Kids and Housework: The Timer Trick!

I have tried lots of things. Chore lists, room assignments, rewards, punishments, reading volumes about mice-monks-in-battles while they sort a mountain of laundry…

But housework- and getting the kids to help with it- has been a constant struggle!

That’s why I’m here, today, to give you a little help, no matter hold old your kids are! 

Kids and Housework: The Timer Trick

You start with a timer. 

If your kids are very young, or if they’ve never cleaned anything ever because you were titled aristocracy who recently got disinherited and kicked out of your Austen novel, you set the timer for 5-10 minutes, and say, in your most Snow-Whitey voice,

“Come on, everybody! We’re going to clean up for just a few minutes, until the timer goes! Let’s start with the toy room!”

And then for just those minutes, with all the children, you start cleaning one room, and giving them directions, one task at a time. It’s a little frantic and busy, but it goes something like this:

Abishai, get those two socks and run them to the laundry and come right back, okay? Aurelia, I want you to scoop all the barbie things and put them in this tub. Don’t forget those little pink high heels! Aang, come help sissy with the dolls! Okay, Abishai, now I want you to collect as many sippy cups as you can carry and take them to the sink. Good job, girls! Now let’s get all the books. Can you get that big one right there?” 

Meanwhile, you’re sweeping, picking up the heavy things, and pocketing things like batteries and coins that you find.

All ages can do this. Seriously. If they can squat their chubby little legs down to pick up a beetle to stuff into their mouths, they can pick up that ginormous football of a wet diaper and waddle it over to the trash. And believe me, they will feel like a hero when they’ve done it, and you kiss their little mouth for doing it. (After you wipe off that beetle wing.)

If you’re upbeat, and working alongside them, and praise their efforts, they will help! 

You’re going to have to turn off the videos or tablets or anything distracting like that, BUT… It’s fun sometimes to turn on an upbeat playlist of music! We’ve used veggie tales, the electronic slide, the Annie soundtrack, and at Christmas I make a special “Fun” Christmas list with the Ronettes version of Rudolph and the Hippopotamus song.

As they get older, you can set the timer for longer, and give them jobs that take a little longer. The more they’re used to it, the more you’ve trained them in tasks, the larger the assignment can be.

With my children ages 7-10, I often gave them each one of the downstairs rooms in the house (me, too, usually the worst one, the kitchen) and said, “Okay! I’m setting the timer for 15 minutes! Let’s each clean our rooms as clean as we can get them!”

And then we turn on Tobymac as loud as the speakers will go, and go for it!

There’s something about the facts that I’m also cleaning, and we have a limited time, that help motivate everyone.

But you know what? My children are getting older, and sometimes I need other things done- like the upstairs bathroom. Or hanging a load of laundry, or wiping the baseboards. Things that aren’t contained in one room.

The timer works for chore lists, too.

See… here’s a secret: I personally don’t do all my chores every day. I don’t have time! I go to bed with the dishes washed 95% of the time… but if they don’t get done at night, there’s no one docking my pay or grounding me… I just know I have to do them in the morning. It’s called Adulting.

And now that my children are getting older, I have to move out of a task-master mindset and move into teaching them how to manage their own responsibilities.

And honestly? I, personally, get discouraged when I break the chain… If I tell myself I’m going to clean the sink every morning, and I miss a morning, it destroys my motivation! … I want my children to not be so easily discouraged. I want them to have regular, moderate, healthy habits. I want them to Adult like crazy good. Way better than me.

So I’ve moved to a flexible chore chart/timer system, to help me them do that.

Here’s how it works. 

  1. Make a chore list. Make sure each task is clearly understood, and that each child clearly understands what is expected of them personally. Don’t ask too much of them, but at the same time- don’t forget that they’re part of the family team, capable of contributing to the upkeep of their own house.
  2. To begin the system, choose a time when all chores will be done at the same time. There could be a morning time and an afternoon time, or even three if you cut them shorter, such as after every meal.
  3. Set the timer for a reasonable length of time. In my experience, kids probably shouldn’t be doing housekeeping for much more than 1 hour every day, all together. Even older kids. (Unless it’s a special Spring Cleaning day or something, or the day before Christmas guests arrive!)
  4. Everyone, all at the same time, works on their list for that length of time. As they get older you could modify this… but in the beginning, it helps to all be working, to motivate each other and give some accountability so someone doesn’t get distracted reading a library book or modifying their spotify playlist. *coughMEcough*
  5. When the timer rings… STOP!
  6. That’s it! Everything on the list that didn’t get done gets starred for the next day. On the following day, the list is started with the starred items. (Some tasks, like making the bed, having a permanent star. But only 1-2 things should be every day things.)

If, by some timey-wimey miracle, someone finishes their ENTIRE list before the timer goes, I do one of two things: Either I, respectfully, ask them to help another person with their tasks, or give them a deep-cleaning task that doesn’t normally get done, OR I praise them for their efficiency and let them go early! It really depends on the day and the child. I don’t like to over burden them, but honestly, sometimes we have guests coming and I have to ask more of them as a member of the family team.

It actually happens fairly often that the timer beeps and one or more of us will have about one more task to do, and we’ll do it anyway. Or I’ll have an additional chore that was not on the list, and I’ll ask, politely, for one of my children to please do it as a favor to me. I don’t whine, I make it obvious that I’m asking them and that I appreciate them for agreeing to do it.

Sometimes you’ll notice, later in the day, that there’s something that needs attention in someone’s list. They aren’t wiping behind the faucet or they’re shoving toys behind the TV. These things can be addressed and noted at the bottom of the list.

You might notice that their list is too long, or too short, or you need to move a task to someone else’s list who is more willing or able. As a parent, you have the right to make changes. If they fuss, be gentle but firm. Sometimes kids get the idea that every time you make a change, they are allowed to accuse you of “breaking your promises.” They say, “But you said!” Or act as if you are being unfair. The only thing to do in that case is to be firm but gentle. You have the right, as manager, to make changes that work for your family, even if someone is initially unhappy. But the softer you are, the easier it will be.

At the same time, don’t return whining with whining. You do NOT need to convince a child to stop whining or complaining or fussing with reason. You can just gently but firmly remind the child that you love them, and that your decision is final. A child doesn’t have to understand everything all the time. If he does, that’s great! But sometimes they just have to trust that you love them, and you know better than them. 🙂 It’s good for them. But that’s a whole other post.

So what do you think? Would a timer help you out? We use the oven timer, or, but a tomato timer would be cute, and almost every cell phone has a timer app.

Try it out and let me see! I hope this helps you as much as it helped me!




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s