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Play the Cleaning Game

How To Motivate Your Child To Participate In House Chores

Household chores are piling up and you wish you could get your child to hold a duster, but the Xbox controller seems glued to his hands. From a dash to the trash to making puppet dusters, creative cleaning games can motivate children to get off the couch and contribute to domestic duties.

Roxanne Shust-Santone of Bensalem, Pa., the president of the Moms Offering Moms Support club of Bensalem, says she always gives her son Nicholas, 3, a high-five after he puts the wet clothes into the dryer. "We usually clean up around bedtime," she says. "He loves milk. When he knows that milk is coming he cleans up fast. We make a game of it."

Musical Chores, Dash for Trash

Shust-Santone says her son mimics her heavy-duty jobs such as lawn mowing and vacuum cleaning by scooting around his play lawn mower and vacuum cleaner. "He has a vacuum cleaner that looks just like mine," she says. "He will clean up. We sing the 'clean up' song: Clean up. Clean up. Everybody, everywhere. Clean up. Clean up. Everybody, do your share. He sings along."

She teaches her son to put his toys in containers. His cars go in one container and his blocks in another. "We do a little race to put away toys," Shust-Santone says. "I say, 'Let's see if we get it done before I count to 20.'"

Patricia Hill of Brandon, Fla., the owner of THE MAIDS Home Services franchise for Hillsborough County, recommends offering children prizes or a special treat for winning games related to cleaning. She suggests the following cleaning games to combat a messy house:

Musical Chores (two or more players)


Designate a project such as dusting, scrubbing the floor or picking up toys to each child and start the music. Every time the music turns off, the children switch chores.

Puppet Dusters (one or more players)


Make sock puppets and have children slip them on their hands for dusting. Start a contest to see whose puppet gets the dirtiest.

Puppet Shiners (two players)


You and your child each wear a sock puppet to clean the patio door window. You are on the outside and your child is on the inside. Make it a game to follow one another's hand movement as you clean the window.

Baseboard Race (two players)


Start two children on opposite walls in the same room. Give each child a sock or rag for dusting the top of baseboards. The child that gets to the end of their wall first wins a prize.

Dash for Trash (one or more players)


Designate a laundry basket for each child. Start a timer for 30 seconds and see which child can put the most misplaced clutter in his or her basket before the timer goes off.

Hill, who has two grown children, says another fun game is to play hide-and-seek by hiding spoons or other objects under cushions, pillows or on windowsills. The object is for your child to find all of them by the time he or she is finished cleaning. "With hide and seek, if you have more than one child you can have a race to see who can find the most objects while they are cleaning," Hill says.

When cleaning or playing the game of musical chores, try to play music with an upbeat tempo, says Hill."You will also find if you keep an upbeat tempo of music while you are cleaning they don't stop as often," she says.

Organize to Prevent Clutter

Hill says it's important for parents of young children to make it easy for their children to clean up. "From raising two children and being the oldest of six children, the easiest way to get kids to help is not make a mess in the first place," she says. "Rule No. 1 is if you don't put it on the floor, you never have to pick it up. To that end, you must make it easy for them. A child is not going to want to put their clothes on a hanger or put things away if it's difficult."

Hill suggests putting hooks on walls and using clear containers with no lids so your children can see what objects should go in a certain box. She says not to expect too much of your child or create a complicated organization system. "The idea is don't ever let it get so far behind that it's a gigantic chore to clean it up," she says.

Paying for Chores

Hill says she paid her children an allowance for doing extra chores as they became older.

By definition, chores are not something most people look forward to doing. But if children can learn to associate good feelings with helping out, they may be more inclined to clean as stress relief or to help the family as they grow up. "It's a great lesson to learn, that if you put your mind to it, you get it done and move to the next thing," Hill says. "There are some things in life that you have to do whether or not they are fun to do."

Brenda McLaverty of Cinnaminson, N.J., gives her two sons, Mason, 6, and Garrett, 13, an allowance for doing chores every week. "My 6-year-old has to make his own bed," McLaverty says. "We count on them because we are a family. We all have to help out. The older one takes out the trash and helps with the dog."

McLaverty says when her children were younger she made a game out of seeing who could pick up clutter the fastest.

Women's vs. Men's Work

McLaverty says her boys are just as comfortable working outdoors as they are cooking in the kitchen and cleaning. "When you have a family it's all about team work," she says. "It's not just Mom cleaning up but Dad helping out. If Dad is not home to take out the trash, Mom would do it. It's not just one person's responsibility. That's what we try to stress."

Hill says it's important to encourage both boys and girls to participate in outdoor and indoor chores. "I am a person who does not like the expression 'men helping out,"' she says. "It's their house too. Just using that term makes it seem like they can just do it when they feel like it. Each family member has a portion to do."

It's good for children to see their fathers working inside and mothers working outdoors, says Hill. Encourage your children to tag along while you do more challenging chores.

Shust-Santone says she hopes her son will learn how important it is for males to contribute to domestic chores. "I think that will help in the future," she says. "If he doesn't get married, he will be on his own. He needs to learn these things."

Encourage your husband to put down the remote control and get involved in cleaning games. Pick one weekend a month designated as a wild and clean family fun day when everyone in the family turns their old socks into puppets for dusting and resolves to make a clean sweep.

Cleaning up Their Act: Self-motivated Tots

As your children get older, they will probably begin to realize cleaning and other chores are not always going to be fun.

Elizabeth Crary of Seattle, Wash., the author of Pick up Your Socks ... and Other Skills Growing Children Need (Parenting Press, 1990), says parents can teach their children to become self-motivated about chores and jobs.

Crary is the founder of Star Parent, a parenting program, and the mother of two grown children. For her book, she collected data from 660 families for her household participation chart. She found the average age most children take out the trash with help from a parent is 5. The average age they take out the trash with a reminder is 9, while the age without reminding is 11.

"In terms of household jobs, there is some research that suggests they should have jobs by age 3," Crary says. "It's not a heavy-duty job. In one family, a child's job was to let the dog out, which was very helpful. That child had a good sense of self and place in the family. He had a job that was important."

Crary says parents can move from the role of nurturer, during which they do everything for their child, to the role of teacher and then coach. "I think it's a good idea to make it fun," she says. "It's also important for children to learn to motivate themselves. We are raising a generation of children who think everything will be fun. When they move into the job market, they are unhappy because they have to do routine stuff and someone has always made things fun. The real world does not make everything fun."

As a teacher, you can offer your children choices. As a coach, you can remind them they have the skills to figure out their choices, she says. "Your presence is all most younger children need to make it fun," Crary says.

With preschoolers, who are into fantasy games but may engage in power struggles, ask your children what they want you to do to help them clean their rooms. You may want to pretend to be their robot, genie or dinosaur, Crary says.

But at the same time, children are learning to organize on their own and become self-sufficient. "When they are in this stage, doing things with you is the greatest reward you could have," she says.

For more information, visit starparent.com.

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