We all know it’s good for kids to do chores. But when should we get them started, and how? The answer is: as soon possible! You know how toddlers love following you around as you clean the house? As soon as they can walk, hand them something to dust with!
Getting chore right at each age
For 2-4 year olds - this stage is all about observation, these kids are tiny sponges (see what we did there?). Toddlers want to see what grown-ups do to care for themselves, their space, and each other. This is a wonderful time to lead by example.
- Verbalize what you are doing not only to teach them how to do it, butalso to support their language development.
- Tasks like toy clean-up, wiping the table, putting dirty dishes into the sink, and organizing other household items (i.e., organizing the shoe closet) are perfect for this stage.
- Toddlers thrive off praise, so be sure to recognize their efforts.
For 5-10 year olds - this stage is all about building self-esteem, confidence, and a sense of agency. They are building a sense of identity, of the type of person they are. Chores are foundational at this stage - they helps these kids think of themselves as responsible and capable.
- Unlike eager toddlers that are happy to be included, kids at this age will begin pushing back against their responsibilities. Listen, let them vent, but firmly hold them accountable for completing their chores.
- These kids respond to rewards, like an allowance, but we recommend applying an allowance to special projects, rather than day-to-day responsibilities. After all, do you get paid for doing the dishes?
- Create rituals for chore time. Try to schedule chores for the same time each day or week so your kids aren’t struggling to squeeze chores into the day. Put on some music, a kid-friendly podcast, or find another way to demarkate that time.
For 11-16 year olds - this stage is about independence, building trust, and balancing competing responsibilities (like friends, sports, school, and chores). As we all know, pre-teens and teens just wanna have fun define themselves as separate and unique away from their parents.
- Younger kids want guidance and support, but pre-teens and teens want space and an opportunity to do things their own way. If When they complain, hear them out and let them propose solutions or alternatives.
- Teens respond well to increased freedom. Make it clear that when they are consistent with chores and other responsibilities, they gain trust, independence, and freedom (like a later curfew).
- Teens may need help figuring out how to balance all their responsibilities. That’s where you can support them in problem-solving and finding creative solutions. Be careful not to impose solutions, robbing them of agency and creating friction.
Three chore habits to avoid
- Don’t call them chores - let’s face it, the word has such a negative connotation. Instead, use the word “responsibility”, which kids of all ages respond very well to.
- Chores are not punishment - using chores as punishment for bad behavior removes the sense of enjoyment and accomplishment kids can get from completing tasks. It also devalues the chores they see you do everyday as a parent!
- Avoid making chores sporadic surprises - giving kids set chores gives them a sense of ownership and allows them to take initiative. Surprising them with random chores at random times can sometimes work, but try not to make this your primary approach.