Handy Helpers: Safe Chores for Kids by Age
Children learn life lessons and get a self-esteem boost when they help around the house
Do your children help with chores around the house? If not, maybe they should.
While chores were once considered a staple of childhood, that’s no longer the case. A 2014 survey conducted by Braun Research found that although 82 percent of adults were assigned regular chores when they were growing up, only 28 percent ask their own children to do household chores.
Donald Freedheim, PhD, professor emeritus of psychology and founding director of the Schubert Center for Child Development at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, says chores are an important part of childhood and shouldn’t be neglected.
“Assigning chores can boost a child’s self-esteem and also help them learn important life skills,” Freedheim says.
When assigning tasks, Freedheim says parents should keep several points in mind: safety, the child’s age and maturity level, and how the child will be rewarded for completing the task.
Ages 2 to 4: Toddlers love to help their parents, and Freedheim says this is a great age for children to learn tasks such as:
- Picking up toys and dirty clothes
- Helping to dust and wipe up messes
- Bringing their parents a diaper or clothes for their baby sibling
- Watering plants
Freedheim encourages parents to model good behavior and work beside their child as she starts doing chores. “You can’t have a cluttered house and then tell your child to pick up the toys in their room,” he says. “You have to lead by example.”
At this age, it’s also important to show toddlers how to do chores correctly without criticizing their efforts. A parent can say, “I like the way you hung up your clothes, but would you like me to show you an easier way to keep them on the hanger?” Reward your child’s work with thanks and encouragement. Freedheim notes that some families like to use a chore chart with stickers, and when a child completes a week’s worth of chores, he is given a special treat.
Ages 4 to 5: As children begin to enter preschool and kindergarten, the complexity of the chores can increase based on their maturity and advanced motor skills. Remember to choose tasks that don't expose your children to danger. If they’re helping to prepare a meal, have them pour ingredients into a measuring cup rather than using a knife to cut up vegetables. Children this age can also do the following tasks with supervision:
- Set up and clear the table
- Load the dishwasher
- Match socks and fold towels
- Clean windows
Ages 6 to 8: By the time children are in elementary school, being assigned regular homework and possibly participating in after-school activities, the scope and nature of their chores may change. Some families with school-aged children designate chore time on the weekends, with everyone pitching in to put the home in order after a busy week. At this age, children can help with:
- Weeding the garden or raking leaves
- Making a salad
- Feeding pets (To ensure safety, teach your child not to touch the dog when he is eating and not to tease the dog with food.)
Ages 9 to 11: Older kids are often able to take on additional household chores that will prepare them for life on their own. These can include:
- Doing laundry
- Cleaning their rooms
- Preparing simple meals
- Collecting and taking out the trash or recycling
At this age, many parents wonder if they should begin giving their child an allowance for chores. Freedheim recommends that parents divide chores into two distinct categories. The first is chores that children do because they are part of the family. They don’t get paid for these chores, but rather get a sense of accomplishment and learn the importance of teamwork and a strong work ethic. These might include keeping their room clean or making their beds.
To earn an allowance, Freedheim recommends giving kids extra chores that allow them to appreciate work and understand earning money involves work. This might include taking out the garbage, helping to wash the car, or vacuuming rooms in the home.
Teens: When your tween or teen is juggling school, homework and friends, chores may not be at the top of his list. Freedheim says this is a good time for parents to talk to their child about realistic expectations.
“I told my own kids that I expected their beds to be made each day and for them to keep their clothes off of the floor,” Freedheim says.
Tasks that work well with this age group include:
- Taking the family dog on a daily walk
- Cooking dinner one night for the family
- Scrubbing the sink, bathroom or bathtub
- Mopping floors
For more information on age-appropriate childhood chores, check out the books, “Raising Able: How Chores Empower Families” by Susan Tordella and the forthcoming, “Raising Can-Do Kids: Giving Children the Tools to Thrive in a Fast-Changing World” by Richard Rende, PhD, and Jen Prosek (August 2015).