Whether they’re assigned in the form of a chart, a wheel, or a jar… age appropriate chores play an important role among families. Not only do regular household jobs teach kids responsibility and prevent a sense of entitlement, they instill in children a vital sense of importance in the family.
When kids are able to participate in the workings of a household in meaningful ways, they internalize a powerful message: “My contributions matter; I matter here.” This feeling of significance is a cornerstone of successful family relationships.
The thing is, getting kids to do housework can be a challenge. They don’t exactly jump for joy at the prospect of folding socks or scrubbing the sink. Children don’t have quite the same priorities that parents do, and they’re certainly not proactive about getting housework finished. When it comes to chores, there is often so much nagging involved that parents frequently resort to yelling, threatening, bribing, or just doing jobs themselves because it’s easier than enduring another power struggle.
If this sounds familiar, here are a few principles to incorporate into your approach to age appropriate chores that will both help kids learn responsibility as well as foster a strong, positive relationship between the two of you.
1. Take Time to Teach
Learning to keep up with chores is not something a child learns quickly. While seemingly straightforward to the adults who do them all the time, household tasks take weeks, months, or even years for kids to learn and develop habits. Depending on the job, be sure to take adequate time to teach kids what needs to happen and how to do it.
This may mean you have to start from the beginning each time you ask your kids to clear the table after dinner, reminding them of what items need to go in the fridge, back in the drawers, or in the pantry. Remember that kids’ priorities are different from parents’, so have patience when a child seems to have “forgotten” what to do.
The most important element for long-term success is time.
2. We Do it Together (Until You Can Do it Alone)
Teaching chores is much more effective when it is done cooperatively. Engage children in the learning process with these four steps:
- Model. First, just demonstrate how a task is done.
- They help you. Next time you do the job, you get to have an assistant.
- You help them. Now it is their turn to take the lead, and you are the assistant.
- They do it alone. You’ve done this work together enough times that it is reasonable to expect a child to get a job done on her own.
The length of time necessary for this 4-step process varies. Feeding the dog is much less complicated than cleaning his bedroom.
For big tasks like that, it helps to break the job up: Make the bed / Put toys away / Pick up clothes / Vacuum / Clear dishes / Toss garbage / Wipe surfaces. Each one is its own learning process.
That’s why it’s overwhelming to say to a child, “Clean your room,” and expect it to be done both quickly and without guidance. Teach your child how to do it well by teaching in small steps, engaging cooperatively with him, and giving him plenty of time to develop this skill.
What if a child argues when it’s time to do chores? Your response is, “Let’s do it together.” Stick with the gentle discipline practices you’ve been following all along. Even when children have previously been able to do tasks on their own, sometimes they just need extra encouragement or help.
Break the job into, “You do this and I’ll do that.” No arguing, negotiating, reasoning, bribing or threatening necessary—just cooperation and some re-teaching. Your motto is, “We do it together (until you can do it alone).”
3. The “When/ Then” Approach
What if a child is old enough to not need to be re-taught how do to simple tasks and is more than capable of doing them alone? The When / Then approach is useful for moments like this.
When the books are put back on the shelf, then you may go to your friend’s house.
When the living room is picked up, then we’ll start the movie.
When the hamster cage is cleaned, then you can go outside.
The When / Then approach is not a bribe, as it does not offer kids a reward if they do their work. It is about teaching kids that work is a necessary part of the day and sometimes it has to come before the fun stuff—it’s an order of events versus a conditional reward.
4. How to Set Age Appropriate Chores
Here are some guidelines for the kinds of chores kids are capable of handling alone at different ages after dedicating some time to teaching. The nature of these tasks is unique to each child, family, and situation. When choosing chores for kids, be sure to take into consideration their individual needs and capabilities.
- Wipe tables
- Wash fruit and veggies
- Choose clothes
- Unload utensils from dishwasher
- Help sort and load laundry
- Put toys away
- Set the table
- Feed pets
- Pair and fold socks
- Shelve books
- Water plants
- Prepare food
- Make the bed
- Clear the table
- Clean spills
- Take out the trash
- Vacuum rugs
- Take showers
- Fold laundry
- Peel vegetables
- Get the mail
- Make sandwiches
- Measure ingredients
- Clean bathroom sinks
- Pack own suitcases
- Clean animal cages
- Weed the garden
- Unload groceries
- Load dishwasher
- Plant garden
- Scrub toilets
- Clean bathtub
- Mop floor
- Pack school lunches
- Walk dogs
- Put clean clothes away
- Do laundry
- Use the stove
- Trim shrubs
- Put garbage cans out
- Mow the lawn
- Plan a meal
- Wash patio furniture
When it comes to chores, don’t expect perfection; expect contribution. Getting into a habit of contributing to the family is far more valuable to kids than doing the tasks perfectly. And offering your genuine thanks and appreciation will help children feel that sense of significance and belonging in the family.
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