The Job Corps: Getting Kids to Pitch in with Chores

by Ann Douglas

I have a confession to make. My kids do a lot more work around the house than I ever did as a kid. For some reason, my parents let me get well into my teen years before introducing me to that mysterious appliance known as a washing machine.

I've decided to take a different approach with my kids. Rather than playing the martyr and doing everything around the house myself, I've decided to get them to pitch in as much as possible. They're responsible for cleaning their rooms, vacuuming the family room, cleaning the kitchen after dinner, and helping to fold and put away the mountain of laundry that accumulates at our house during any given week.

Interesting in going the same route? Here are some tips on recruiting your kids to your own in-home job corps

Highlight the advantages to them of pitching in. Your child is much more likely to be receptive to your request for assistance if you make it crystal clear that it's in his best interests to help out. There's never a shortage of laundry-folding volunteers at my house if I let everyone know that we'll have time to hit the mall this afternoon provided that all the laundry's folded and put away before lunch time.

Assign chores that are age-appropriate. There's nothing more overwhelming to a child than being assigned a job that's simply too difficult for him or her. (You'll find some suggestions on what types of jobs are appropriate for children of various ages elsewhere on this page.)

Give your child some basic instructions. While you know that it's important to use dish soap when you're washing a sink full of dishes, your five-your-old might not realize that dish soap's a necessary ingredient in the recipe for clean dishes!

Don't overload your child. In our family, we have a rule that everyone "owes" the family 20 minutes of labor a day. It generally works quite well. Asking them to contribute more than that amount of time would cut too much into their play time and dramatically increase the likelihood of a mutiny.

Don't play Martha. None of us likes to be held to Martha Stewart-like housekeeping standards, kids included. While you'll want to encourage them to do a good job when they're dusting the furniture, this is no time to be doing the proverbial white glove test.

The Job Jar

Wondering what types of jobs children can do at various ages? Here are a few tips:

Toddlers: Matching up socks, putting the cutlery on the table, picking up toys

Preschoolers: Making their bed, putting clean laundry away.

Six- and seven-year-olds: Carrying the recycling box to the curb, emptying the dishwasher, vacuuming their rooms

Eight- and nine-year-olds: Cleaning the bathroom mirror, weeding the garden, putting away groceries

Ten- to twelve-year-olds: Washing windows, mowing the lawn, washing the car

Teenagers: Cleaning out the refrigerator, making dinner, cleaning out the garage.

Ann Douglas is the author of numerous books about pregnancy and parenting including the bestselling "The Mother of All Pregnancy Books." She regularly contributes to a number of print and online publications, is frequently quoted in the media on a range of parenting-related topics, and has appeared as a guest on a number of television and radio shows. Ann and her husband Neil live in Peterborough, Ontario. with the youngest of their four children. Learn more at her site,

Copyright © Ann Douglas. Permission to republish granted to