How I got my kids to (help) clean the kitchen this morning... without guilt, nagging, or bribery

My wife and I have a deal when it comes to meal time: she cooks, I clean. So last night after dinner--following a long week of work--I cleaned the kitchen while she and the kids watched TV. I was pooped, so I asked the kids to help. They refused. I reminded them that they can get paid to clean the kitchen. Still no takers.

I believe that nagging kids is not a good plan. Bribery only works for a little while, and guilt lasts a lifetime so... I scrubbed and I schemed. And I remembered the tenets of Love and Logic. This morning as I entered the kitchen, I was greeted by the smell of bacon, the sound of children, and, well, a whole lot of dishes.

As we  sat down to eat, I told my kids, "This morning, we're going to do things a little differently. The good news is that I'm the only one who has to clean the kitchen. For everybody else, it's optional." And then I laid out three simple rules:

  1. Nobody leaves the kitchen until the kitchen is spotless.
  2. If you cooked the meal, then you don't have to help clean up.
  3. If you're not helping to clean up, you have to stay at the table.

After breakfast, my wife retired to the couch to catch up on the news, I got up and started cleaning and my kids started to get up and go run off to watch TV. But then they remembered the new rules!

One daughter sat back down at the table. But the other got up spontaneously and helped clean. She even said, "Dad, it looks like it might go faster if I help, and then we all finish sooner."

Wow! She got it. And then my other daughter got up and helped a little bit, too.

As my wife scanned the headlines from her Droid, we discussed the latest news from Japan. I said out loud, "It's amazing to me how the Japanese are pulling together during this time of crisis," which gave way to an open dialog about the value of teamwork, all within earshot of our girls.

The new way is a win-win.

  • We talk as a family more often now.
  • My kids are "on the team" and have an incentive to help my wife make meals.
  • They're doing chores without nagging, bribery or guilt.
  • I don't have to be the "bad guy".

What are you doing to help your kids make better decisions today?