How to Get Kids to Work Together

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on March 02, 2021
4 min read

Getting kids to work together can seem like a daunting task. Every family is a team that should work together for everyone's benefit, and that includes chores. Sometimes, the pushback against work is so great that a parent throws up their hands and does it alone.

Human nature likes having fun more than doing work, and your kids are small humans. They might not want to clean up, but habits are formed by repeated behavior. As adults, your kids will need to make good decisions, and good decisions are linked to responsibility. Chores, therefore, can be used to form habits that teach kids responsibility and make family life better at the same time. 

Building a family team takes communication and fun. Working together can make jobs easier and allows everyone to share the joy of a job well done. Never underestimate what your kids can do. Even a toddler can put away toys, and with every year your kids gain abilities and knowledge. In letting them help, you teach them that they matter and that they're capable. 

By seeing your family as a team, you can teach kids about cooperation, listening, self-esteem, and leadership. If these seem like lofty goals for tidying up the house, realize that you as a parent are teaching them how to do household tasks. Your kids have to listen to instructions, work together on whatever job they are assigned, and feel proud of their work. Sometimes you're the team leader, but you can also make your child the leader. Being put in charge of tidying the playroom can help with self-confidence.

Since chores need to be done and you want kids to help, you’ll need to lighten things up a bit. Music always improves the mood, so take turns choosing the tunes. Make a game out of chores and see how clean the house can get in one hour. Write jobs on slips to be picked randomly. Plan an outing after the work is done. A visit to the playground, an ice cream cone, or a family movie for a job well done can inspire kids to help. 

As parents, sometimes composure wears thin. Snapping at your kids or nagging them to get chores done can feel natural, and it is. While it’s normal to lose patience and get angry when frustrated, humor can often be more effective. Anger from parents often leads to kids that resist all the more, but using humor gets rid of tension and turns the tone towards cooperation. 

Letting a stuffed animal give out the orders in a joking tone or pretending you're being held captive on a pirate ship till the kitchen is clean can do wonders. You wouldn’t like your boss barking orders at you, but you might work harder when he acts as part of the team. The same goes for your kids.

Will your kids do as thorough a job as you would? Probably not. Remember that cleaning is a skill, not something we're born knowing how to do. It takes practice, and kids don’t have the same abilities adults do. The important part is that you keep them wanting to help and encourage their efforts. If you’re patient, their skills will improve over time.

Going step by step with each job helps. If you tell your child to clean his room and he sees clothes everywhere and toys in heaps, he may not know where to start. Instead, one job can be putting dirty clothes in the hamper. The next job is putting clean clothes in the drawer. Another might be finding all the Legos to put them in a bin and then to gather stuffed animals or toy cars. Kids working together as a team could get that room into shape even faster.

The great news about teaching toddlers to work together is that they want to cooperate. They love to feel competent and independent, so you can use that to your advantage to balance out the fact that overall they're less help with actual cleaning.

Young kids are sensitive to tones and attitudes, but there are several ways to use that to help cooperation along, including: 

  • Telling them why. Toddlers love to ask “Why?” so take advantage of that curiosity! Tell them how toys can get broken if they’re all over the floor.
  • Describe your feelings. Toddlers are learning about the world, so tell them how good a clean house makes you feel.
  • Give choices. Toddlers love to choose, so offer chore time now or after lunch.
  • Make it playful. Just like with older kids, using music, humor, or timing cleanup can turn it into a game.
  • Give thanks and encouragement. Toddlers love approval, so telling them what a great job they did, giving hugs, or offering to read a story now that the toys are picked up goes a long way.

Turning your family into a team that works together takes consistency. Sometimes it will seem like a lot of effort for a little help, but if you teach your kids what they need to know and praise them for a job well done, your family team will take shape. At the same time, you’ll be teaching them life lessons on listening, following directions, taking responsibility, and taking pride in their surroundings. Everyone wins.