Keeping a tidy house involves a lot more than occasional dusting. And the more kids you have, the bigger the mess you have on your hands. The only way to pick up after your family and the clutter gremlins that must be running through the rafters without losing your mind is to have each family member pull their own weight through chores.
Now, kids don’t weigh that much, so we’re not asking you to become Cinderella’s wicked stepmother—instead, assign age appropriate chores that increase in frequency and skill level as kids mature. Not only does this train kids to become capable humans once they leave home (shout out to all the college freshmen who still have no idea how to do laundry,) it also can be a valuable opportunity to work in some teachable moments, such as money and time management skills. In this post, we’ll walk through which chores to assign to your kids, how to keep them motivated, and the best ways to work in extra lessons.
How to get kids to do their chores
Look back to your childhood and picture the following: you are playing. Your parent storms into the room, arms crossed. They say, “I thought I told you to empty the dishwasher! You can’t play until you do it.” Maybe you complied, maybe you negotiated. Either way, you probably would have a negative association with doing chores.
Now picture the scenario this way: you are playing. Your parent walks into the room smiling. They say “Wow, that looks fun! Would you mind taking a quick break to help me in the kitchen? If you empty the dishwasher while I clean out the fridge, we’ll get done really fast. We’ll even have enough time to play outside before it gets dark.” Well, you still might not be thrilled to stop playing, but there are a few key differences that make this method easier for a child to accept.
When asking a small child to do their chores, there are five guidelines to minimize protests:
- Frame the chore as a fun task, not a boring one
- Do your own chores at the same time, creating camaraderie and a chance to socialize
- Focus on getting the chore done instead of being upset it wasn’t done on time
- Offer rewards or fun opportunities after chores are done
- Praise play and chores, giving each equal importance
When families work together and turn chores into family time, it’s less “Cinderella” and more “Cinderella’s mice having a blast while making a dress.” And if chores are part of family fun, then playtime should be praised just as much. Keep in mind, if you won’t let kids play until chores are done, or disapprove of playtime before chore time, it introduces a couple of powerful messages.
First, it tells kids that chores are the price they have to pay for play (which makes helping around the house less desirable.) Second, it tells kids that playtime is unproductive, or a waste of time compared to chores (when it’s actually crucial for their growing minds and bodies!) With that in mind, even if a child forgets or shirks a chore the first time around, asking for their help usually results in fewer complaints than a reminder of their tardiness.
Chores for kids by age group
Generally, as kids grow, they can handle a greater number of tasks as well as more advanced tasks. You and your child are the only ones who can truly tell when they are ready to take on new chores. So if you aren’t ready to let your child chop veggies or use household cleaners, there’s no harm in waiting for the right time. Safety first! And always make sure to supervise when your child is doing their chores, both for safety and quality. Here are some general guidelines for when to introduce household chores:
Chores for toddlers (ages 2-4)
Toddlers haven’t yet learned from experience or from the media that chores aren’t fun, so it’s the perfect time to get them helping! All of these chores should be supervised, and chances are, you’ll have to re-do them. The focus here should not be on quality, just on praising them for their help. Turn it into a game or sing a silly song while you work. Toddlers shouldn’t be responsible for too many chores at once, and keeping a rotating list of responsibilities adds variety so they won’t get bored! Here are some toddler-friendly duties:
- Pick up their toys and put them back where they belong
- Put their dirty laundry in a hamper
- Help with laundry (loading/unloading, basic folding)
- Sweeping (with a little broom!)
- Put dirty dishes in the dishwasher (only non-breakable/plastic items)
Chores for little kids (ages 5-7)
At this age, chore charts become more useful. You might see some pushback on chores as they start stretching and testing the limits of their independence (and your patience.) But that’s where rewards come in handy! Generally, little kids can perform all the chores they could as toddlers (and to a higher standard!) plus the following:
- Cleaning/dusting (with a duster or a damp rag)
- Simple, supervised meal prep (sandwiches, scrambled eggs, etc.)
- Set/clear the table
- Load/empty the dishwasher
- Fold and put away clean clothes
Chores for big kids (ages 8-10)
If your child has been doing chores all their life, you’ll encounter less resistance from your big kid when it comes to chores. But when introducing a brand new set of responsibilities, there are 3 crucial elements: a regular schedule, a reward system, and variety. Big kids might appreciate being paid for chores more than they did when they were younger. In addition to their previous chores, here are some tasks your big kid can help with:
- Collect/take out the trash/recycling
- Kitchen cleanup (pots, pans, dishes, countertops)
- Make simple meals
- Pack their own school lunch
Chores for tweens (ages 11-13)
When your child enters their tween/teen years, strategies have to change. Their minds, personal identities, and individuality are developing quickly. You certainly won’t be able to convince them that mopping the floor is fun if they believe differently. In middle school, your tween’s social life can both help and hurt their willingness to help around the house. On one hand, they want to hang out with friends instead of staying at home. On the other, pocket money increases in perceived value as kids get older. So if your tween has big purchases in mind, they might even be willing to take on extra responsibility to make it happen. Here are some additional chores your tween can tackle:
- Doing their own laundry and linens
- Making dinner a couple times a week
- Deep cleaning bathroom, kitchen (safely using household cleaners)
- Watching younger siblings for short durations
- Teach and supervise younger siblings as they learn new chores
Teaching kids responsibility
When grownups do chores, we don’t get gold stars or pocket money. You have intrinsic motivation (that’s motivation that comes from within) to clean up from time to time.
Most kids don’t have intrinsic motivation to clean up after themselves—not many people are born tidy. So we, as parents, offer extrinsic motivation (that’s motivation that comes from external factors) to encourage our kids to behave the way we want them to. That’s gold stars, cash, treats, and all the other rewards kids get for being good.
Here’s the trick: if we want to teach our kids responsibility, we have to keep their external rewards desirable enough that they continue to do their chores. And at the same time, we have to cultivate their intrinsic motivation to do their chores as they grow up.
Now, what motivates one child can be entirely different from what motivates another. Smaller kids might have intrinsic motivation to spend time with you and to make you happy. As this gets them helping around the house, you can start to point out things that make you happy and get your child thinking about how they feel in a clean space.
- Isn’t it nice that you always know where to find all of your toys?
- Look at all the space you have to play now!
- Being in a clean room helps me relax. How about you?
- How do you feel when your room is messy? Does it feel nicer to play in when it’s clean?
Your child won’t clean for the sake of cleaning overnight—it takes time. In the meantime, using age-appropriate rewards can help keep kids motivated. For younger kids, activities and symbolic rewards work pretty well. As they get old enough to count, introducing a paid system can help teach kids the value of money. Cash increases in motivational power as kids get older, so introducing it early and in conjunction with other, more age-appropriate rewards, is a good idea for parents who want to teach kids about counting, saving, and other financial basics.
Free printable chore chart templates
Ready to get started? A chore chart on the fridge is a great way to set a regular schedule so your kids know what’s expected of them. You can fill in daily, weekly, and monthly chores to keep organized. Bonus: a chore can’t slip your mind if it’s written down!