FFFChores and Children

No. 125; Updated June 2018

Chores are routine but necessary tasks, such as washing the dishes or folding laundry. Research suggests there are benefits to including chores in a child's routine as early as age 3. Children who do chores may exhibit higher self-esteem, be more responsible, and be better equipped to deal with frustration, adversity, and delayed gratification. These skills can lead to greater success in school, work, and relationships.

Attitudes toward chores vary considerably. Some children are eager to help, while others are not. However, there are many benefits from involving your child in age appropriate chores including:

  • Learning time management skills
  • Developing organizational skills
  • Accepting responsibility in the family
  • Providing an opportunity for success (especially for a child struggling in other ways)
  • Learning to balance work and play from a young age
  • Setting a good foundation for functioning independently

Here are some tips to help you start introducing chores to your child:

  • Set clear and reasonable expectations. Let your child know exactly what needs to be done. For example, "please take out the trash from the kitchen after breakfast."
  • Establish regular routines. For example, "Clean up before dinner."
  • Be consistent. Changing rules and expectations can create confusion and frustration.
  • For younger children, focus on small, manageable tasks. Make longer jobs fun and cooperative. Use songs or games if you can.
  • Set up a star chart or reward system with specific goals to monitor progress and encourage good behavior.
  • Be a good role model. Children will more easily learn to pick things up and keep their rooms neat if they see others in the family doing the same.
  • Don't forget to give positive feedback and reinforcement and join in a child's pride when a chore is done. For example, "Great job on the toys!"
  • Pick your battles. At the end of the day, a messy room is not the end of the world.

Remember these are skills and may require a learning process. It may seem faster to do the chores yourself, however, helping your child to learn these will be helpful in the long run. If you need to loop back to help them complete a task correctly, it may mean they are still learning. Picking a chore that is appropriate for your child will increase likelihood of success.

Suggestions by age include:

  • 2 to 3-year-olds can put toys and groceries away and dress themselves with help.
  • 4 to 5-year-olds can help feed pets, make their beds (maybe not perfectly), and help clear the table after dinner.
  • 6 to 7-year-olds can wipe tables and counters, put laundry away, and sweep floors.
  • 7 to 9-year-olds can load and unload the dishwasher, help with meal preparation, and pack their own lunch for school.
  • 10 to 11-year-olds can change their sheets, clean the kitchen or bathrooms, and do yard work.
  • Those 12 and above can wash the car and help out with younger siblings. Teens can help with grocery shopping and running errands.

Sometimes it can be challenging to get your child to do chores. If your child is unable or unwilling to do chores, it can be frustrating. Try to understand the reasons why. If struggles continue or get worse, it may be a sign of other conflicts or issues that need attention. Talk to your pediatrician or family physician. Ask for a referral to a qualified mental health professional.