I often lament the fact that no matter how many times I unload the dishwasher, it will inevitably need to be unloaded again — probably later today or tomorrow. Chores are a tedious but unavoidable part of life, and teaching our kids to take ownership of all the little tasks that permeate the day-to-day is a process that starts in their youngest years. But it can be hard to know where to start and how much, exactly, we should expect from them.
I’ve created an age-by-age guide to the chores our kids could (or should) be doing, but before you dive in, allow me to offer a few disclaimers:
1) Each age category should build on the category before it
To avoid being too redundant, for example, let’s assume that once a kid is expected to make their own bed, they’re expected to do that in subsequent age groups, as well.
2) These are generalisations
Every child is different. Some kids are going to be chopping veggies by the time they’re seven years old; others can’t be trusted with a sharp knife until they’re old enough to drive. This guide is an attempt to build on skills from one general age range to the next, but it’s also ok — and encouraged — to play to your child’s strengths and preferences when it comes to chores.
3) There’s a lot here
I’m certainly not recommending kids do Every Single Thing on this list (no matter how great that would be). Think of this as a fun grab bag of chores for them to pick from as they grow up.
During toddler years, we’re mostly getting kids used to the idea of cleaning up after themselves — usually with our help, and the help of a catchy clean-up song. Some basic chores kids this age can do include:
- Put their own toys back in the toy bins.
- Help to put their books back on the bookshelf.
- Put dirty clothes in the hamper.
- “Help” make their bed with a parent.
This is also a good age to let them be “helpers” in all sorts of areas, such as filling the dog’s water bowl, or helping to sweep up crumbs from the floor after lunch. For a lot of these clean-up tasks, you can expect them to either 1) really not help at all, or 2) make an even bigger mess — but it’s the act of learning the chore and the positive reinforcement they get from completing it that lays the groundwork for future years.
Kids in late preschool and early elementary years are in prime “helper” years. That is, most kids this age love to help with absolutely anything, and while they’ll still need a great deal of supervision for most tasks, it’s a good time to teach them some basic skills they’ll be able to practice now so they can complete them on their own later.
Here are some tasks they can start to take on (in addition to those listed above):
- Get dressed with limited help.
- Basic hygiene, such as washing hands and brushing teeth (with supervision as necessary).
- Make their bed on their own.
- Help clear the dinner table.
- Help put laundry in washing machine/dryer.
- Match up clean socks.
- Fold towels.
- Help carry groceries into the house (give them the lighter bags with non-breakable items).
- Help rake leaves and shovel snow (it’s best if they have a kid-sized rake or shovel).
- Pitch in with dinner prep, especially helping to measure out ingredients and mixing.
By this age, as you decide which family chores they’ll start to take full-time responsibility for, it’s good to get their input. We all have chores we hate and ones we don’t mind so much. The adults in the family (hopefully) try to divide the chores up this way, so the kids should have some say in what gets assigned to them, too.
Here are some ideas:
- Get ready by themselves in the morning by brushing and flossing their teeth, combing their hair, and choosing their clothes for the day.
- Bathe/shower on their own.
- Make their bed and keep their room at least mostly straightened up (you can set your own standard for what “mostly straightened” means — for us, it means no clothes or toys in piles on the floor).
- Put their own laundry away in their dresser.
- Write their own thank-you notes.
- Feed pets.
- Sweep or vacuum floors.
- Put their own dishes in the dishwasher after meals; empty dishwasher when dishes are clean (with help putting them away, if needed).
- Set the table for dinner (with help as needed).
- Help more with meal-prep, such as by chopping vegetables (after they’ve practiced and with supervision).
- Help pull weeds.
- Water plants.
The tween years are transitional years in a child’s life in many ways, and it’s also the time when kids go from learning how to do chores around the house — and needing a lot of supervision doing them — to starting to be able to do some of the more complex things on their own. In short, they should start asking you to do less for them and do more for themselves. Such as:
- Make their own breakfast.
- Pack their own lunch for school (with help at first, as needed).
- Help with more of the dinner prep, possibly by being responsible for one portion of the meal, such as a side dish.
- Be responsible for making sure all homework is completed.
- Be responsible for charging their own electronics.
- Dust furniture.
- Help put groceries away.
- Learn how to use the washer and dryer.
- Bring the empty trash cans and recycling bins back from the curb.
By this age, kids are getting all kinds of new freedoms — and with great freedom comes great responsibility. What I mean is, if they’re old enough to stay home alone and hang out later with their friends and just generally be off on their own more…they can also get their own butt out of bed in the morning and wash a pot or two.
In general, kids this age should be able to:
- Wake up on their own with an alarm clock.
- Do their own laundry.
- Change their bedsheets.
- Wash dishes.
- Clean mirrors.
- Make a simple (occasional) meal for the family.
- Walk the dog.
- Pull the trash and recycling bins to the curb for pick-up.
- Clean the bathroom.
- Help with seasonal yard work, such as mulching and trimming bushes.
The goal, by the time they’re this age, is not that a teenager is single-handedly running the household. The goal is that they know how to do a little bit of everything — and that they do at least some of those things without prompting, such as bringing the trashcans back in when they get home from school or emptying the dishwasher when they see the cycle has completed.
Older teenagers should have some regular chores they are responsible for, but there should also be an expectation that if they see something that needs to be done, and they have the time to do it, they pitch in. (When they do, tell them you appreciate it; positive reinforcement goes a long way for all of us.)
We’re really setting these kids up for adulthood if, at this age, they are able to:
- Wash the car.
- Mow the lawn.
- Help with landscaping.
- Wash windows.
- Help with minor home-improvement projects or repairs.
- Earn spending money working outside the home, whether by doing side jobs, such as babysitting or via an after-school job.
When it comes to kids and chores, remember it’s less important exactly what they do and more important that they do something consistently. And that something should be a mix of both personal responsibilities (related to hygiene and schoolwork) and family responsibility (doing things for the benefit of the whole unit).