How Do I Get My Kid To Do The Dishes?

Kids doing choresFirst, it is important that children contribute to the household. Not only does it send an important message to our children –

“You are a valuable member of this family and we count on you to make our family function”

– but it gives them a sense of accomplishment and self-worth.  Studies also show that kids who contribute at home do better at school and are more responsible with their homework.

How do you get started?

Call a family meeting. Announce that you are going to talk about each family member’s contributions.  Start with Mom and Dad’s roles.  Ask, “Who is going to pay the mortgage?”  Write it down in Mom & Dad’s column.  Then move on to who will pay the electric, gas, phone, cell phone, internet, and food bills. Continue by asking who will shop for food, prepare food, etc.  Then, when the parents’ list is nice and long, ask, “Who could set the table?”  “Who will clear the table?” “Unload the dishwasher?” “Vacuum?” “Dust?” You will be surprised with how willing the kids are to discuss what “contributions” they will volunteer for and how they decide to split them up among the siblings.

One dad reported that his 6- & 9-year-old boys argued about who got to take out the trash.  “I should, I’m older.”  “No, I should because you have more chores than I do,” said the younger. Another mom found out that her 7-year-old daughter was upset that mom got a housekeeper because she liked cleaning the bathrooms!

How do you implement?

Give kids a deadline.  Ask them to have a chore done by Friday dinner, tonight before bed, or before soccer practice.  Don’t demand.  We adults don’t like it when our bosses treat us like that!  Then, go on with your business.  Don’t harp, don’t remind, don’t nag.  If the contribution is not done, then you say, “This is so sad. I’m going to have to do something about this, but not now.  Try not to worry.”  Then the kids worry while you have time to come up with a plan for a logical consequence. If you want more information on how to come up with good consequences, I teach classes and offer parent coaching on this skill.

Should you pay them?

Don’t pay for their contributions.  You want the little voice in their sweet heads to say, “I’m doing this because I’m a valuable member of the family,” not “I’m doing this because I’m getting 5 bucks!”

Should they get allowance?

Yes. Just like you give them books to practice reading, give them money to practice spending and saving. Just don’t tie the allowance to their contributions. The general guideline out there is $1 per year of age, so a 10-year-old would get $10 a week. However, you should do what makes sense for you, the child, and the family budget.  Let them spend it and pray they make bad decisions and buy things that break easily.  Better they learn the lesson when the cost is low than in the real world when the cost is expensive.  Some parents like to have the kids set aside a certain percentage of their allowance for savings and a certain percentage to give to charity.

At what age can you begin?

You can start as early as 3-4 years old.  That’s the age when you start the association between the job, fun, and you!  Get the little guy to walk with dad as he takes out the trash. He gets a high five and a “good job” from dad.  Now he associates trash with love!  And at age 6-7, you step out of the picture and the child still has the job and the fun!

Parents who try the family meeting, contributions, deadlines and allowances report amazing stories of participation and cooperation.

Isn’t it at least worth an experiment to see if these steps will get your kids to do the dishes?


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Kerry Stutzman MSW, LMFT

My passion is helping my clients develop close, connected families and healthy relationships. For the past 20 years I have been helping people discover the best version of themselves.  Learn more

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I specialize in working with parents and caregivers with children from cradle to college, with special focus from birth – 10 years old. Learn more

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