How do I get my kids to do chores? This is actually the follow up question to my standing Monday morning lament: how did our house get this wrecked?
Click here to skip right to the Scavenger Hunt Checklist.
There’s so much come-and-go over the weekend that by the time the kids head to school on Monday, I feel totally overwhelmed by the mess. Nobody intentionally trashed the place, but it’s the little things that pile up… socks that the dog grabbed out of the hamper (they’re his favorite), dolly accessories that never made it back into the dollhouse, baby toys, coffee cups, you get the idea.
Our pool is the perfect “GERONIMOOOOOOO” distance away from our back door so we do a lot of skinny dipping (the KIDS!). That tends to make the backyard a war zone of discarded clothes and shoes too. Add to that the dog toys, a garage full of baseball gear, and a kitchen full of the evidence of 2 thriving home offices… no matter where you look, you won’t find calm or order.
Humans don’t do well in disorganization. Our family is no different.
We’ll never be “clear countertop” people, it’s just not how we’re wired. But I want my children to understand that their home and personal space is their responsibility to care for, and we are to be good stewards of the material possessions we’re blessed to have.
And most importantly….
I don’t want to spend my precious time picking up their stuff.
Sure, it’s easier to set a 10-minute timer to blow through clearing the mess before I start my day. But I fight that instinct hard. It’s NOT MY RESPONSIBILITY to clean up after them. Am I singing the mom anthem right? “How do I get my kids to do their chores?!” “Pick up this mess!” “NO I DON’T KNOW WHERE YOUR STUFF IS!” One more time, from the top!
But I don’t LIKE that song. (I stomped my foot when I said that.) Mostly because I don’t like the version of myself I become when I start singing it.
You see, I can incentivize just about anything for my children – they love prizes, games, experiences, and SURPRISES. There is not a single task I take on if I don’t like doing it – I prize it out. We don’t operate on an allowance system so if they want to earn money, they have to seek out opportunities to earn it. And that opportunity is usually dressed in overalls and looks like work!
My parents have been great about this too – they’ll call to offer brother a $5 job at his convenience, and even create a contract they sign and shake on. Cool life skills in the works here. G is less eager to scoop up big jobs unless and until there’s something really cool she wants to earn. She’s walked the dog 3 weeks straight to earn a mermaid tail. I’ll gladly make that trade!
Now don’t get me wrong – we do our fair share of nagging and consequences. Our home is normal just like yours and our kids do not like pausing their play to clean up. But we’ve figured out that adding a little Mary Poppins fun is how to get our kids to do chores.
I like to keep a stash of good prizes hidden in the house so I can throw out a contest whenever we need one. Our house favorites are glow sticks, chalk, smelly pencils, wacky stickers, bouncy balls, box candy, crazy socks, card games, party favors, goggles, lego miniatures, keychains for their backpacks, etc. Hit the dollar store or Target the next time you're in the area and stock up on little things that you know your kids love. You don't have to spend a ton of money to surprise and delight them with a cool prize! Think "school classroom treasure chest."
For this Scavenger Hunt, I picked prizes that looked big but were still $1. They were a huge hit: sidewalk chalk that looks like easter eggs and Big League Chew that came in a baseball. DO NOT TELL THEM WHAT THE PRIZE IS before the hunt!! The surprise at the end is half the fun!
Yesterday morning’s clutter was particularly distracting. It’s frustrating to start the week out in squalor. But instead of spending my time cleaning it all up, I sat down at my computer and typed out a list.
What needed to get done, and what did I need help with myself? Oy. The list kept going.
I added the essential chores first, snuck in a couple bigger jobs that I knew I could trust them with, tucked the paper onto clipboards, and added a marker. I told them I had a surprise for them after school so they thought about it all day long. And then when we walked in the door that afternoon, I grabbed the clipboards and gave my best Academy Award winning performance.
Today we are having a Scavenger Hunt! This is not a race and there is no time limit. You can check these off in any order. I will approve your list before you are done. There is no penalty if you missed something, but you will have to go back and complete it to my liking. No trading lists! And ask for help if you need it. Ready, set, GO!
