How to: Get Out of Doing the Dishes (Chores for Children)

My mom has an older woman who comes to her house monthly to help her clean and organize things. She has worked for my mom for many years, since I was around age 12, I think, so I know her quite well. She has 5 children of her own and many grandchildren and I have the ultimate respect for her.

We were eating lunch together a while ago and I asked her what the most important thing is that I should teach my children (meaning a skill or habit, not a moral lesson). She told me I should teach them that everything has a place, and to never leave things out of their place. Dirty laundry doesn’t go on the floor – it’s place is the hamper, and dirty dishes don’t go in or beside the sink – they go in the dishwasher. Shoes have a place, toys have a place, and books have a place. Everything has a place.

I took what she said to heart, because I know I personally have a problem returning things to their proper place sometimes, and I don’t want my children to develop that bad habit. So for the past few months, we have really been working on always putting things where they belong. Vera (3.5) and Abel (almost 2) have now become accustomed to the new way of things – they are expected to always put their clothes in the hamper immediately after taking them off. They bring their dishes to the sink and help me load them into the dishwasher instead of leaving them on the table, they put their clean, folded clothes away in the proper drawers, and they can mostly independently put their toys in the correct places for them. Abel requires more prodding than Vera, but I am surprised at how much of this has become routine for them.

Still, something wasn’t right. I was impressed by their ability to now put things away instead of leaving them strewn across the house, but I still found myself doing all the household chores myself. I figured they were incapable of actually folding the laundry, of mopping the floor, or of cleaning the bathrooms, so I did those things myself. And not only did I do those things myself, but I discouraged their desire to help by showing irritation when they came in the bathroom I was cleaning, pulled clean clothes out of the laundry basket, or walked over my newly mopped floors. I sent them my message loud and clear:


I had read something from John Rosemond a while ago about the importance of teaching children to do chores because it’s their responsibility as a member of the family as opposed to providing some tangible incentive (an allowance or a reward). This made sense to me and I agreed, but the time in which my kids would be able to start contributing in terms of chores seemed far off, so I made no changes to my daily routine. I continued to save the “big chores” for times that the kids were otherwise occupied (like during naptime or when they were playing outside).

Abel helping sort the laundry

Then something clicked for me right after I had the twins. Our daily routine dramatically shifted because we needed to be at home a lot more. I realized I needed some more structure to our mornings or the big kids would be going bonkers by lunch time, so I started to think of some activities they could do. Not being one to find joy in researching/setting up/cleaning up art or learning activities that better moms post on pinterest, I decided to just teach them how to do whatever I was doing. And SURPRISE! They could actually do it. Who knew a 3 year old can push a heavy vacuum over all the wood floors or sort/fold/put away all the socks from a laundry load? A one year old can clean windows, wipe chairs, and carry in water bottles that accumulated in the car. I was shocked not only by their capability to do certain new tasks, but their eagerness to do them!

It is not always convenient – most times it would be faster for me to do the chores myself, but they are valuable lessons for them to learn, and honestly, we have fun doing it (mostly). We turn on the music and talk, dance, and sing as we’re doing the work. Some tasks we do together and others they are able to do completely on their own. They have learned so much in such a short period of time that I am absolutely convinced that by the time they are 10 years old, I will have no chores left to do myself. I will finally be the stay at home mom everyone dreams of being: sitting on the couch watching TV, eating bon bons while my kids whip the house into shape around me. There will come a time that I will never have to wash a dish, bring up the trash cans, or unload the groceries. And the time is NEAR (well, relatively).

I encourage you to do the same thing with your children. You don’t have to create a chore chart or schedule out chore-time. Just start letting them help you! Show them how a job is done and encourage them as they work at it. Make the process light and fun, but also teach them how doing the work is a necessary part of being in the family – that their contribution is not only required but important and valued. I think your kids will come to like chore time as much as mine do!

Here is a list of the things my kids can do right now. Eight months ago they were doing almost nothing other than putting their toys away after playing, so clearly kids learn these things quickly. Don’t limit yourself to my list – there are TONS of other, more comprehensive lists online. Do whatever works for you! The starred items require me to be there to help them but the others they can do themselves (not a perfect job, but good enough).

Help separate clothing into different loads*
Put laundry in washer with soap
Move laundry from washer to dryer*
Pull laundry from dryer into hamper
Help fold clean laundry*
Match, fold, and put away socks
Put away folded clothing in correct drawers

Set table
Clear table after meal
Wipe table with wet washcloth
Hand-mop floor under table with cleaner and papertowels
Pick up food under table
Put dishes in dishwasher* (I wash them off and they put in dishwasher)
Put soap in and start dishwasher
Dry clean dishes and organize on counter by type (plates, bowls, etc.)
Put away silverware

General Cleaning:
Vacuum wood floors
Clean low windows
Wipe bathroom counters
Pick up toys/shoes/books/etc. and put away
Bring things in from car (water bottles, shoes, etc.)
Empty bathroom trashcans
Wash chalkboard wall

Make bed
Put toys away
Stack books
Put dirty clothes in hamper

This is just the beginning! The list is expanding as they learn new tasks. Thank God for children; I always wanted someone to do my dishes!

**After I wrote this post I stumbled upon this post by Babywise superhero, Val. I love her step by step instructions on getting kids to be able to actually do the chores themselves. Read it here!**




8 thoughts on “How to: Get Out of Doing the Dishes (Chores for Children)

  1. I love this! Funny timing because I just had Ben take clothes out of dryer today and then put wet clothes into the dryer. It’s amazing how “fun” he thinks this is. I’m going to have him clean the kitchen floor after nap time!


    • Yeah – the only problem I have with them doing the cleaning (like the vacuuming) is that it means sometimes I have to put a cleaning project on hold when I really want to have it done during nap time. For example right now I have two loads of laundry to fold and I’m torn between doing it now (naptime) or walking by the overflowing basket 30 more times for the next 2 hours until they are awake and can help me do it.


  2. Megan is basically the chore Mom and Rachel is the “fun Pinterist mom, even coloring rice for her kids to throw around the house! Not something a Mom of 4 with newborn twins should do!
    But she is learning from you Ashley. She sent video of Ben folding his shirts today and putting them into his drawer. His folding ability is pretty impressive. I didn’t see Lauren on the video…I think she was cleaning the bathrooms!


    • I saw that video too – I think Ben is uniquely gifted in that area. I don’t even fold shirts that nicely! And I told Rachel her colored rice was ridiculous and she still insists it’s the easiest thing. She must have a powerful and light weight vacuum that she thoroughly enjoys pushing around.


  3. […] Last, I try to involve my kids in the cleaning tasks as much as I can without going completely insane. Mostly I try to find things they can do to help without getting in my way. For example, on floor day, I give them both a broom and have them sweep crumbs into piles before I vacuum them up. This is not actually helpful because I’m going to vacuum the whole floor either way, but it gives them practice in sweeping. Some day they will be able to sweep well enough to do the job themselves. On laundry day they help me sort the clothes, fold the clothes, and put them away (yes, a 3 year old can put away her own clothes INCLUDING things that get hung up). For more ideas of what chores young kids can do, click here. […]


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