Appropriate chores for children can seem hard to understand. Here is what children can do at various ages.
Mama, you can’t do it all for your kids!
And even if you insist on doing it all now, what is going to happen in twenty years?
Age appropriate chores for children not only prepare them for adulthood, but teach them personal responsibility, the struggle and pleasure of meeting goals, and … well, let’s be honest, once they’ve learned what to do, it means a lot less work for parents.
With four young children in the house, I’m all for anything that balances out the workload.
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Recently, I found myself grumbling at the difficulty of getting my young children to do their chores. The woman I spoke to said, “It’s easier just to do it for them.” I replied that they’d eventually have to know these things, and I only have a short time to teach them.
Her response shocked me.
“Well, my son’s twenty-eight and I still have to come over to his apartment every week, clean up and replace his dirty laundry with the stuff I’ve washed.”
Now, really, do you want to be taking care of your adult children’s apartments? Perhaps you’re younger than me, but at 45, I have a 3, 5, 7 and 10 year old at home – guess what I do not plan to be doing in twenty years?
Before I go any further, let me make an important note – if your child has physical or cognitive dalays, you will certain need to adjust for their capabilities. Don’t underestimate them, though – it’s amazing what children can achieve when their parents believe in them.
Table of Contents
- Age Appropriate Chores for Children
- Tips For Getting Kids to do Chores
- Chores For Younger Children
- What School-Aged Children Can Do
- Teenager Chore Responsibilities
Age Appropriate Chores for Children
Tips For Getting Kids to do Chores
Some folks are looking at this and thinking that it’s all well and good to know what the children SHOULD be doing, or what they are probably CAPABLE of doing, but there’s a wise old saying about leading horses to water.
How do you get them to do their chores?
Let’s start with one strong foundation. Any adults in the home need to be clear that the assigned chores are part of the child’s personal responsibility. No one is going to bail them out if they don’t perform their jobs, and no parent is going to swoop in and do it for them.
This is hard to do – especially if you know you’re going to have a family member or neighbour judging on you because the dishes aren’t done. Far too many people think that it’s okay to give in and do a child’s chores for them instead of letting natural consequences be felt.
If you told your pre-teen to put away the folded laundry, leave it there until she does it.
If you tell your elementary school children to put their lunch containers in the dishwasher after school, and they don’t, let them figure out another way to carry lunch the next day.
Do you have rules about the consequences of not doing chores? It feels very cruel to say “I’ll start supper AFTER the playroom is picked up” but if you say it, you’re going to need to stick to it. We have had a few very late suppers in our house as the children have learned that I mean what I say.
Consistency is extremely important.
Start Chores at a Young Age
It’s shocking how many people say “Oh, but they’re too little” when it comes to doing chores. My three year old recently dumped an entire box of Cheerios out on the floor.
Guess who cleaned it up?
Of course I dealt with a huge amount of complaining at first, as she insisted that the job was too big for her and she couldn’t do it.
All it took, though, was breaking the job down into easy steps and showing her what she needed to do. By the time she was finished, she had to call her father at work and proudly tell him that she cleaned the floor.
It would have been a lot easier and quicker for me to clean up the mess. It would have taken minutes instead of the entire morning. But she would never have had that sense of pride when she finished what seemed to be an impossible job.
Don’t wait too long before you have children start doing chores around the house. Obviously you won’t put a two year old in charge of washing dishes, but they can still learn that they have an important role to play in caring for the house.
Don’t Worry About Being Perfect
Perfect will come later.
At first, you need to settle for ‘done’. Some chores will need to be redone after the child leaves the room. If they worked hard at doing the dishes and something wasn’t fully cleaned, don’t make too much of a fuss about it. Just clean the dish when they aren’t looking.
When it comes to folding laundry or making beds, every effort is praiseworthy, and parents really need to learn to live with imperfection.
Your child is learning so much, both at home and at school, so work hard at setting them up for success. If you redo every job in their presence, or call them back repeatedly because it’s just not good enough, they’ll pick up the strong message that “Nothing I do is good enough.” What you are aiming for is an attitude of “If I pay attention, try my best, and learn from my mistakes, I can do almost anything!”
Something important to note – most children will not even notice that you’re redoing the job unless you make a deal of it. They will just remember that they did it, and it’s done properly, so clearly they were able to do it. That will give them a lot more self-confidence the next time they approach the task.
Keep Praising Your Child
Your children WANT to do a good job, and they want to please their parents.
We’re kind of wired that way – to look up to older, more capable people and emulate them.
