How to Get Kids to Do Chores (Without Reminders!)

Wondering how to get kids to do chores without nagging? Learn why rewards and punishment don’t work—and the 9 strategies that do.

How to Get Kids to Do Chores“I’ll do it later,” my son reassured me.

I had told him, for what seemed like the millionth time, to put his lunch stuff away. After all, food can only stay not-too-gross in a container for so long. I was also determined not to do chores and tasks I knew he could do perfectly well on his own.

Except, despite his reassurances and the million reminders, the lunch items never made it to the sink. Instead, they sat in his bag the whole weekend, stench and everything.

I know better than to expect perfection from my kids. But I also understand the frustration of having to ask so many times before they do their chores or reminding them of the next steps they should know by now.

Thankfully, over the years, I’ve learned how to communicate with them in a way that takes the nagging and power struggles out of the picture. To the point where I don’t even have to tell them what to do—or when I do, there’s little whining about it.

So, how can you get your kids to get chores done without the constant reminders? Take a look at these tips. As you’ll see, it’s less about punishments and rewards and more about changing how you communicate with them in the first place:

1. Make chores a requirement before the next activity

Every night, the kids get to watch half an hour of television—but that can only happen once they spend a few minutes tidying up. They also know that after every meal, they usually eat fruit, but only after they’ve placed their dishes in the sink.

By making a task a requirement before moving on to fun things, chores simply become a necessary part of the day.

The best way to do this is to tie the chore to the activity. For instance, if your kids want to play a game of chase around the house, they’ll need to clear the floor of all the Lego pieces they just played with.

The incentive doesn’t even have to feel like a “reward,” but a logical sequence of events. When they get home, they first need to put their shoes and jackets in their proper places before stepping beyond the front hall.

Free printables: You can also grab these FREE Printable Chore List templates to help you and your kids organize chores! Join my newsletter and get them below—at no cost to you:

Printable Chore Lists

2. Describe the positive consequences of doing the chores

Many parents make the mistake of focusing on the drudgery of the chore:

“It’ll only take a minute.”

“You need to do this by tomorrow.”

“Don’t forget to take out the trash.”

Not only does this paint a negative picture, but it also misses a more effective opportunity: talking about the good things that happen because of doing these tasks.

For instance, your child packing her school bag the night before means she won’t feel rushed the next morning. Taking her bath quickly—instead of dragging her feet—means she can have more time to read and play after she’s done.

Remind her of the positive consequences of doing the chore well and on time—this shift can be a better motivator than focusing on the drudgery of it.

3. Let the negative consequences teach a lesson

Many of us feel compelled to save our kids from the consequences of not getting their chores done. We relent and fold their laundry or make their beds when we’re at our wit’s end. Plus, we know they need clean clothes and sleep better with a made bed.

But I’ve learned that we’re doing them a disservice by picking up after them. You see, one of the best ways to teach the importance of doing chores is to let your child experience the consequence of not getting them done.

For the longest time, I kept reminding my son to remember to bring his school library book—sometimes I’d even pack the book for him. But then I realized that if I weren’t there to remind him, he’d never learn how to come up with his own ways of remembering himself.

So, one day, even though I knew the library book was due, even when I could even see it right there on the coffee table… I didn’t say anything.

Instead, I waited to hear what had happened at school pick-up. “I forgot my library book,” he admitted. “I wasn’t able to borrow a new one this week.”

“What do you think would help you remember next time?” I asked.

“I’ll just put the book in my bag now so I can bring it to school tomorrow,” he responded. “And I’ll write myself a reminder on the white board to bring it on Mondays.”

That conversation wouldn’t have happened if I continued to remind him or even pack his library book for him. By experiencing the consequences, he saw the importance of the task and felt the need to come up with a solution.

Get more tips on how to follow through with consequences.

Follow Through with Consequences

4. Do the chores in the same order

Everything we do is based on habits. Think about your morning routine and how similar it is to every morning. You likely do the same things in the same order and at the same time. No matter how exhausted you are, you still wash your face and brush your teeth—all because of habits.

