Do you ever feel like you run around cleaning all day and never catch up? Don’t you wish you had some little elves to help you get all your chores done? Great news! You’ve probably got little elves because if you didn’t you wouldn’t have nearly as much cleaning to do. In fact, I’m betting you’re raising them right now.
Yes, I’m talking about your kids.
Involving your kids in household chores from a young age lets them know just how much time and effort go into taking care of a house, which is essential if you want them to respect your home and your space.
Kids as young as 2 can chip in around the house — as long as adults keep their expectations reasonable. I’m not talking Cinderella-level chipping in here, but even small chores help foster independence and gratitude. According to The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, kids who do chores may have higher self-esteem, be more responsible, and be better able to deal with frustration, adversity, and delayed gratification. Not to mention, chores build better time management and organization skills, provide opportunities for success, and set a good foundation for functioning independently later in life.
Please don’t think you’re doing your kids a favor by doing everything for them to “let them be little.” In the long run, you won’t be doing them any favors.
Ideally, you want to make sure the chores you give your kids are age appropriate so they can succeed. Their success is your success. In teaching terms, this is the “Zone of Proximal Development.”
Then you’ll want to “scaffold” their learning as your kids learn to do chores. This means you’ll act as a support system for them. You’ll give them more support and direction as they are starting out and then lessen your help as they become more and more capable. You can do this by demonstrating the chore for them, putting your hands on theirs to guide their actions, voicing the steps they will need to take, or writing directions if they are older.
Here’s a list of what’s worked for us at different ages:
Chores by age
- 2-3: help put toys away, feed pets, match socks, fold washcloths/cloth napkins, help sort silverware, sweep up crumbs with a dustpan, put shoes away, put dirty clothes in hampers
- 4-5: everything above, plus help set the table (silverware, napkins), help clear the table, put laundry (socks and undies) away, dust window sills, water plants, stock bathrooms with toilet paper, clean playroom
- 6-7: everything above, plus pack lunch, empty the dishwasher, load the dishwasher, fold towels, wipe down bathroom sinks, put folded laundry away, wipe table after meals, dust baseboards, pull weeds, gather household garbage cans, scoop pet waste (litter box or in the yard), rake, organize drawers, organize desk
- 8-9: everything above, plus make simple breakfast, wash/dry/fold family towels, sweep/blow out the (clean) garage, empty the dishwasher, clean toilets, dust furniture, sweep, take garbage/recycling to curb and back, walk dogs, go through toys/clothes and purge, organize closet
- 10-11: everything above, plus do own laundry, hand wash dishes, vacuum, wipe counters, spread mulch, mop
A few pointers…
- Don’t fix their work. Are they going to do the job perfectly? Probably not. Should they put a reasonable amount of effort into the task? Absolutely. Don’t let them do a poor job just so they can get out of doing it next time but do let the pile of towels be crooked, let forks be messy in the drawer, let the plates be crooked in the dishwasher. Don’t undermine their efforts by redoing everything they’ve done.
- Be patient. What takes you 45 seconds may take them 5 minutes. They’ll get better and faster with practice. Avoid rushing them, hovering, micromanaging, and taking over, no matter how painful it may be.
- Make it fun. Blast some music, set a timer, make a time-lapse video (this one is super motivating for my kids).
- Choose chores that are ACTUALLY useful to you. Don’t choose pointless chores just for the sake of assigning chores.
- Expect resistance and stand strong. No one wants to do chores, including you. But if they live in your house and help make the messes they can help clean them up, as well. DO NOT GIVE INTO THE WHINING.
- Show mercy. Are all three of your kids playing beautifully in the backyard? Take one for the team and empty the dishwasher instead of interrupting play time.
- Offer a Reward? I’m torn on this one. On one hand, I think chores are a regular part of life. They’re a natural expectation and your child shouldn’t be fawned over for doing them — after all no one’s throwing you a party when you vacuum. On the other hand, some chores stink and I’ve been known to pop a piece of candy in my mouth as a reward for doing a chore I didn’t want to do. I’d say, go with your gut, your child’s personality, and the situation here. My kids have regular chores I expect them to do and “above and beyond” chores that they get paid for doing.
Do you like how I make it sound so easy?
The earlier you start expecting and teaching your kids to do chores, the easier it will be once they’re older, but a lot will also depend on the kid and their personality. My 9-year-old does her chores quickly and efficiently (although not without an attitude) so she can move on and do something she enjoys. My 7-year-old has a better attitude about chores, but he’s easily distracted and has been known to feign helplessness. His chores take ages to complete unless he has a specific motivator, such as screen time. The 4-year-old is hit or miss. She ranges from motivated to tantrum-y to manipulative when asked to do a chore.
Do your kids do chores? Did I miss any good ones on my list? Drop a comment and let me know!