Especially for new parents, it can be tricky trying to decide what age their child should start doing chores and what tasks are fitting. Of course you would never have your 3-year-old son mow the lawn, but there are smaller tasks for little ones that are beneficial to help them work their way up to bigger chores. You may be contemplating what chores are appropriate at what ages and the level of difficulty.
Not only do chores benefit your children by teaching them valuable life skills and good habits, but they can also give busy parents a few helpful hands around the house. They say parenthood doesn’t come with a rulebook so to help you navigate the twists and turns of age appropriate tasks, we have put together a guide of chores for kids that are the perfect fit for different stages of their upbringing.
This is an age where children are starting to experience structure, self-discipline, and purposeful work. Just like adults, they want to have something to do and feel accomplished of the work they’ve done. It’s essential to demonstrate exactly how you want a task to be completed. If you’re showing them how to wipe off a counter, explain that every little spot needs to be cleaned. When you’re positive and encouraging, these little tykes can get excited and will love to talk about the jobs they did. If you act like chores are another activity instead of a punishment, they will want to do them often and will be eager to learn more. These little tasks are lessons they should know for everyday life, such as:
- Brushing their teeth and putting their toothbrush away.
- Putting their shoes, hat, or jacket in the appropriate place. This can be made easier if you label certain drawers or places in the closet.
- Cleaning up whatever mess they’ve made, whether it’s a room full of scattered toys and books or a table covered with play-doh.
- Helping fold or sort laundry.
- Putting their pajamas in the hamper each morning as well as making their bed and picking out what clothes they want to wear for the day.
- Mealtime is loaded with little jobs. You can have your child set the table, fill up water glasses, place dishes on the counter or in the sink, wipe down the table (or chairs), and sweep under the table with a small dustpan after dinner.
- Each season brings new tasks for outside. You can have your younger children collect small sticks from the yard, wipe windows from the outside, weed flowerbeds, or wash outdoor toys.
Children typically begin to play sports, pick up an instrument, or start learning another language during this time. They are ready to take on more responsibility and begin to map out some long-term goals, which helps strengthen their system of values. As well as the tasks that they have already learned, some chores for this age group include:
- Emptying out garbage cans.
- Making lunch or picking out what they’ll have for lunch.
- Independently showering.
- Watering plants around the house and outside.
- Independently putting clean laundry away in the appropriate drawers or closet space.
- Answering phone calls after being taught proper phone etiquette.
- Raking leaves and sweeping the porch.
- Brushing their own hair; girls may need extra help with ponytails, braids, etc.
- Wrapping presents for birthdays or holidays.
Children in this age group are continuing to gain responsibility, build friendships, and learn more about themselves. They can still do every task they have learned up to now but can also complete harder tasks like:
- Wiping down surfaces (such as disinfecting doorknobs or sinks); they can even help with cleaning items like your iPad or TV screen, just make sure they are careful with your electronics.
- Helping make dinner by prepping out ingredients, plating meals, or learning to use the can opener, microwave, and stovetop with supervision.
- Washing dishes/loading the dishwasher.
- Changing light bulbs.
- Feeding and/or walking pets.
- Helping wash the car.
- Bigger projects outside like removing leaves and tending to flowers or vegetables if you have a garden.
These pre-teen years can be confusing for parents assigning chores because children are no longer eager to show off completed “big kid” work and teenager-hood is right around the corner. 11 and 12 year-olds can now accomplish more tasks that help out around the house like:
- Vacuuming/mopping the floors.
- Washing/vacuuming the car.
- Trimming hedges.
- Painting walls.
- Shopping for groceries with a list while you shop for other items in the market.
- Shoveling snow/cleaning off snow on the car during the winter.
- Straightening up their rooms/other rooms in the house.
- Organizing their closet/drawers.
By this age, your kids have caught on to the chore scheme and might not be as excited to help you out like they used to. They can get moody and sometimes just want to hang out with their friends. While your kids are teenagers, it’s essential to instill a degree of discipline and continue to have them complete tasks. As well as everything they may have been doing up to this age, teenagers can also do chores like:
- Babysit their younger siblings or neighborhood kids.
- Cook a complete dinner.
- Iron clothes.
- Clean the toilet/showerhead/tub/sinks in the bathroom.
- Clean out the refrigerator.
- Wash and dry clothes for the family.
- Mow the lawn.
- Start having a summer job and/or a part-time job during the school months to accumulate their own salary so they can pay for things for themselves like going to the movies with their friends.
Today, there is heavy pressure on kids to show measurable success at a young age. Because of the new Common Core program in schools and an increase in the importance of a valuable college education to survive in the professional world, chores are getting put on the back burner. A study released in the fall of 2014 by Braun Research discovered that out of 1,000 parents, 82% of them reported having regular chores growing up, but only 28% said that they require their own children to do them. With pressure to get into a top tier college or be the star of the varsity team, chores for children have been dismantled and replaced by the importance of resume building.
Marty Rossmann of the University of Mississippi collected data for over 25 years, starting in 1976, to see if having children help with household chores starting at the age of three or four was instrumental in predicting the children’s success in their mid-20s. What she found could prove that chores are just as important for children as being in various clubs or learning a second language. Rossmann discovered that chores “instilled in children the importance of contributing to their families and gave them a sense of empathy as adults. Those who had done chores as young children were more likely to be well-adjusted, have better relationships with friends and family, and be more successful in their careers.” For children to reap these benefits, it is important that their parents show understanding and patience with their children. Kimberley Dishongh of the Washington Times explained that adults don’t always give young kids the credit they deserve. Many are able to handle small tasks like helping make the bed or wipe down surfacesand then grow into helping with bigger tasks like yard work and vacuuming.
Psychologist Richard Weissbourd of the Harvard Graduate School of Education explains that chores can also teach children how to be empathetic and responsive to others’ needs. In his study, The Children We Mean to Raise, Weissbourd suggested that after surveying over 10,000 diverse middle and high school students, as well as on scores of formal interviews, informal conversations, and observations with youth, parents, and teachers over the last 10 years, today’s youth’s fundamental values are awry. Weiessbourd explained that “parents who don’t prioritize their children caring for others can deprive them of the chance to develop fundamental relationship skills, and strong relationships are one of our most vital and durable sources of well-being.” The emphasis on caring for others is a crucial step when teaching your children the importance of household tasks. Instead of having your child just clean up after themselves, have them perform chores that benefit the entire family which can help build relationships and instill compassion. It is also important for your child to focus academically and to participate in sports, but finding a good balance between all aspects of their upbringing can make the biggest difference in their long-term success and happiness.
It may be hard work coming up with unique tasks, creating a chore chart, showing your kids the right way to do something, and being patient with them but it will ultimately benefit their wellbeing in various ways while helping you out by giving you some extra time to focus on your own adult responsibilities.
Images via: medimanage, how stuff works: home and garden, colourbox, and blend images - kidstock pictures.