How to get very young children involved with chores

We can all relate to the feeling of being overwhelmed with household responsibilities. But there’s just no getting around it: chores need to get done. And what better way to do them than with an extra set of hands?

Toddlers are very eager to be helpful. So, instead of imposing your expectations on them, ask them if they’d like to help you do whatever chore you’re doing. Then, when they get involved, aim to work together, so that the child feels like a full participant in the task rather than a slave to parental demands.

One great thing about toddlers is that they’re eager to explore and attempt new things. If you have a 2-year-old who likes helping you cook, let him mix a pancake batter or stir some spaghetti sauce. What he learns today could turn into the skills he uses for his own family someday!

You don’t have to wait until they can wield a broom or mop before involving them with cleaning up. It’s not just about getting the job done — it’s about teaching them how to do it. So if you’re sweeping the floor, offer opportunities for the child to help with what you’re doing.

It’s important not to force kids into helping with chores. The aim is not to control the kids, but rather to develop their own initiative and sense of responsibility for their actions. Kids will naturally want to be helpful if we give them opportunities and show them how much we appreciate their help!

If they participate, even if it means going more slowly or if you have redo the task, praise their efforts and let them know they are welcome. This will set off a developmental trajectory that leads children voluntarily helping and pitching in at home on their own accord.

Where possible, have young children do work that can be done as a group. For example, fold the laundry for the whole household together. That way they are building connections with their family rather than doing something alone as an individual. Chores becomes associated with a positive experience rather than a rushed halfhearted lonely one.

The two-year-old who stirs pancake mix today could turn into the six-year-old setting a pretty table and starting breakfast for everyone tomorrow — and will feel darn good about it.


Why is it so difficult to get my child to do their chores?

We all know how hard it can be to get your child to do their chores. Maybe they are resistant, they drag their feet, they complain and they won’t cooperate, OR they just flat out refuse. Either way, you’re left frustrated and wondering what you did to deserve this sort of treatment from a member of your own family. And you feel helpless in the face of their behavior. And then you think about all the chores that need doing and all the other things you have to do in a day and organizational time seems like an enormous task.

While tools like chore charts can help, often the root cause of the problem is something to do with the negative associations that have been built up around chores and damage to the parent-child relationship.

Remember that a child resistant to chores is:

  • Still a child – children are not born with a need to do chores.
  • in need your help in resolving the issue emotionally, not intellectually or by cajoling.
  • better motivated through a strong relationship rather than external rewards, in the long term.
  • it could be that the chores are too difficult for them.
  • showing signs that they needs more connection with you—not punishment.

When helping a child to do their chores:

  • Make sure you are dealing with your own fears and reactions rather than those of the child.
  • Keep the perspective that no chore is worth shifting from stability to chaos.
  • Focus on your relationship with them and give them the emotional space to ask questions and share their problems.
  • Try to shift them away from feeling overwhelmed to feeling calm.
  • Remember that there is no one else they want to please more.
  • It can be more effective to cooperate with them than to order them around. Teach them how to cooperate by demonstrating cooperation.
  • Make the most of any resistance they offer by turning it into an opportunity to connect, love, and build a relationship.
  • Join them in working to complete this difficult task, helping them develop a positive attitude toward chores.

In many ways, the difficulties we have around chores are just one aspect of the parent-child relationship. If the relationship is not great then there will be problems with other aspects as well. Attempting to solve chores alone will probably not be effective.

For a far more in-depth look at this approach we recommend a book called Beyond Logic, Consequences and Control by Heather T. Forbes.


Age-Appropriate Chores For Children

“Chores are an important way children learn responsibility and gain independence,” says David Anderson, Ph.D., a clinical child psychologist at the Child Mind Institute. “As they get older, they’re able to take on more complex tasks, and they can do chores that help the entire family.”

So when is your child ready to take on different kinds of chores? It’s often assumed that children have a list of “age-appropriate” chores that they can take on. But this is a bit of a fallacy, especially since the word “appropriate” can mean so many different things to different people.

The fact is that chores are not one-size-fits-all. Every child’s ability to perform certain tasks will vary, depending on factors such as maturity level, attention span and motor skills.

For example, most parents agree that a two-year-old probably isn’t ready for sweeping duties, but there might be some who think their child is ready for it. The same goes for a 15-year-old and driving — you may or may not feel your teen is ready to take the wheel at this point.

The bottom line: This is one area where you need to look beyond your child’s age to determine when he or she is ready to take on new responsibilities.

Nevertheless, here are some guidelines:

Baby / Toddler

Assist in making their beds
Pick up toys with your supervision
Take their dirty laundry to the laundry basket
Fill a pet’s water and food bowls (with supervision)
Help a parent clean up spills and dirt

Preschool/Primary – 4 to 8 Years Old

Set out clothes for the next day
Make their bed with minimal help
Bring their things from the car to the house
Pick up their toys
Make their bed every day
Set the table with supervision
Clear the table with supervision
Help a parent carry in the lighter groceries
Sort clothes and towels for the laundry
Match socks after clothing is washed
Dust with supervision
Hang up towels in the bathroom
Clean their room with supervision
Be responsible for a pet’s food, water and exercise
Vacuum individual rooms
Dust individual rooms
Fold laundry with supervision
Put their laundry in their drawers and closets
Put away dishes from the dishwasher
Clean their room with supervision
Empty indoor trash cans

Preteen – 9 to 12 Years

Keep bedroom clean
Be responsible for homework
Write invitations and thank you notes
Change bed sheets
Keep their rooms tidy and do a biannual deep cleaning
Wash dishes
Wash the family car with supervision
Prepare a few easy meals on their own
Clean the bathroom with supervision
Rake leaves
Learn to use the washer and dryer
Put all laundry away with supervision
Take the trash can to the curb for pick up
Change light bulbs
Dust, vacuum, clean bathrooms and do dishes
Clean mirrors
Mow the lawn with supervision
Baby-sit or nanny

Teenagers – 13 to 18 Years

Responsible for all personal chores for ages 9 to 12
Earn spending money
Purchase their own clothes
Maintain any car they drive (e.g., gas, oil changes, tire pressure, etc.)
Do assigned housework without prompting
Do yard work as needed
Baby sit
Prepare food — from making a grocery list and buying the items (with supervision) to serving a meal — occasionally
Wash windows with supervision
Do housework as needed
Do yard work as needed
Prepare family meals — from grocery list to serving it — as needed
Deep cleaning of household appliances, such as defrosting the freezer, as needed