Children and Chores: What is appropriate?

I was inspired to write about this topic by a blog post I read, and my own struggles with keeping my house clean, to try and discuss this issue here on Boulder Families. We have a modest size house and I struggle to keep it clean. Up until recently I did everything for my kids. Really! I would bring in their backpacks from the car, clean up after them, make dinner, set the table, clean the table, etc… My husband was beside himself that I would rather let them finish the Really Important LEGO project they had going on than to ask them to set the table. Just easier to do it myself AND I felt that their play time was somewhat sacred. I wish I could pin point what made me switch my tune, but it happened and it was a shock to everyone.

I no longer feel it is all my responsibility, but I share it with my family. The kids set the table. They clean their room. They carry their backpacks into and out of the car daily. They bring me their lunch boxes if they want them refilled with lunch and snack for the next day. [I decided to forgo my husbands suggestion that I buy a Dora lunch box that I gave my boys if they forgot their lunch box at school–just too mean!] But it still amazes me when they willingly set the table or bring in their bags. It shouldn’t, but it does. It just took some consistency and setting an expectation and now it just happens. Magic!

Recently a friend told me about how her family has dedicated 2 hours on Saturday each week to cleaning. Everyone takes their own room and one other room and they get to work. They are teaching the kids to clean the bathroom, vacuum, clean the kitchen, etc… You don’t have to go to this extreme to have your kids involved in the household chores. But get them involved. They like to have responsibilities [after they stop complaining about doing the chore!]. I highly recommend asking kids to help make dinner. Have them plan a meal. Make a grocery list, go shopping, and make the food. It’s a big hit in our house!

My take aways from getting the kids involved in household chores: It takes the load off the parents; It allows the kids to feel ownership of the household; It bonds us through shared work; and it just feels right!

What are age appropriate chores? For this answer I am relying on a recent post from

Below is a sample of chores, by age, that children can do. You need to keep in mind that children mature at different rates so there is some wiggle room in these age guidelines.

2-3 years old

Kids at this age are often eager to help. At this age, you shouldn’t give a chore and walk away, but do the chore along with them. This helps teach them what a completed chore looks like.  Making it a game makes it a lot of fun too.

  • Pick up their toys
  • Put their dirty clothes in the hamper
  • Dust furniture
  • Hang up towel in bathroom after bath time
  • Fill pet’s food and water bowl with supervision

4-5 year olds

This is an age that can help out a lot more than we give them credit for. They are still eager to help out and are proud of their accomplishments. Praise at this age goes a long way into making this a good experience for your child.

  • Make their bed, especially if it is a simple quilt or comforter
  • Match clean socks after the laundry is completed
  • Empty small wastebaskets
  • Swiffer the floor
  • Help bring things from the car to the house
  • Help set and clear the table with assistance – especially with breakable items

6-7 year olds

This is an age where the kids can help out that really make a difference. Sadly, this is an age where the bad attitudes can start to creep in too. However, praise and appreciation go a long way into smoothing out those attitudes. Linking responsibility and a job well done to more grown up privileges can help too.

  • Make their lunch for school. Give them a variety of choices from which to choose, but make them choose at least one item from each food group. Don’t forget a little treat too!
  • Help fold clothes.
  • Begin choosing their own outfits and get dressed without supervision
  • Help with simple outdoor maintenance like weeding the garden
  • Vacuum their room
  • Put away dishes from dishwasher
  • Help bring garbage out
  • Help prepare meals being mindful of safety issues like knives. Measuring ingredients, stirring and tossing salads are good chores for this age.

8-11 year olds

This is the age where sport schedules and other non-school activities start to become crazy. Be sure to carve out some time each day and week for kids in this age group to help out. Don’t let their activities be an excuse not to have them help the family.

  • Begin doing their own laundry from time to time.
  • Help prepare meals. At this age, they should be capable of using a sharp knife safely.
  • Clean the kitchen after a family meal from start to finish.
  • Clean their bathroom from start to finish
  • Rake leaves
  • Wash the family car – a favorite chore in my house!

12-15 year olds

This is the time frame to teach the children more life-skill oriented chores. It is good to let them know that in addition to helping the family out, they are learning to do what they will be responsible for when they are adults.

  • Be responsible for getting themselves up in a timely manner each morning by using an alarm clock
  • Maintain personal items like recharging batteries to electronics
  • Changing their bed linens
  • Mow the lawn, with supervision
  • Prepare an occassional family meal
  • Babysit depending on state laws. Most states allow it at 12 years old
  • Help with all aspects of yard work,
  • Help with grocery shopping including preparing a list
  • Begin to start managing their own pocket money

16 years old and older

At this age, they should be able to do any household chore that you can do. This is also the age that school work ramps up tremendously along with after-school activities. Household chores should not be done at the expense of schoolwork as that is the child’s primary job. As a parent you may need to be a bit more flexible on when the chores get done to accommodate your child’s schedule. Be particularly flexible during school-intense periods like mid-terms and finals. At this age kids need to learn how to juggle everything that needs to get done in their lives and that goal should be kept in mind along with helping the family out.

Additional web resources:

What chores do your kids do?

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