How I Got My Kids To Help With Cleaning

Do your kids help with cleaning? Or is getting them to pitch in a constant chore? My new secret weapon has finally got my kids happy to help with weekly housecleaning!

Do your school-age kids help with cleaning at home? Or is this a constant battle in your house, as it was in ours until recently?

I don’t like all the regular upkeep that goes with maintaining a house with a family. And my husband does his fair share, including lots of jobs he knows I hate. But that still leaves plenty of messes and cleaning tasks unaccounted for.

Someone’s gotta do them. But I admit, I’m not keen on spending my entire Sunday afternoon – the largest chunk of the week I get to spend with the girls – cleaning house by myself, instead of spending time with them. And last I checked, a maid or cleaning service still aren’t in the cards.

What didn’t work

Sunday has always been our cleaning day. Saturday is our personal “sabbath” or rest day. As the primary parent on duty throughout the week, it’s my day to take a long bike ride, go shopping by myself, and otherwise leave the girls with Daddy. Even my husband, who isn’t religious, has taken Saturday as his own personal Sabbath for as long as I’ve known him.

In contrast, Sunday has always been prep-day for the week ahead. Unlike me, my husband still teaches; for him, Sunday is a long day of class prep and grading.

But now that I’m home with the girls, I dread Sunday afternoon chores. My husband does some cleaning Sunday mornings (vacuum/wash floors, scrub down the stove, etc.) before heading to his office. And since weekday afternoons are so busy and Saturdays are Sabbath-time, that leaves Sundays for swapping sheets and towels, catching up on laundry, cleaning the bathrooms, etc.

Yet Sunday is also my biggest chunk of time with the girls. How to get the cleaning done while still spending time with them?

In the past, I’d give them a pep talk every Sunday morning before church: After church, these are the chores we need to get done.

As you might imagine, that went over like a lead balloon. I spent most of the afternoon cajoling them to help me, while they whined and did their best to ignore me. Or hide. Or both. In the end, everyone was grouchy, and I ended up doing most or all of the work.

My new secret weapon:

I finally hit upon something that helped my first- and third-grader not only get excited about cleaning, but do it enthusiastically until the jobs were done.

I call it the “Cleaning Power Hour.”

This is how I framed it for them on a recent Sunday morning: I hate cleaning. You hate cleaning. But the cleaning needs to get done anyway.

So what if, instead of letting it drag through all afternoon, we have a “Cleaning Power Hour” right after church? We’ll change into work clothes and divvy up the chores, and all work at them until we’re done – maybe an hour, maybe less. And then we’ll have the rest of the afternoon free to play and hang out. Without me having to nag you both constantly about cleaning, and everyone getting upset.

Getting kids to help with cleaning: why this worked

The prospect of getting cleaning behind them sooner was motivation #1 for the girls. But Kimmie soon thought of two other motivations to help with cleaning:

“What if it takes us less than an hour?” she asked.

“Then you get the extra time as iPad time,” I said.

“Can we listen to music?” Kimmie asked.

“Absolutely!” I said.

Yes, the promise of music and the lure of more iPad time helped. But just as importantly, I was making them equal partners in the process of rule-setting. Getting to help define the parameters of our cleaning time was critical.

While they changed into cleaning clothes, I grabbed a stack of scrap paper and listed a chore on each slip, making sure there were an even number. I ran the list by them to see if they had suggestions for anything I’d missed. (They also got to see this way that I’d broken up some of the least-favorite jobs, like toilet-scrubbing, into smaller chunks.) Next, they got to take turns pulling slips from a basket until all the jobs were divvied up.

Then we sorted the jobs into sequence, starting upstairs and finishing downstairs. While I squirted in the cleaner and tutored Essie on her first toilet-scrubbing, Kimmie stripped all the beds and got the sheets to the laundry room. Then Essie helped me remake the beds while Kimmie scrubbed the downstairs toilets.

Our first Cleaning Power Hour lasted more like 80 minutes than 60. But together, we finished all the jobs in record time. With no whining or complaining about who got which jobs. And no drama over the need to get a job done and move on to the next; somehow, knowing others were waiting on your completion eliminated that.