So make sure you praise your children and tell them when they’ve done something good. When they do a chore on their own without being prompted (even if it’s not done totally correctly), when they do a chore correctly and completely, and when they keep upon their chore charts, let them know that you’re pleased with their work!
In my opinion and experience, it’s important that children know that you approve of them, and like and respect them, no matter what they do, but that you are additionally pleased and proud of their work. A child who feels unwanted or unappreciated in general is not going to feel that same desire to do well.
Consider Offering an Allowance
Whether or not you do this is going to depend a lot on your attitudes regarding work and rewards.
Some parents have an issue with rewarding children for jobs that are just part of daily life. For example, no one rewards a parent for washing the dishes, even if that parent is also working full time. These parents, while they may not give an allowance, might pay cash for jobs that are above and beyond the child’s normal duties.
Other parents feel that financial rewards teach a good work ethic for the future, or that school is a child’s main job and so an allowance rewards them for also helping with household chores.
Certainly, any child old enough to need spending money is going to either need an allowance or a part-time job. Since they are already in school full-time, it seems (at least to this mom) unreasonable to burden older children with full-time school, likely with a full homework load, a part-time job and a share of household chores.
Chores For Younger Children
A healthy Two can usually handle small chores, and they are great helpers. In fact, ‘I help!’ is one of the most common things you hear from Twos, along with ‘I do it myself!’
Three can usually dress herself with help, and put on shoes that are easy to fasten.
A Two can manage a dustpan and whisk if you point out the pile of dirt, but may have difficulty carrying the dustpan to the trash. That’s why in the picture above, I placed an empty paper composting bag right beside my daughter.
Twos and Threes can certainly pick up their toys and blocks when they’re done playing, and they can even help you make the bed. They can help with spills and small messes, feed pets with supervision and definitely put dirty clothes in the hamper.
Threes can put away plastic dishes if you have arranged a child-friendly spot for them.
A Two can put away cutlery (but not sharp knives!), while a Three can sort them properly and put them in the right spots. With that said, don’t discourage your Two from putting away the spoons and forks, even if you have to sort them again afterwards. This is a fun matching game and he will quickly catch on.
Oh, and again – don’t underestimate your Two. Two can carry firewood … well, kindling … if someone else picks it out of the stack and hands it to her. (Gloves are a good idea to protect against splinters) In fact, if everyone else is stacking firewood, Two is going to insist on helping!
Four and Five Year-Olds
As children start getting ready for school and begin their first year, their capabilities take a huge jump.
A Four still needs help making the bed, but not as much. She might need some encouragement with picking up the toys, but she can do it herself. Five might not even need a lot of encouragement – he already knows that he can do this job that seems to overwhelming, because he’s done it before.
Four can usually get dressed by herself, but she will need help with buttons and zippers.
Four and Five can do a lot more in the kitchen, too, like loading some dishes into the dishwasher, carefully putting away non-plastic dishes, and helping to stir. My Five loves to carry a baking sheet full of food to the oven and place it on the rack – after a lot of discussions about safety and burns and with attentive supervision. She is also very good at snipping cooked, cooled bacon into bits – although a lot ends up in her belly.
We also have an Oven Rack Puller/Pusher so that we don’t need to reach into the hot oven.
A Four or Five can also water plants, rake leaves with a child-sized rake, put leaves in bags, carry groceries from the car and help put them away, and clear the table of dirty dishes.
What School-Aged Children Can Do
It’s fun to watch their skills and abilities develop. Beware of nasty attitudes that First and Second Graders might bring home from school. This is pretty much timeless. (Not crazy about the ‘wood shed’ bit at the end, because I don’t think that ever fixes the problem, but the rest of it is great.)
Your First and Second Grade child can do a LOT more, though, and some things that they were doing before can now be done without supervision.
Six and Seven Year-Olds
A Six can make a bed without supervision. It will be messy, but if your child has been doing it with help until now, this is when to stop.
A Six or Seven can write thank you notes. They can operate a vacuum. Depending on your mopping arrangement, they can handle a mop. Even if you do a mop-and-bucket cleaning once in a while, your Six or Seven can use a flat spray mop to keep the floor clean in between. This is exactly what we use, and my children love it.
A Seven can certainly sort recyclables and take out the trash with some supervision and reminders. Seven can also fold clothing (and yes, it will be a bit messy) and put away laundry. She can put sorted laundry into the washer and can help with measuring out soap.
Seven can pack a lunch if you do the prep work. They may not be coordinated enough yet to put mayonnaise on a piece of bread, so it’s nice to provide them with squeeze-bottle options.
