How to Help Kids Get Their Work Done

Basically, kids, and even us grown ups don’t like to stop what we are doing, in order to do something else, especially if that something else is hard. So the key in getting kids ( or ourselves) to get their work done, whether it is cleaning their room, practicing the piano or doing their school work- is to give them a compelling reason to get it done!

Offer a Reward

We as adults are the same way— we do so much better when we know there is a reward for us at the end. Now the difference between adults and children is that adults can be motivated by the long term reward of getting their “work” done for the sake of the work. They know that the work is what brings about the reward, because of experience. Kids lack this experience, but even so for adults- it can help to add extra rewards for finishing as well.  I often reward myself with 15 minutes of reading or just lying down taking a break after a couple hours of cleaning or teaching. Then while I am working, I know that when I am done, I will get to go relax or do something rewarding afterwards, plus I’ll have the feeling of having a sense of accomplishment when I’m done.

Kids don’t have the experience of feeling a sense of accomplishment after a job well done because they just haven’t lived that long.  That perspective comes with experience. “How is math or playing this dumb song on the piano going to bring me any sense of satisfaction?” they may ask themselves and you in an annoying way and they are amazing at dragging out their tasks!  So as parents, teachers and coaches, it really helps to give them some extra outside motivation to help them move along quickly and be able to push through the hard parts. Anything that they really want to do or have will work: play dates, a trip to the park, going swimming or anywhere, a cool marker set, a special toy, etc.— “we’ll go as soon as we are finished with X.”, for example. Or “let’s hurry and finish before so and so gets here.” Or “Here is a package of really cool markers, and you will get to have one each time you finish a page of this book- and by the time you finish, you will have all the markers (and the material in the book will seem easy!).” Food also works very well. And video games, movies and TV. 🙂

As they work for their rewards, they are at the same time building habits, discipline and confidence as they start to recognize that there is a sense of satisfaction that is actually even greater than the motivating reward as they continue to achieve. The reality is that bribes work- they work on kids and they work on adults. So use them wisely and well!. I can’t believe how quickly my kids can get all their work and chores done when they have the promise of video games afterward!

Take Away Privileges

If that still doesn’t work though, then you may have to start taking away privileges. I have been known to tell some of my kids that the next time they want to do something, I will remember how well they did whatever it is they are trying to get out of doing. I will say no video games, no TV, no friends, nothing fun at all- that usually gets them moving a bit. I will just let it sit with them and let them make the decision to do the work or suffer the boring consequences.  Once I let them know the boundaries and the consequences, they usually find it in their best interest to just get their work done!

Pick Our Battles

Another thing is to really pick our battles. Some things really don’t matter and they are not worth a showdown- like what they wear for example (although I remember telling one of my daughters when she was little that I get to pick how to do her hair on Sundays) or how fast they clean up or big messes they make as long as they help clean up when they’re done. This way our energy goes towards the stuff that really matters and the kids will see that we mean it and that there is no getting out of it. One thing I think has served me well over the years in raising my kids is to not threaten any punishment I am not willing to enforce. There are actually really only a few main rules they have to follow and then they have quite a bit of free time.  Also a lot of stuff the kids do is just plain funny, and I laugh a lot. But as soon as they start to do something dangerous or mean like run out to the road or hit someone, I am right there telling them “no”. And stubborn kids- I’ve had my fair share— I just stand my ground- no piano = no video games and I follow through on that one!

And of course, every kid and every family is different, and there are always exceptions!! What have you found that has worked well for you?


Amber is the mother of 8 kids ages 19 - 6 including 6 boys in a row and a set of twins. She has a lot of experience with homeschooling, parenting, getting kids to do their chores, cleaning and keeping it all organized. She currently lives in France with the 6 boys- the oldest is on a mission for their church in Tahiti, and the next daughter is headed to college in January!