Getting kids to help around the house isn’t always easy. More often than not, such an attempt is met with some form of resistance. The latest studies reveal that kids today are spending less time doing household chores than ever before.
Although there is a common misconception that young children cannot participate in domestic chores, some researchers say that there are many benefits to assigning kids chores from as early as age 3. They have found that:
• Kids who do chores are more self-reliant
• Kids assigned chores are more responsible
• Giving kids age-appropriate chores has been associated with social, emotional and academic benefits
• Household tasks help kids develop important skills such as responsibility, self-reliance and accountability
• Assigning kids regular and reasonable chores fosters their autonomy
• Participating in chores helps kids feel needed
According to Rossman, a professor at the University of Mississippi, including kids in chores is worth the effort: starting chores early is among the greatest predictors of success as an adult. Both Julie Lythcott-Haims (the author of the book “How to Raise an Adult”) and Richard Bromfielf (The Harvard Medical School psychologist) agree. In their view, letting your kids skip household chores prevents them from developing important skills they will need later on in life.
How to motivate your kid to participate in household chores
1 | Be specific
If you’re like most parents, you know you want your kids to participate in household chores, but where do you begin?
According to Richard Bromfield, psychologist and author of the book “How to Unspoil Your Child Fast”, the first step is to clearly define exactly what you would like your kid to do, and what you want to achieve by assigning him chores.
Focus on your objectives:
• Are there specific skills you would like your child to develop? Which chores can help you accomplish this?
• Do you want him to participate in chores that are meaningful for the whole family or only those that directly concern him? (like making his bed or cleaning his room)?
• If you expect your child to set the table, be specific – how often? Every day? One meal or all mealtimes?
2 | Be firm and consistent
Many kids will resist household chores once they get past the age when “helping set the table” is fun!
That’s why it’s important for your child to know that participating in household chores is not an option. She needs to know that “everyone who lives here has to participate in chores”.
You can only be firm and consistent once you know your negotiables and non-negotiables. Being firm also means fighting the urge to do things yourself to “save time”.
3 | Be willing to negotiate
Evidence suggests that negotiation strengthens family bonds, and kids raised in families in which their “voices are heard” are more likely to cooperate. Take the time to listen to your kids. Be flexible. Tell your kids the household chores that need to be done then ask for their input:
• How can the chores be distributed in a fair way?
• Who does what and when?
• What happens when the chores are not done?
When kids feel involved in making decisions that concern them, they are more likely to stick to those decisions.
4 | Choose age-appropriate chores for your kid
Many benefits are associated with assigning children household chores, but only if those chores are age-appropriate. Even children younger than age three can participate in simple tasks such as picking up toys.
Remember that as your child grows older, he can take on more chores but should also have more benefits. Associating each benefit with additional chores when he reaches important milestones (for example on birthdays or at the start of a new school year) can be a great way to make the chores easier to accept.
Below are a few ideas about some of the chores your kid can do:
What chores can kids below age 3 do?
- Pick up toys
- Dust surfaces
- Throw their diapers in the trash can
- Water flowers
- Pick up their books
What chores should a 3-4-year old have?
- All previous chores
- Put away toys
- Put their dirty laundry in the laundry basket
- Help set and clear the table with help
- Help clean small surfaces with a wet cloth
- Wash hands by themselves
- Help put away groceries
- Fold their clothes with supervision
- Choose their outfit and get dressed
What chores can I give my 4-5-year old?
- All previous chores
- Make their beds with minimal help
- Help in the kitchen with supervision
- Take care of a pet (feeding/brushing)
- Hang up towel after shower
What chores should a 6-7-year old do?
- All previous chores
- Make bed without supervision
- Answer the phone
- Put away their laundry
- Wipe floor with mop
- Put away clean dishes Fold their clothes by themselves
What are some chores for 8-9-year olds?
- All previous chores
- Clean bedroom
- Empty trash
- Rake leaves
- Prepare easy meals
What chores can 9 to 12 year olds do?