The same can be true for your kids and chores.

Let’s say you’re tired of reminding them what to do once they get home from school. Start walking them through exactly what to do, keeping the tasks in the same order. For instance, your after-school routine can be:

  • Remove shoes, jackets, and backpacks, and place them on the shoe rack and coat hanger
  • Wash hands
  • Eat a snack
  • Finish homework
  • Play

As you guide your kids through these activities in the same order every day, they’re more likely to do these tasks on their own. The consistent repetition “triggers” them into doing the next sequential task. Removing their shoes prompts them to put them in the shoe rack.

You can even write a list they can see to show which order they should do the tasks. It serves as a convenient checklist to make sure they did everything they needed to.

5. Set a deadline for the chores to get done

Have you heard of “Parkinson’s law”? It means that “…work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”

This explains why, given three weeks to pack your suitcase before a trip, you’ll take exactly that long. But if you had 45 minutes before the taxi pulls up to take you to the airport, you’ll still pack the same items even if you had far less time.

So, how does this relate to chores? Give your kids a deadline for when they should finish it. Otherwise, “someday” can turn into exactly that—a vague time in the future that will likely mean the chore remains undone.

Instead, give specific deadlines, whether it’s to clear the table right after dinner or to get homework done before television time. If they have longer-term chores like laundry once a week or sweeping the floor once a month, mark it on a calendar.

Deadlines, despite their seeming restrictions, actually free them from having to hem and haw about whether to do a chore or not.

6. Be consistent

Want your kids to take you seriously? Start by being consistent with what you say.

When you flip flop between rules (one day they have to clean up, but the next day not, for instance), they stop taking you for your word.

This is especially true when you don’t follow through with consequences. Threatening less screen time for not putting their clothes away means you have to actually cut screen time short. Yep, even if they whine, throw tantrums, and hurl mean words.

But beneath the meltdowns, consistency is exactly what they need. It provides the limits that give them enough space to explore while also reining them in from feeling overwhelmed.

7. Praise your kids

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You can certainly change your kids’ behavior by correcting what went wrong. But an easier way is through positive reinforcement. Praise them when they’re doing things you want them to continue doing.

You might be thinking, There’s nothing to praise—they hardly do chores! But find even the smallest things to praise, and the most amazing thing happens: they start to do them more often.

Praise them for keeping their plates clean, making their beds, or for showing a sense of responsibility. Acknowledge the fact that they remembered to do their homework or set out their pajamas, even if it happened out of the blue.

Lastly, praise them for who they’re being, rather than what they’re doing. According to author Adam Alter in his book, Anatomy of a Breakthrough:

“Kids aged three to six years are more likely to help an adult when they think of themselves as ‘being a helper’ rather than merely ‘helping.'”

They feel good for being recognized, which is a better motivator for doing chores than being nagged.

Read these children’s books about positive behavior.

Children's books about positive behavior

8. Give autonomy

Imagine someone micromanaging every move you make and correcting all your mistakes. Even worse, they redo what you had just done because it wasn’t up to their standards.

Unfortunately, we tend to dictate exactly how chores should be done rather than giving our kids more autonomy.

Yes, guide your kids on how to wash the dishes, but this is when you need to pick your battles and decide what needs to be corrected. They didn’t wash all the soapsuds from the plate? Yes, that needs to be pointed out. Did they put the plate on the other end of the dish rack? Let it go.

The more autonomy they have, the more willingly they can do them moving forward.

9. Make chores something to be expected, not rewarded

Stars, stickers, allowance… many parents reward kids for chores, whether for daily tasks or out of the ordinary ones.

Here’s where I differ: I think we shouldn’t reward kids for doing chores, even special ones.

Why? For one thing, doing chores is part of being a family. Imagine how family members of generations past handled chores—they simply expected kids to pitch in once they were able to.