And they were off. They called out their strategy to me and to each other while they worked (I’m going to do the downstairs things first and then the upstairs! I’m going to find all the dirty clothes first!).
Brother finished first and brought his list in proudly. I did a quick glance around to make sure he completed the game with quality work and then we presented his prize ($1 sidewalk chalk eggs and Big League Chew) like it was a $1,000,000 check.
Jack had him close his eyes and hold out his hands. He proudly presented him with… a plate. As a joke. Brother thought it was hilarious. Jack had him close his eyes again while he was giggling his guts out and then showman-style handed him his real prize. Brother opened his eyes and squealed, “Chalk!!” He was so excited. Over sidewalk chalk. (You know what your kids like. The prize doesn’t matter. It’s how you sell it! The surprise and the excitement is half the fun anyway! Don’t miss an opportunity to make their faces light up.)
G took a little longer, and needed a lot more “do-overs.” The whole entire point of this game is to get them to do the tasks themselves so I had to fight my instinct to grab the extra dropped sock and sloppy-folded blanket. “You’re so close, fix those couple things and then it’s prize time!” Instead of nagging, I sang in my best bad opera voice: “Ooops, you missed one!” (Do anything with a funny voice and it takes the edge off.)
My bathtub was stained blue from how dusty she was when she came inside last night after decorating the driveway with her chalk. I didn’t even care that she colored herself. And I gladly cleaned the bathtub myself.
MAKE YOUR KIDS HAPPY. It’s so unbelievably easy to do. With the right motivation, encouragement and excitement, and a little bit of smoke in mirrors, you can get them to do just about anything you want them to do and they will think you are the Best Mommy Ever.
This idea might be best as a once-a-month surprise, I think. Any more often and it loses its luster. The magic was that the list was long and we made it a fun challenge. That being said, at dinner they actually asked if we could do this every Monday (HUGE WIN!) so I will try it again next week and update you on how it goes.
A big blitz like this is great, but how do you get your kids to do chores on a smaller scale, and on a regular basis? You can still make it fun. We’ve done:
Click here to get the Scavenger Hunt Checklist emailed to you. If you choose to stay on my Happy Mail list, you’ll get a tip like this once a week – sometimes it’s kid stuff, marriage stuff, or personal development. You can always unsubscribe if it’s not your jam! And I will never ever spam you (gross) or share your email address with anyone else (creepy).
This Scavenger Hunt Checklist is an editable document, so you can add/delete/adjust the tasks as you see fit. Trust your kids to complete these items, even if it’s not the way you would do it, or quite to your standard. They are learning to be good stewards of their home and belongings. You are teaching them to be obedient. This is training them to see the mess and do something about it. It is empowering them to complete chores that they are capable of doing themselves. It is showing them that they are a vital part of keeping a peacefully ordered home. And simply put: it will help you get your kids to do chores without losing your mind.
After I posted this on social media yesterday, a friend asked where my husband’s list was. This is all I’m going to say about that: you know better than anyone what motivates and pleasantly surprises your spouse. 😉 Everyone likes to be rewarded for doing a great job!!!!!
Let me know if you try this to get your kids to do chores, if it works, if you have a task to add to the list that I forgot, or if you have questions. Post on your own social media pages and our Facebook Page (Heartfully Present) with #familychoresscavengerhunt and we’ll celebrate your clean house and preserved sanity with you!
PS: Have you subscribed for Happy Mail? You'll get a family tip or marriage/personal development idea once a week in your inbox, just from me to you. <3
Jessica is a writer, musician, entrepreneur, wife, and mom. Jessica's mission is to write "real" - shining light into the dark places of the tough stuff we all experience. She and her husband Jack live in Houston, Texas and have weathered the storms of grief, infant loss, adoption, and a marriage that almost fell apart. Jessica and Jack have 4 children, LJ in heaven, Grace, Jackson, and brand new baby Elisha.
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