There’s probably not a single word that makes a child look up at their parents with the same excitement as when you say the dreaded “chores.”
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Whether it’s cleaning their room, feeding the dog, or putting their dirty spoon in the dishwasher (seriously, kid, is that that hard?), it’s a fact of life that most children are in no hurry to get into the house.
But participating in the smooth running of the home holds lifelong lessons that are important for your child’s development, says pediatrician Laura O’Connor, MD.
“Children want to feel included and contribute in their own way. It’s important to help give them the independence and self-confidence that comes from doing meaningful household chores,” she says.
What chores are age-appropriate for your child and how do they relate to your child’s healthy development? Dr. O’Connor breaks it down.
How chores promote healthy child development
Research has shown that children who perform household chores report higher levels of satisfaction with their academic and social skills. Children who helped with chores at home also did better in math, according to at least one study.
“Chores teach important skills, like teamwork, contribution and responsibility, at a young age. Chores can foster courage and self-reliance, which we all hope to teach our children,” says Dr. O’Connor.
Is my child ready for chores?
When your child is old enough to follow a basic instruction or two, they are ready to participate. Dr. O’Connor suggests starting small and keeping it fun.
“Try to incorporate household chores into the normal daily life that happens when you’re together as a family,” she says. “It can be as simple as putting on some music and having a dance party while doing chores.”
VSshopping list for toddlers (1 to 2 years old)
Children who are just beginning to walk and talk can take great pride in accomplishing small tasks. Early childhood is all about establishing some independence, so doing small tasks on their own – or with a little help from an adult – fuels their natural desire to tinker.
Pick up after recess
Ask your toddler to put away his books and toys before moving on to the next activity. Singing a “cleaning song” while tidying up keeps the fun going and encourages language skills, says Dr. O’Connor.
Put the dishes in the sink
After a meal or snack, toddlers may be responsible for bringing their cup or dish to the sink. If they can’t quite reach the counter, keep a stepladder in place to give them a hand and prevent dropsy.
Encourage the imagination
Toddlers learn and grow during pretend play, so nurture their interest with age-appropriate toys where they can practice chores. Children’s brooms and vacuum cleaners can be a big hit at this age. While you’re vacuuming, let Junior follow behind to clean up any spots you missed. Heck, give them a superhero cape and play pretend while the Cleanup Kid saves the living room from the Evil Dust Bunnies.
List of chores for preschoolers (3 to 5 years old)
Preschoolers thrive on rewards and positive reinforcement (who doesn’t?). From around age 3, incentives can go a long way in encouraging children to participate in household chores.
“Sticker charts for preschoolers are a great way to show that a task is complete, especially when following up with a small reward after reaching a set goal,” says Dr. O’ Connor.
Caring for plants and pets
Preschoolers can begin to understand that they have a responsibility to help others. Watering the plants or feeding the dog, probably under adult supervision, is a good start.
At this age, children can participate in making their beds and cleaning up spills. They can also help carry light bags and items over short distances, such as bringing groceries home from the car and storing food in the refrigerator or in a cabinet they can access.
VSshopping list for primary school children (6 to 10 years old)
Elementary children can begin to take on larger tasks and take responsibility for themselves and their space.
Help with meals
Let your elementary student help prepare their lunch before school (perhaps with the watchful eye of a parent who can remind them that cookies and a carrot aren’t enough for a healthy school lunch). They can also help prepare meals for the family. At this age, children can also participate in setting and clearing the table, as well as loading and unloading the dishwasher.
Take care of your space
Around this age, establishing some ownership of their room or space may start to seem more important to children. Keeping their bedroom organized, putting clean clothes in their dresser or closet, and keeping floors clean by vacuuming or sweeping are age-appropriate tasks, says Dr. O’Connor.
VSshopping list for middle school students (11 to 14 years old)
Preteens and young teens may begin to take on more household chores in stages and may be tasked with helping to care for young children.
Around this time, your tween and teen can take on tasks such as raking leaves, shoveling snow, and other seasonal outdoor tasks.
If you have younger children, now is a good time to give your young teenager more childcare responsibilities. Imagine all the chores you go do while your older kids fetch the little one’s milk and play endless hide-and-seek. (Or, better yet, take some time for yourself. You deserve it.)
VSshopping list for high school students (15 to 18 years old)
Secondary school is the time to prepare your child for the full responsibilities of adulthood. Part of that means being able to take care of your own home.
“This is the age when teenagers are ready to transition out of the house, so they should be able to start doing many tasks independently,” says Dr. O’Connor.
Practice the adult
Your high school student may have a lot of time to demand, but practicing the balance we call adulthood is an important part of becoming an adult who can manage time and prioritize competing needs. You can encourage this development by holding them responsible for certain tasks.
“High school students should be able to prepare simple meals, maintain a clean home by having a weekly to-do list, and keep their bedrooms tidy,” says Dr. O’Connor. “They should be able to manage their household responsibilities in addition to their school, sports and extracurricular work.”
How can I encourage my child to do chores?
So, your child is not jumping for joy at the idea of doing the dishes? (Honestly, who is?) That’s OK. Some resistance to chores is to be expected. Dr. O’Connor has some tips that will help you start a chore routine for your kids and encourage their help.
Establish the ground rules
“The best place to start is to have a family meeting to discuss goals and set a timeline together to meet expectations,” says Dr. O’Connor. Include your children in a discussion about how important they are to the household and how important their contributions are to the family.
Explain what each of their tasks means. For example: “Clean your room” is vague. “Put your books on the shelf, put your dirty laundry in the hamper and put your Legos in that hamper” lets your kids know what is expected of them.
Incentives and allowances
Praise and tokens of appreciation can go a long way in encouraging children to complete household chores and giving them a sense of accomplishment.
“Humans thrive on positive reinforcement and rewards,” notes Dr. O’Connor.
Stickers are a fun, age-appropriate reward for a little kid, but they probably won’t get you very far in enticing a tween.
What about an allowance? Dr. O’Connor suggests that the money in exchange for chores varies depending on your family, values and expectations. If an allowance is right for your family, wait until the children are old enough to understand the value of money. The allowance can also be a way for older children to learn responsibility and money management, she says.
As a parent, your child’s healthy development is probably at the top of your priority list. Starting a chore routine early, focusing on age-appropriate chores, and keeping household chores fun and family-oriented will go a long way to putting your kids on the path to adulthood.