Kids and Chores: It’s a Hard Knock Life

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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.

Tips and Tricks for helping your kids succeed when doing chores.

Yes, I’m talking about kids doing chores.

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. Even small chores help foster independence and gratitude.

Benefits of Kids Doing Chores

Kids as young as 5 or 6 can wipe down a bathroom sink! A microfiber cloth and water is all you need!
Kids as young as 5 or 6 can wipe down a bathroom sink! A microfiber cloth and water is all you need!

According to The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, kids who do chores may…

  • Have higher self-esteem
  • Be more responsible
  • Deal with frustration better
  • Face adversity more successfully
  • Be able to better delay gratification
  • Improve time management skills
  • Improve organization skills

Plus, chores 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.

Help Kids Succeed at Chores

There’s a lot more to getting kids to do chores successfully than telling them to do it and walking away. As a former teacher, I’ve got some insight into how to teach and have applied some of those ideas below.

Keep chores age-appropriate

Stop emptying your dishwasher. It's a perfect chore for kids to do.
I haven’t emptied the dishwasher in years…

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.”

Expecting a 2-year-old to fold a load of laundry wouldn’t be appropriate, but a 2-year-old can match socks and put them in a sock drawer.

Guide their learning

You’ll want to “scaffold” children’s learning as your kids learn to do chores. This means you’ll act as a support system for them. Give kids more support and direction as they are starting out and then reduce your assistance as as they become more and more capable.

Ways to Guide Learning

  • Demonstrate the chore for them
  • Talk out the steps one by one
  • Explain why the steps are important
  • Put your hands on theirs to guide their actions
  • Write out directions (older kids)

Celebrate Their Chore Success

Fun dusters and cleaning supplies can motivate kids to do their chores.
Fun dusters and cleaning supplies can be motivating!

Folding a pile of napkins might not be a big deal for you, but for kids doing it for the first time, it just might. Let them take pride in their work. Ooh and ahh over those napkins. Say, “Thank you.”

Give them a little reward like a sticker, but don’t overdo it with this.

DO NOT FIX THEIR WORK (more on this below).

Chores by Age

Ages 2-3

  • help put toys away
  • help feed pets
  • match socks
  • fold washcloths/cloth napkins
  • help sort silverware
  • carry their plate to the counter
  • put silverware in the dishwasher
  • sweep up crumbs with a dustpan
  • put shoes away
  • put dirty clothes in hampers

Ages 4-5

Everything above, plus…

  • help set the table, start with silverware, and napkins
  • help clear the table
  • put some laundry away, start with socks and underwear
  • dust window sills
  • water plants
  • stock bathrooms with toilet paper
  • clean up toys playroom
  • put pillows on their bed, you do the sheets

Ages 6-7

Everything above, plus

  • pack lunch
  • empty the dishwasher, start with silverware
  • load the dishwasher
  • fold towels
  • wipe down bathroom sinks
  • put folded laundry away
  • wipe table after meals
  • dust baseboards
  • pull weeds
  • gather household garbage
  • scoop pet waste (litter box or in the yard)
  • rake
  • organize their drawers
  • organize their desk

Ages 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 cans to curb and back
  • walk dogs
  • go through toys/clothes and purge
  • organize closet

See this list of chores for 8-year-olds for more suggestions.

Ages 10-11

Everything above, plus

  • entire load of laundry
  • hand wash dishes
  • vacuum
  • wipe counters
  • spread mulch
  • mop

See this list of chores for 10-year-olds for more suggestions.

A few pointers…

Do not fix the crooked towels, do not fix the crooked towels, do not… don't undermine your kids by fixing their work.
Do not fix the crooked towels, do not fix the crooked towels, do not…
  • 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.

Personality and Chores

The earlier you expect and teach your kids to do chores, the easier it will be once they’re older. A lot will also depend on the child and their personality.

My 9-year-old does her chores quickly and efficiently (albeit with 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?

I make it sound so easy, don’t I??

Did I miss any good ones on my list? Drop a comment and let me know!

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