The nagging. The pleading. The bribing. The repeating. If it seems you’ll have an easier time pulling off a glitter jumpsuit than convincing your six-year-old to pick up his socks, sing it sister. But rejoice: We’ve cracked the kid code. Here are eight ways to motivate children to contribute to household harmony—and gain confidence while they’re at it.

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family chores visual
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Make it Visual

A picture is worth a thousand (pestering) words. One teacher we consulted suggests printing out and poster-boarding photos of high-priority tasks. A shot of your child eating dinner, then another one of him putting his dishes in the sink (huzzah!), then a pic of him smiling with dessert (hello, positive reinforcement) tacked to a kitchen bulletin board may work wonders.

family chores teeth brushing
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Make it Routine

Kids thrive when they know what’s coming next. If you want your daughter to put her pajamas in the hamper, make sure the timing is predictable and the sequence of events is consistent: Do it with her every morning, right after she brushes her teeth and before she gets dressed for school. It will eventually become second nature.  

family chores dishes
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Make it a Family Affair

The sooner your kids see their parents doing—and enjoying—mundane household tasks, the likelier they’ll be to embrace them. Doing the dishes (they rinse, you guys load) together as a family—while boogieing to a kickass playlist—sounds like primo quality time to us.

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family chores table
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Start Simple

Kids—especially young ones—may have difficulty following multi-step directions. Asking a five-year-old to set the table is not unreasonable—until you actually think about all it entails. One expert advised we stock an easily accessible, low-to-the-ground drawer with just the essential elements they’ll need to get the job done (four placemats, four plates, four sets of pre-rolled cutlery, four cups, etc.). Check your expectations so you can set them up for success.

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Revamp Your Reward System

Many experts favor positive reinforcement over “consequences” when encouraging kids to adopt or modify certain behaviors. So yay rewards. But you don’t want to end up at the toy store buying a new Thomas every time he brushes his teeth. One therapist we spoke with recommends the token system, wherein kids are given a shiny faux coin for every completed task or desirable behavior. They then “spend” their savings on sweets, (limited!) screen time or whatever their little chore-loving hearts desire.   

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Encourage Independence

All humans—even very small ones—love to feel needed, purposeful and appreciated. Beware of empty praise (“Great job! You’re the best!”) and instead, explain exactly how their cooperation helps you: “When you make your own bed, it saves me time, and really helps us all get out the door on schedule.”

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It’s All About How You Ask

Speak about tasks objectively (“It’s 8:30 a.m.; time to feed the fish” or “In our house, everyone puts their shoes in the mudroom”) to take the pressure off—and make chores seem inevitable.

family chores game
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Make it a Game

Honorary Mensa membership for whoever invented chore dice and the Scratch Off Chore Chart.

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