Raising kids who do the dishes…without being asked

Written by Monica Swanson
Published on February 24, 2023

Wait. Did you read that title correctly? Is this simple little blog post actually going to give you a step-by-step formula for getting your kids to do a least favorite chore willingly? And if it is truly possible to raise kids who help around the house of their own volition, why isn’t everyone doing it? This may be cause for suspicion.

Great questions. And, yes, valid suspicions!  

So, I’ll answer with a yes. And a no.

Yes, I will give you what I have found to be the greatest keys to raising kids who really will do the dishes (or any household task) without being asked. 

But no, I will not offer any guarantees. 

Life is complicated.
We live in a fallen world.
Kids have a free will. 

However—even with all of those realities in mind, I will suggest that if you practice the steps I am about to share with you consistently, you’ve got a really good chance of raising kids who help out at home willingly.  Dare I say, even gladly! 

Results may not be guaranteed, but they are very likely.

So, let’s dive in with three steps for raising kids who will (eventually) do the dishes without being asked:

1. Find a chore system that works for your family.

This sounds simple enough, but this first step can be challenging. I tried many chore systems when my boys were young and nearly gave up on the idea we would ever be a “chore” kind of family. “Maybe this just won’t work for us,” I lamented more than once. My boys didn’t seem to care if the house was a mess or not, how could I ever motivate them to help? But I also realized if I wanted any hope for homeschooling four sons and having a clean home, I needed their help. I didn’t want to give up!

Eventually I chose the things I liked about a few different chore systems we had tried (and failed), then created my own system. And lo and behold, it worked. I kept it simple and stuck with it. For years. In fact, though we are down to two kids ten + years later, we still use the same chore system. (Find my system here, though be aware, it’s not fancy!)

The system you use is not as important as simply doing something and sticking with it. 

2. Make sure there are consequences lined up if kids neglect to do their chores. 

All kids are likely to find opportunities to slack. (Don’t we all?) As parents, we need to be clear on how to properly perform each chore, and a timeline to get them done. There are certainly times for grace, but if you have a child who regularly resists or slacks in their chores, be sure they know there will be a consequence. 

In the book Boundaries with Kids Cloud and Townsend say, “We change when the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of changing. And consequences motivate us to make that change.”  

For example, if kids neglect to do the dishes on their dish day, the next day you can ask them to not only do the dishes, but their sibling’s chore as well (garbage, laundry, etc.). Or you can ask for a deeper cleaning of the kitchen the following day. Use consequences to your advantage. They are very effective. 

3. Frame household duties as a team effort.

When kids know their work is part of a bigger picture, it can be a true perspective changer. It helps to speak positively about chores, appreciating each child’s work. Try to comment on how much you appreciate a clean kitchen, dusted furniture, or the trash being taken out in a timely manner. Also, when kids are depending on one another to keep things running smoothly, some positive peer pressure can play a helpful role.

I like to encourage my kids by reminding them they are pleasing not only their parents, but the Lord when they do good work. I often quote Colossians 3:23 to my boys, “Whatever you do in word or deed do it all as if working for the Lord, not for men.” Also, consider the environment. Playing good music or listening to an audio story can make housework a lot more fun.

When we have company for dinner, we tell the boys beforehand that we look forward to them clearing our plates and beginning to do the dishes while the adults finish their meal and enjoy some conversation. And when they do, we gush about what a blessing it was to enjoy our company around the table because of their service.

Over time, our boys have grown to value a tidy house. They will intuitively clean up throughout the day and are aware of how things look before guests arrive.

Is it really this simple?

When it comes to anything related to character (and chores absolutely relate to character), I will never say it is simple. I will also say, as much as I love a clean kitchen, what I really want is to raise kids whose hearts are clean. A child who grows up to see all the work they do as unto the Lord is the true goal, a 3-step plan will not get them there.
In my new book, Raising Amazing: Bringing up Kids who Love God, Like their Family, and Do the Dishes Without Being Asked, I take a deeper look at the heart of character. I share steps we can take to lead a child into a relationship with Jesus and how good character will be a “fruit” of that relationship. I also get practical about training kids by using chores and other disciplines in the home. Because sometimes, while hauling a full bag of trash to the bin or scrubbing last night’s lasagna off a pan, God is working in a child’s heart in a most significant way. 

If you’re hoping to raise kids to be helpful and considerate, begin by focusing on their heart. Pray for their character. Then consistently give them work to do in a teamwork environment. 

I hope you’ll let me know when you “catch” your child happily humming a tune over a sink full of dishes!

Adapted from Raising Amazing: Bringing Up Kids Who Love God, Like Their Family, and Do the Dishes without Being Asked by Monica Swanson

Consider a few extra resources:

Three reasons your kid might be treating you disrespectfully

Summer traditions: Teaching our children to pray for the world

Helping your children make time with God a daily habit

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Monica Swanson

Monica and her husband Dave raise boys and tropical fruit on the North Shore of Oahu.  Monica has homeschooled their four sons (two who are currently in Southern California, one in college, one a recent college grad!)  Monica is the author of Raising Amazing: Bringing up Kids Who Love God, Like their Family, and Do the Dishes without Being Asked (released this week!) as well as  Boy Mom: What Your Son Needs Most from You, and host of the Monica Swanson Podcast. Monica has been blogging for over 12 years and has encouraged over 10 million visitors to her website with articles on parenting and family, healthy living, and (mostly) healthy recipes. The Swanson boys are all surfers, (Luke, who is 19, surfs professionally) which keeps Monica on her knees. Monica loves good coffee, running trails with her husband and dog, Thor, the Word of God, and connecting with women all over the world through the crazy gift of the internet.

Read more about Monica

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