And second, don’t think of chores as “punishment” or even something to negotiate with. Instead, think of them as life skills. Our job is to prepare them to thrive in adulthood, and that includes learning how to be self-sufficient.

You can even change the way you talk about chores and turn them into necessary life skills. For instance, say, “That way, when you’re older, you’ll know how to pour your own cereal.” In other words, chores don’t have to be dreadful so much as helpful to their future selves.

10. Don’t critique your child’s attempts

My eldest liked to set the table, but he didn’t always do it the “right way.” He’d set a cup right on top of a napkin, which, for his toddler twin brothers, could easily mean a spilled drink.

Other times, they might would by putting toys away or dusting with a rag. Except it’s all too easy to compare their work with mine. I know just how to stack toys and spray surfaces, and it’s tempting to point out how they fall short.

But a constant barrage of critiques can make kids less likely to take the initiative next time. They might stop trying because they believe they’re incapable of doing these tasks.

Even if she makes a mess or does things in a less efficient way, don’t send your child away or stop her progress. And don’t re-do her work or tell her you’ll just “do it myself.”

Instead, appreciate her effort and initiative. You can still suggest or correct, but do so in a loving and grateful way. Focus less on the end result (a clean countertop) and more on the learning that’s taking place.

She can take the initiative because she likes feeling responsible, and it’s this attitude that can help her make good decisions. Constant critiques might make her second-guess her choices and even steer her away from making the right ones in the future.


For many parents, learning how to get kids to do chores is a challenge. But as you’ve seen, you can have more luck getting yours to do chores when you change the way you see and talk about them.

Start by making certain chores a requirement before they’re able to move on to the next activity. Highlight the positive consequences that happen because those chores are done. If they still refuse, don’t save them from the consequences but rather allow them to learn from the experience.

Have them do chores in the same order so these tasks become automatic habits. Set a deadline, from a timer to a date marked on a calendar, for when these chores need to be done. Be consistent with the rules and responsibilities of chores as well as the consequences for what happens when they’re not done.

Praise them for their positive behavior so they feel a sense of accomplishment and are more motivated to keep going. Make sure they have enough autonomy to decide how to do the chores, especially when it makes little difference in getting the job done.

And finally, think of chores less as something to be rewarded but expected. They’re part of the family and should pitch in just as you do. As I say in my book, 31 Days to Better Parenting:

“We all need to try, fail and learn throughout our lives. Kids need the opportunity to practice during childhood—when the stakes aren’t so high. Forgetting to finish homework is one thing. Forgetting to complete a job application is another. By not teaching kids responsibility, we’re not doing our primary job: raising future adults.”

My kids won’t always have a perfect record when it comes to chores. But with these tips, I usually don’t have to constantly remind them. They know chores are simply a part of family life—including putting their lunch items in the sink.

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  1. So, this article came up from a random search… But #1 & 3. Everything I’ve read basically says the same thing… Let the kids experience natural consequences of not getting things done and do chores before next activity. But I’m still so lost. Example: The kid is expected to deal with their dishes after a meal. If I don’t remind, she doesn’t care a bit that the dish isn’t washed and goes on to the next thing (and what’s the consequence, a dirty dish at your place next meal? Big deal, toss it in the sink then). Most of the time
    she also isn’t bothered by having to stop and come back to wash the dish either. But I am OVER having to remind or call her back. What am I missing?

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Hi there! In the beginning when you’re setting rules and helping her get in the habit, you’ll probably remind her to do it a few times. Just as we need to get used to doing things regularly, she’ll need some help remembering to put her dishes away after the meal.

      If either of you forget, and she moves onto the next thing, have her stop what she’s doing and put her dish away. Or yes, leave the dish there, then when it’s time to snack or even move onto the next activity, have her put her dish away first before she gets to have a snack or do the next thing.

      Hopefully with enough repetition and consistency, putting her dish away after meals will become so regular and automatic. But in those first few times when you’re still setting the rules, she’ll probably need your help reminding her before she can do it on her own.