Helping parents & caregivers design their own handbook for raising amazing kids.


How to Get Your Kids to do the Dishes

By Emily Mall

Posted on September 4, 2023

Adult and child doing dishes together
Adult and child doing dishes together
Adult and child doing dishes together

Teaching kids responsibility and independence at any age is a valuable life lesson they will take with them for the rest of their lives. One way to instill these qualities is by involving them in household chores. Doing the dishes is a great task that can help your kids learn important skills and contribute to the family. Here are effective strategies for getting your kids involved, excited, and willing to take on the responsibility of doing something as reasonable as the dishes.

For the Kids:


1. Make it a Team Effort

Start by explaining to your child that keeping the house clean and organized is a shared responsibility, especially now that they are ___ years old. Since everyone lives in the house and uses the dishes, from now on, everyone should help in taking care of them if they want to continue to use them. Emphasize that everyone in the family has tasks to contribute, and doing the dishes is an important part of that teamwork. 

If you are struggling getting your child to understand this concept, (i.e. whining, grumbling, complaining) connect the job to privileges. Remove all of the plates or cups from the house and store them in your car’s trunk, put them in a box under the bed or on a shelf in a closet for a week. This is a bit time consuming, and will suck for everyone–for the team–for a few days. Hang in there, because this short-term inconvenience will pay off in the long run. Tough it out! Suffer and complain with them, laugh about eating spaghetti on napkins, and watch how creative they get when they need a fork. 

Allow your kid to sit with the frustration of not having dishes to eat on. When they complain, nod along and agree that it’s the worst. Ask them questions about what they would do differently to fix the problem. Make it their idea, and make them a part of the solution. This will allow them to see the privilege of even having dishes in the first place, and how important it is to take care of them in order to use them. 

2. Age-Appropriate Tasks

Ensure that the dishwashing tasks assigned to your child are suitable for their age and capabilities. Younger children can help with simpler tasks like rinsing and  drying the dishes or setting the table, while older kids can handle more complex duties like washing, filling and emptying the dishwasher, and putting dishes away. 

3. Teach Proper Techniques

Before your child begins dish duty, take the time to show them the right way to wash, rinse, and dry dishes. Explain the importance of using hot water, soap, and scrubbing to remove food particles and germs effectively. Encourage them to be gentle with fragile items. 

Prepare yourself for a few broken dishes so that you don’t make it a big deal when it happens. If you have a garbage disposal, teach them how to use it or ask them not to use it at all and to call you when it needs to be used. 

Clearly communicate your expectations to your child. Let them know what you expect in terms of cleanliness and organization. For instance, they should ensure that dishes are properly dried, put away in their designated places, and the sink area is clean. Make sure you are available and around to help the first few times they take on this task on their own. 

4. Create a Routine

Establish a consistent dishwashing routine, whether it's after breakfast, lunch, or dinner. A regular schedule helps kids anticipate their responsibilities and reduces resistance. Consistency also ensures that the task doesn't become overwhelming. 

The first few months you will often have to nag and ask the kids to do their jobs. They are just kids, and new to having responsibility, so be gentle and compassionate, despite your feelings of frustration. Kids need us to provide  accountability, guidance, and reminders, in order to grow into adults that can handle responsibility on their own.. Over time, you will find yourself reminding them less and less of their jobs, and you will enjoy the time to yourself and the help with household tasks. 

Do not give in to the temptation to just do it yourself because it’s easier and faster, and you don’t have to nag and deal with whining. Put in the work to get them to own their responsibilities, and you will be greatly rewarded with more than just a clean sink.

5. Offer Rewards and Incentives

Positive reinforcement can motivate kids to do the dishes willingly. Consider offering rewards or incentives, such as extra playtime or a special treat for consistently completing their dishwashing duties.

Instead of allowances, we “hire” our kids to do certain jobs and tasks around the house, and after each one, they check it off a time sheet the same way they’d clock in and out of a job each day. At the end of the week, they turn in their sheet and get a “paycheck” we print out for them, and get paid in their online accounts we all can monitor on an app. 

The biggest incentive we’ve found is that they have money in their accounts when we go out to stores like Target. Since I refuse to buy them toys outside of their birthdays, they now have their own money to buy what they want instead of asking us over and over again in the store. Having to manage their own money allows them to deeply consider the cost of what they are buying, as it isn’t something they do when we as parents buy it for them. There isn’t any sacrifice for them to ask and bother us, other than making us annoyed and frustrated, so why wouldn’t they try? Kids are smart, and can learn how to be master manipulators if we let them get away with it! 

6. Use a Timer

For children who tend to dawdle or procrastinate, set a timer to create a sense of urgency. Challenge them to complete the task before the timer goes off, turning it into a fun game.

If nagging and asking every night is too bothersome for you, set alarms in the kitchen so when they hear it they’ll know when it’s time to do the dishes.

7. Make it Fun

Turn dishwashing into an enjoyable activity by playing upbeat music or having a lighthearted conversation while working together. You can also use colorful, kid-friendly dishwashing tools to make the chore more appealing. 

Give them some ownership over the task. Take them to the dollar store and let them pick out their own caddy with soap, sponges, or towels. Make them a part of the team. 

8. Rotate Tasks

To prevent boredom and ensure fairness, rotate dishwashing duties among siblings or family members. This variety prevents one child from feeling burdened by the task and gives everyone a chance to learn and contribute.

Our kids have spent their money by paying their siblings to do their job. Since it’s their money, we give them advice on how they spend it, but ultimately, it’s their decision. A big part of teaching our kids responsibility is allowing them to learn and experience the consequences of their choices for themselves. 

When they want to “call out” we give them the opportunity to do so, and make the decision together about how many times they can “call out” before they get fired from their job. Despite the kids being fine with being fired (they didn’t apply for the job anyway!), the ultimately feel the pain of not working when there is something they want to buy that all their friends have and we refuse to buy it for them. We want them to experience the pain of that now, in a safe, supportive environment, so they can better manage these problems as adults. 

9. Be Patient and Encouraging

Acknowledge your child's efforts and express gratitude for their help. Avoid harsh criticism or negative feedback, as it may discourage them from continuing the task. Instead, provide constructive feedback and praise their progress. 

Make it a big deal when they remember to do the dishes without you having to ask. Let them hear you sing their praises to friends and family about how well they are doing at contributing to the family and being helpful. 

10. Lead by Example

This one is tough! Children often emulate their parents' behavior. If you can demonstrate a positive attitude towards tasks and exhibit responsible dishwashing practices, your kids will see you happily participating in household tasks and will be more likely to follow suit. Hum while you do the dishes, dance, sing, or listen to a book. In fact, call washing the dishes a task or a job instead of calling it a chore (it rhymes with bore!) 

Getting your kids to do the dishes can be a rewarding experience for both parents and children. It teaches valuable life skills, fosters independence, and instills a sense of responsibility. By making dishwashing a positive and engaging activity, setting clear expectations, and offering incentives, you can encourage your child to embrace this household job with enthusiasm (or at least a respectful indifference). 

Remember, patience and consistency are key, and with time, your child will develop the habit of taking pride in their contributions to the family.

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Helping parents & caregivers design their own handbook for raising amazing kids.

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Helping parents & caregivers design their own handbook for raising amazing kids.

© 2023–2024 Great job. All rights reserved.