Choosing the Right Chores for Kids

Michele Borba's picture

by Michele Borba

Several years ago I learned a Mommy Secret from my girlfriend about kids' chores that I've never forgot. Cindy and I were busy chatting away when she announced to her kids: "Chore time!" As quick as a wink they jumped up from playing and scurried to their kitchen where they proceeded to unload dishes, and put clean ones in the cupboard. And they did so without an ounce of help or uttering one complaint. When finished they turned for their mom's sanction (she nodded approvingly), and then grinned and ran back to play. (Oh, by the way: her kids were three and five years old. Cross my heart!)

So what was the secret to the mom's success? Believe me, I asked her, and my girlfriend shared these three simple secrets and I used them that afternoon with my own kids.

  1. Cindy chose tasks that fit her kids' developmental abilities.
  2. She planned for chore success. (For example: She bought no-break plastic dishes, and cleared a bottom cupboard so they could put dishes away without help).
  3. She first modeled exactly how to do a chore, and then made sure they could do it alone.

The result: success! You can use these same secrets with your children to boost their helping attitudes. Here are a few chores appropriate for different ages.

Chores for Toddlers

It's never too early to begin, but let's be realistic. Do not expect a toddler to do any "chore" on his own, but you can gently encourage his helping spirit. Here's how:

  • Toddlers love to help and learn best by copying and working next to you. So purchase a pint-size broom, rake, or vacuum (that looks like Mommy's). Your little one can grab his broom and copy you.
  • Set out a special box, bin or basket for your toddler to help you put his toys away. He won't do this alone, but would love to help you do the task (for a few seconds anyway).

Chores For Preschoolers

The important Mommy Secret for this age is if you expect this age of child to do chores first alone, they are likely to give up in frustration. So if you want your preschooler to succeed (or really any age child), first show them exactly how to do the task right. They probably will still need your guidance. Here are a few appropriate chores:

  • Set and clear the table and fold napkins: Be on the lookout for placemats that provide inked-in outlines of a fork, knife, spoon and plate. Some moms make them by drawing utensil outlines using permanent black marking pens on construction paper and then covering them with clear laminating paper.
  • Sponge off tables and counters: Hand him a damp sponge and a squirt bottle filled with water and a bit of your favorite cleaner and let him go to town cleaning away
  • Pick up toys: Provide a box, basket, or bin for your child to put away his toys
  • Recycling: He can stack magazines and papers (do specify exactly where you want items placed) and empty small wastebaskets
  • Gardening: Fill a water can and designate certain plants that should be watered

Chores for School-Age Kids

School-age kids are ready to help out in the household as well as some yard work. Go through each new chore step by step with your child so that he clearly knows how to do it. Then observe him doing it at least once to make sure he can handle it.

  • Routine household chores: Set and clear table, put dishes in dishwasher, put clean ones away, vacuum, dust, sweep
  • Laundry: Gradually increase the repertoire until your child can do the majority alone
  • Meals: Make their lunch and be responsible for cooking one part of evening meal
  • Pet care: Feeding, taking them on walks, brushing, bathing, cleaning out cage
  • Gardening: Weeding, watering plants, raking leaves, mowing the lawn, sweeping patio
  • Personal bedrooms: They should slowly become their soul responsibility including dusting, making the bed and changing sheets
  • Laundry duties: Putting his dirty clothes in hamper, emptying hamper, folding and sorting lights and darks

Chores for Preteens and Teens

In a few short years this same kid is probably will be living on his own. So think of assigning chores to help prepare him for independent living.

  • Cooking: Learning a few basic cooking recipes to cook alone
  • Laundry: Completely doing own laundry
  • Bathroom: Cleaning their shower, toilet, tub (My kids' roommates have thanked me)
  • Car care: When she gets that license make her responsible for maintaining car appearance washing exterior, cleaning windows, filling it with gas, even taking in for service

It's never too early for your child to help out with the household chores. (Okay, do wait until your child is at least out of diapers and can talk). But the fact is the sooner you begin chores, the easier it is be to nurture your child's responsibility muscle. Remember to choose tasks that match your child's abilities, show your child exactly what you expect, and finally stand back. The real mommy secret is this: Don't do any task your child can do alone. Kids needs to see themselves as responsible family contributors.

Michele Borba, Ed.D. is a mom of three, a former teacher, and renowned educational consultant who has presented workshops to one million parents and teachers worldwide. Dr. Borba is the author of 12 Simple Secrets Real Moms Know: Getting Back to Basics and Raising Happy Kids. She is a frequent guest on Today, The Early Show, The View, and Fox & Friends. She is also the award-winning author of over 20 books including Parents Do Make a Difference, Don't Give Me That Attitude!, No More Misbehavin', and Nobody Likes Me, Everybody Hates Me. Dr. Borba is an advisory board member for Parents.

Copyright © Michele Borba. Permission to reprint granted to Pregnancy.org, LLC.