The Cleaning Power Hour, improved

As soon as we were done, I sat the girls down for a “debriefing” – filled with lots of praise for staying on task, not losing focus, and getting their jobs done cheerfully and thoroughly. I also asked them what they thought we could improve for the future.

We all agreed that keeping track of the chore cards I’d made was tricky. So for our second Cleaning Power Hour, I made up a “chore jar” with the chores written on clothespins. The clothespins were extras from our recent school-day routine chore charts. Something about the tactile nature of opening and closing them really does it for my kiddos.

Chore jar how-to

The jar we used was actually a plastic container with a screw-top lid. I put colorful duct tape on the outside to hide the pins (and the jar’s previous labels) from view. Then, since the girls’ favorite colors are yellow (Kimmie) and blue (Essie), I colored one side of the jar opening with yellow permanent marker, and the other side with blue.

Now when the girls draw out their chores and we arrange them in order, each girl can clip her chores on her side of the jar, in order. The jar stays on the front-hall table throughout the Cleaning Power Hour. As the girls complete each chore, they drop the corresponding clip back into the jar.

For what it’s worth, using slips of card stock or cardboard for your chore-jar items is also fine, if you don’t have the problems we did of losing track of them. Laminating the cards will help with durability and longevity. And while lettering clothespins by hand with a permanent marker is fine, this is also a perfect job for a label-maker.

If you don’t have a label maker yet: I thought they were the dumbest idea until my mama gave me one. Now I use it to label EVERYTHING, from the girls’ lunch boxes and water bottles to their camp gear and school supplies. The labels my Brother P-Touch generates are waterproof, durable, compact, and easy to customize with an assortment of fonts and sizes.

Summary – Why the “Cleaning Power Hour” works

  1. Presenting it as an attractive alternative (get cleaning done in an hour, vs. having it drag through the afternoon)
  2. “Gamify” it with a fun name and a race-the-clock component
  3. Solicit their input throughout the process (e.g., music soundtrack)
  4. Incentives for finishing early
  5. I’m there helping them throughout, so it’s a team effort
  6. Fair, random means of distributing chores (drawing them from a jar), with the least-popular tasks broken into smaller pieces
  7. Lots of praise throughout and afterward for staying on task, doing a good job, and getting things done
  8. A new, attractive chore jar (made from things we already had on hand!) to make the process even more fun

Do your kids help with cleaning? If so, what’s your secret for getting them to pitch in? Let us know in the comments!

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59 thoughts on “How I Got My Kids To Help With Cleaning”

    1. I am so glad you liked it! And I’m even more glad to report that 6 months in, it’s working better than ever! We get home from church and they IMMEDIATELY go put on their cleaning clothes and dive right in, without any prompting from me! We even added in four more chores this past weekend, and they were almost HAPPY about it lol!

    1. I think we’re two months in now, and still working like a charm! THEY even bring it up every Sunday, on the way home from church! 🙂

    1. And may it keep working, so it doesn’t start taking the whole day/weekend again! (she thinks earnestly..)

  1. Pingback: Wandering Wednesday #35 - Confessions of Parenting

    1. *Thanks* Lori – glad you liked the post! We’ve done a timer with smaller chores before (e.g. Set-the-Table Beat-the-Timer game), but this is the first time we’ve gotten it to work for a longer stretch of time. 🙂

  2. I think this might be my favorite “getting kids to help with chores” post ever! I think the idea of a “power hour’ is inspired and the way you included your girls in setting the parameters and divvied up the chores is fantastic.

    1. Aww, thanks so much, Jessica! The older they get, the more important their “buy-in” and input has become, for sure. I just hope this keeps working for a long time to come! 🙂

  3. I find cleaning so much better when done together and the kids are so much more productive when I do it with them instead of just telling them to go clean X. You have so many great tips here, I think I’ll have to try a cleaning power hour with mine.

    1. Aww, I’m so glad you like them, Jamie! I agree, telling/asking them to do something instead of doing it WITH them is definitely not that effective most of the time. To this day, even though Kimmie can now reach the dishes and both girls can reach the utensils drawer, I still usually get everything out in a pile for them (4 plates, 4 forks, 4 napkins, etc.) so that it’s easier to set the table for whoever’s-turn-it-is…

  4. I think kids having chores is so important! I had mine doing chores pretty early, just having little jobs for them to do!