- All previous chores
- Change their sheets
- Wash dishes
- Do homework by themselves
- Vacuum and mop
- Mow lawn
The chores above are a broad guideline for age-appropriate chores but your child’s ability to do a chore will also depend on his/her level of development. Generally speaking, the more a kid practices, the easier it will be for him to complete an assigned chore alone. If your child seems to struggle with a specific chore, help him do the chore until he is able to do it by himself or modify the chore to take his abilities into account.
5 | Develop an effective family plan to encourage your kid to participate in household tasks
Giving your child chore cards can be an interesting approach to help her participate in chores more easily. For example, you can write down all the chores to be done and let your child pick the chores she wants to do. You can ask younger children to pick less chore cards and older ones to pick more cards. You can also propose different cards to different kids to ensure that each of your children has age-appropriate chores. Over 70 age-appropriate visual chore cards for kids from ages 2 to 16 are available here.
Chore charts are also highly effective in motivating kids to participate in household chores.
6| Show him how
It’s easy to assume that your kid will automatically know how to perform household chores. But the truth is that your definition of a “tidy room” is unlikely to match that of your child’s. To avoid conflict, be clear about the chores you expect your child to do. If his chore is to dust the bookshelf, show him exactly what he is expected to do. If you want him to tidy his room, be clear about what you expect (all books in the bookshelf, all clothes in the wardrobe, no shoes and socks lying around, etc).
If he doesn’t do what is expected, focus on the future until he does the chore as expected: “next time I’d like you to …”
6 | Be sure your child is aware of the consequences
Now that you have determined age-appropriate chores for your children, what happens if she doesn’t follow through or if she does a mediocre job? Once again, negotiation can come in handy and make it more likely for her to cooperate. Ask her to come up with the consequences of a poorly done job:
• Should some privileges be taken away?
• Should she repeat the chore?
How to avoid chore wars with your kid
Let your kid participate in decision-making. The more your kid feels involved in the decision-making process, the more he will be likely to do his chores and to accept the consequences when chores are not done. Even something as simple as letting him pick his own chores from pre-determined age-appropriate chores (for example using chore cards) can go a long way in helping him complete his chores.
Be willing to let go. There’s no way your 6-year-old will make her bed like you would. That’s just the way it is. But does she have to? There’s no point in assigning your child chores if you keep jumping in to “improve” on what she’s done. Remember that what counts most is her participation according to her abilities.
Ease your kids into chores. Not all kids are willing to participate in chores but certain strategies can make it easier for them to accept and do chores. For instance, when assigning your kids chores, asking them to help you do the chore or telling them to start and you’ll help them finish can be effective in motivating them to do their chores. Chore charts or chore cards can also help your kid accept chores more easily.
Be clear on your expectations. If you expect your kids to set the table every day, make them set the table every day. Giving your kid chores and failing to follow through teaches them that chores are optional.
Positive reinforcement goes a long way. Kids thrive on reinforcement, but that doesn’t mean that you have to offer them gifts in exchange of chores. It simply means that simple acts such as praising your kid’s effort can motivate him to do his chores. Remember to be specific about what you’re offering praise. You could say something like “It’s great how you’ve dusted every book on the shelf”.
Should you pay your kid for chores?
There are divergent views on whether or not kids should be paid for doing chores. Many believe that doing chores is part of every family member’s responsibility and therefore no remuneration should be tied to the chores your child does. In other words, being part of a family means participating accordingly in that family’s household chores. While the decision to pay kids for chores is largely personal, here are a few things to keep in mind:
• Young children are rarely motivated by money
• Paying kids for specific chores you would pay someone else to do can be a good way to teach the relationship between work and money.
• According to Heather Beth Johnson, paying kids for basic chores can breed entitlement
Assigning your kids chores is only one of the many ways of raising them to be happy and confident adults. For more practical examples of how to use chores with kids and many other resources to foster your child’s autonomy, growth mindset and critical thinking skills, check out my workbook “This is what it takes to raise a happy and confident adult”.
An earlier version of this post was published on parent.co