How to Motivate Kids to Clean


I can still hear my mom repeating, “I’m not the maid.”

I’m sorry your words didn’t motivate me to clean in my younger years. I kept my room tidy, but I didn’t help with general house work. And I don’t think I did a load of laundry until I started buying my own clothes!

The light bulb moment came when I had kids of my own. How quickly I realized my workload is greater when there are more people making messes.

I want to whine and complain, but I take a deep breath. And I remember the Liberating Choice: I don’t have to do it all. If only it is that simple. How will I ever have a clean house and not do it all?

After a year of begging and prodding my kids, I’ve found a system that works to motivate both of my kids to help clean house! I’m going to share 4 steps to help you design a motivational system that works for you and your family.

Step 1: Identify what motivates your kids.

  • Independent Decision Making
  • Quality Time with Mom or Dad
  • Money in Their Wallet
  • Special Treats and Outings
  • The Joy of Hard Work

I imagine it’s not the latter, but you probably have an idea of what motivates your kids to work hard.

Step 2: Define what your child can realistically do on their own (after a brief “training” period).

  • Put away their toys
  • Dust furniture
  • Vacuum
  • Put away clean laundry
  • Sort dirty laundry
  • Make their bed
  • Empty trash cans

I’m a firm believer in starting this early. There will be less resentment built up in you, and less surprise for your kids when you no longer do everything for them. It’s your turn to decide what you no longer want to do.

Step 3: Decide what you are willing to give them in exchange for their hard work.

While I’m not willing to pay my kids for every responsible behavior, I am willing to pay them for some cleaning jobs. I decide the wage, and only pay them when the job is done.

Step 4: Hang on through the training period.

Once you find a motivational system you like, hang onto it through the training period. Even if the system is something they will enjoy earning, they are likely to complain or try to get out of doing their jobs.

I leave the job completion in their laps, while fighting off the urge to beg them to complete the work. What boss wants to pay their workers after begging them to work? Not me! I remind them once, they get paid or they don’t.

Developmental Ideas on Motivating Kids to Help Clean:

And after the training-complaining period, I realized I’d found two motivational systems that can I change as my kids grow. Here they are:

Elementary Age Child: My 7 year old earns .25 to .50 cents per job. She gets paid once a week. On pay day, she decides how much she wants to save and how much she wants to give away. In the beginning, she paid a fine if she refused to do her jobs, but now she does them with minimal whining.

Preschool Age Child: My 4 year old earns one “mom dollar” per job. He can buy items from the mommy store, depending on how many dollars he has saved. I’ve revised the store prices and offerings as needed, but it includes computer time, frozen yogurt, card games, dollar store, and special dates.

My youngest wasn’t motivated by real money. He had no idea what to do with it, and is much more interested in earning special treats and play time. While my daughter, takes pride in buying things for herself, her friends, and donating money. This is what works for us.

And this is my story of how I haven’t become a maid in my own house. While whining and frustration occurs, I mostly appreciate their effort and my not having to do it all.

What liberating choices have you made in your house lately? What helps you stick to these choices?


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Photo Credit: “Broken Candy Bracelet” by Pink Sherbert Photography

4 responses to “How to Motivate Kids to Clean

  1. Wow! Mom dollars seems as an excellent way of learning your kids about money, how it’s made and how it’s managed. I always considered this too abstract for such small children but it’s worth a try.

    • Andrej, You can put your photo on the dollars and print your own from home! My kids did learn how to count, save, and do basic math. That wasn’t my intention, but was an added bonus.

  2. So at what age did you start doing this?

    • I’m pretty sure we started having the put toys where they belong as soon as they could – age 2?

      We didn’t introduce the mom dollars until age 3. I used photos for the “mom store,” since they can’t read. And, then I starting using real money at age 6.

      I say whatever works and realistic for your child. Our “systems” have evolved and changed over time. It has been just as important to design a great system as it has been to control my frustration. Continuing to let the system speak, instead of me doing all the work (even if that means parents working on less reminding/begging/yelling).Hope that helps!