Six and Seven are most definitely capable of cleaning up the bedroom.
Seven can start helping with shoveling snow (this picture is from the first day of spring – Nova Scotia weather is so much fun!). Don’t expect a lot of results. Seven will get frustrated quickly with this job. It takes a few years before Eight or Nine can do a reasonable job of cleaning off the front step and a one-shovel-wide walkway, and you’ll have to wait until the teen years to hand over the job completely. Until then, an adult will have to do most of it, depending on the size of your driveway.
Your hard work is going to start paying off now. Eights are so very much more independent. An Eight can choose his own clothes, and they’ll probably be appropriate. (My Eight still thinks jogging pants and buttoned shirts go together, so keep an eye on what they wear.)
Eight can now start doing a lot more with laundry. Measuring out detergent might still be too much, but they can sort dirty clothes, load the washing machine, switch clean clothes to the dryer and start learning how to hang some items on the clothesline. Eight can dry dishes and put them away without a lot of supervision, and they are ready to start learning how to wash dishes by hand. An Eight should certainly be able to unload and load a dishwasher properly. By Ten, he can unload the dishwasher, load up the dirty dishes, add soap and run it on the right cycle – and then hand wash the pots.
Ten can make a simple meal entirely on his own, pack lunches without supervision, and clean the bathroom.
Tens can do SO much! In fact, because they can do so much at this age, it’s important to remember to NOT overwhelm her with All The Things. Ten’s full time job is still school. Ten can get moody and irritable without enough down time, but she still thinks like a child and wants to go-go-go until she crashes.
This is a good time to start teaching Ten how to balance his school work, household responsibilities, relationships with friends and family AND his physical and mental need for quiet time. After all, we all know that it just gets harder!
Chores For Your Pre-Teen
Eleven can do his own laundry, so long as you’ve been teaching him all along. Check in on it once in a while, but mostly you should be able to trust him to handle this. It’s too much to expect him to do everyone’s laundry, though. And a chart on the wall can help him remember the steps.
Eleven can vacuum and mop, change light bulbs with supervision, change bed sheets, and do yard work with adult garden tools. Twelve can certainly prepare a simple family meal and then clean up afterwards.
Teenager Chore Responsibilities
We have such a short period of time in which to prepare our children for adulthood. Up to this point, you have been working on simple household tasks, but the responsibility has primarily been on the adults.
By the time children are teenagers, they need to start assuming more responsibility for their lives. Most North American children go off to college or move out into their own apartment around the age of eighteen, so the goal is to have them ready for that. They need to be able to care for themselves and their living quarters properly, meet educational and work obligations, and manage finances. It’s a lot to expect of anyone!
Thirteen should still be making his own bed, participating in making meals and cleaning up, and doing their own laundry.
Now is the time, though, to teach Thirteen how to replace a vacuum cleaner bag, or empty the canister and properly wash it. Thirteen should also learn how to use a clothes iron, mow the lawn and even do minor repairs around the house. Thirteen can learn how to empty and clean out a fridge and freezer, too.
Encourage Thirteen to start her own garden if she has not already done so!
14 and 15 Year-Olds
Fourteen and Fifteen can handle a few more home chores. With help, he can plan a meal, shop for the ingredients and prepare the food. Now is the time to start talking about food prices and how we determine a good price.
Fifteen can, depending on the laws in your area, babysit neighbour children. Fifteen can definitely wash ground floor windows.
It’s important to make it clear to your teenager that these are tasks that educate and prepare them for life after they leave home.
16 and Up
Sixteen should be able to do pretty much everything his parents do in the house. Sixteen should know the work that needs doing around the house, understand when and how often it needs doing, and execute a plan to get it done. Sixteen should also know how to work with younger siblings in order to get larger jobs done. Younger siblings are definitely annoying, but it’s better to learn how to deal with them now than to be thrust on a job with a coworker that makes your little brother look like a saint.
Sixteen should also know how to take care of small children. If she hasn’t learned by now, it’s time to start getting some babysitting jobs. Sixteen should definitely take a First Aid course. Sixteen should be able to change a diaper, help a toddler with the toilet (because every adult eventually gets asked to ‘wipe my bum!’), and bathe a baby.
If finances have been completely ‘mom or dad’s business’ up this point, it’s time to get Sixteen involved. Budgeting is hard and finances can be confusing. Don’t let Sixteen become Eighteen and move out without knowing how to balance income and outgo and how to set priorities for spending.
It’s a huge undertaking, raising a child to adulthood!