  5. This is awesome! Theres something about beating the clock that just motivates kids, huh? It works with my 4 year old all the time! Love the clothespins too!

    1. Aww, thanks Yesenia! Agreed, they do have this “thing” about racing the clock that works like nothing else – so we might as well exploit that, no? 🙂

    1. Haha! So true! Alas, I haven’t had a lot of luck in otherwise inspiring them to think it was “their idea”…

  6. I have a 6 and 8 yr old and we have a chore chart. If they do their daily chores, they get a check mark for the day and if they do it every day, we do something extra fun as a family. 🙂

    1. Another great idea, Jillian! So many families have tried charts like this and gotten great results – they have never worked for our girls before, but maybe we’ll try that next once they get tired of the jar 🙂

  7. This is a great solution for a common parenting challenge! Not only will your children learn important life skills (cleaning, overcoming obstacles, problem-solving, etc.), but you are laying the foundation to produce fruit you will reap when they are older. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Haha! Thanks for the vote of confidence, Ashley! I like to think all these things are true, but it’s often hard to forget them in the thick of it – so thanks for the reminder! 🙂

  8. Making our kids do some work is a great way of making them understand responsibility. They will learn various skills such as planning and executing.

    1. Haha! Glad you liked it! My mama even made us “Cleaning Power Hour” buttons – four total, including for my hubby – alas, his crazy teaching/work schedule often has him doing his cleaning at totally different times than the rest of us, but maybe with summer coming, we can all sync up better!

  9. This is such a fantastic idea! I have tried the “just one hour” approach, too, because I think my kids seem to think it takes ALL DAY, which it doesn’t. I love the idea of it being a team effort. That really helps. Darling chore jar, too! 🙂 #wanderingwednesday

    1. Aww, thanks Jennifer! I was pleased with how it turned out. And you’re right, if everyone pitches in and focuses on getting the job done instead of dragging their feet, it really doesn’t take that long!…

    1. Ooh, I love the dance break idea! Maybe I should suggest adding a celebratory dance party to the end of our cleaning time!!!

  10. I love the power hour idea. And, like Kimmie, I always listen to music when I am cleaning. We have Saturday as cleaning/yardwork day at our house. Luckily, my boys are young enough that they still think it’s fun to help clean and fight over who gets the best dust rag!

    1. I LOVE IT! – fighting over the best dust rag!!! For a little while, the girls did the same with floor-cleaning implements – alas, that passion has waned…

  11. These are such great ideas! I’ll admit, I really struggle with forcing my 5 year old to help pick up. Its always a battle! But I’m gonna try this with him!

    1. Haha – yeah, that’s a tough age. See my follow-up post to this one for some more ideas to try with that age!

  12. Great ideas! I make my kids clean 5 things everyday. They just need to find five things that need to be cleaned. It helps keep the house from getting out of control. I will have to add these ideas too!

    1. Ooh, I LOVE this idea! I may have to incorporate this daily hack into our weekly routine, esp. over the summer! Thanks for the super tip!!!

  13. That’s so clever! And I think the idea that the youngest doesn’t always get the worst job (as was the case in our house lol!) is great. PS: Even as adults, music helps during our cleaning time 🙂

    1. Absolutely re: the music! As long as it’s not the same two covers of pop songs by the Chipettes (think a girl version of Alvin and the Chipmunks) over and over and over! That was what we had for our first CPH, and we all agreed that a better playlist was in order, but Mama and the girls have yet to work on this 🙁 …

  14. I LOVE these ideas so much. What a great way to motivate kids and make cleaning more fun. I am going to have to steal some of these ideas.

  15. Trần Quốc Hưng

    You are such a clever mom! With the way to apply cool gadgets in household chores and teach your children how to do houseworks, you absolutely blow my mind! Thanks for sharing

    1. Aww, thanks, Gigi! You’re right, the “mystery” aspect of what one will get takes away some of the horror of the least-favorite jobs. 🙂

    1. You know, you’re right – the idea of time-blocking our cleaning to a single hour has TOTALLY motivated me as well (an unexpected side effect that I had not thought of til now!) Maybe I should apply this principle (duh!) to my larger house-cleaning projects, too!…

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