the blackboard at the end of the day, or sweep the floor for a week or two weeks a year, usually with a classmate.
    In secondary school sweeping floors and stuff became a punishment for the deserving, except cleaning outside (picking up litter…), that was done by the ninth graders who just had duty once that year.