Part II – Selecting Appropriate Chores for Your Children


Selecting Chores

Already Doing Chores

Ideally, parents have encouraged their children’s helping around the house since they were little and were eager to help. If so, your children may view assisting in the upkeep of your home as “what everyone does.”

However, you may still want to sit down with your children and formalize which chores they will be responsible for completing. You can also explain why you are assigning chores, especially if you are attaching allowance to completion of the tasks.

Just Starting Chores

If you have not previously requested that your children complete chores, then you will need to have a meeting to explain what tasks need finishing, provide instruction on how to complete the job, develop schedules that work for everyone and select jobs that are appropriate for each children.

The manner in which you introduce the topic of chores and the thought you put into setting up everyone’s expectations will influence the likelihood of cooperation and success.


What to Consider When Selecting Chores

Try to fit the chores or the tasks to the children. In order to find the chores that best suit your child, it is helpful to consider a few of the qualities that make each child a unique being.

Questions to Think About

Does my child:

  • prefer sedentary activities or is he generally more active?

    For example, for an active child who loves the outdoors, helping with lawn care might be appropriate. For a child who likes quiet activities and those involving small motor skills, more fitting chores might be folding laundry or emptying the dishwasher.

  • like doing things alone or in the company of other people?
  • prefer having a routine and knowing what to expect? Or do routines seem boring to him and does he prefer a more random schedule?
  • like doing the same things repeatedly or prefer variety?
  • have any particular interests that would make certain chores more appealing than others?

    For example, for an animal lover, caring for the family pet would be a natural fit. If interested in cooking and helping in the kitchen, then involvement with dinner chores might be a match.

  • have the maturity to do the task?

By considering these issues, you can improve the quality of the experience that your children have as they take on responsibilities for running the home.

Equilibrium or Disequilibrium

Consider whether this is a good time to begin chores. There are times when children’s behavior is more broken up and everything is more difficult; this developmental stage is known as disequilibrium.

  • Young children hit these trying phases about every six months, typically on their half-birthdays.

  • For school age children, the odd numbered years tend to be filled with more angst and drama.

These rough patches are then followed by easier, more peaceful periods. Once aware of these cycles, many parents, particularly those of the younger children who tend to act out during periods of disequilibrium, choose to wait until behaviors are calmer before introducing new responsibilities.

Adding new obligations can cause increased stress and can give both parent and child one more area over which to clash.

Your Schedule

When starting a new chore routine think about your schedule – is everyone super busy and you barely have time to eat dinner as a family? That frenetic pace can make starting chores either a good idea or not.

On the one hand, children will clearly see that you need the help. Since they are more likely to help when they believe that their assistance is required and will have a positive impact, they are more likely to step up and lend a helping hand.

Conversely, you may not have the time (or patience) to teach your children how to do a job, to supervise and to follow through and uphold standards. You may not be able to allot adequate time for your children, who are still on a learning curve, to complete the task.

Given your situation, your temperament, and that of your child, you may want to wait until life is more relaxed before instituting a new chore routine.

You want to be sure that if you implement a chores plan that you have the ability to follow through; otherwise you may be teaching your children that they do not really have to be accountable.

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Set Realistic Expectations

Level of Parental Involvement

Parents often assume that either children are able to do a chore or they are not. And they often do not realize how long it takes for children to master fully certain household tasks to the point where they can do them independently.

According to Elizabeth Crary in her book Pick Up Your Socks, there are a number of levels of parental support and involvement needed as children take on doing chores.

Children may be able to do a chore either:

  • with assistance or with their parent’s presence,
  • by themselves but with reminders and supervision, or
  • on their own with no assistance and no reminders.

It can take many years for children to progress from being able to do a chore with assistance and direction to being able to do it totally on their own with no reminders and no supervision.

For Example: 10-Year-Olds Can

According to a study conducted by Crary, most children are 10 years old before they can and will independently with no reminders or assistance:

  • pick up their belongings,
  • make their beds,
  • keep their rooms clean,
  • take out the trash,
  • care for a pet,
  • set the table,
  • wash the dishes,
  • or cook a meal by themselves.


Using this Information

Knowing this can help you to:

  • have realistic expectations; children cannot do things that are beyond their capabilities.

  • plan to give the support (directions, supervision, reminders, companionship) your children might need.

  • remember to break down larger tasks into smaller pieces that your children can more easily remember to do and master.

There are no quick fixes and your children cannot mature overnight, but through setting appropriate expectations and taking into account your children’s nature and ability, you can work towards making chores flow more smoothly in your home.

By having a positive attitude about chores, by being clear about the need for everyone in the family to pitch in, and by using some tools at your disposal, you can decrease the tension around doing chores.

In the end, chores will help your children to become more responsible and to feel proud to be contributing members of the family.

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How to Increase Cooperation

Ask for Input

One of the most effective ways to engage your children’s cooperation with chores is to give them a say in which ones they do and when they do them. Together you can make a list of chores that need to be done in the house.

You can participate in a give-and-take discussion with them about which tasks they would choose to do; the final decisions should be ones to which everyone is agreeable. You can also give your children some flexibility in terms of when they do certain jobs.

For example, the trash can be taken out after school, after dinner or before bedtime – they can decide what works best for them.

Asking them for input gives children ownership in the decisions. This enhances follow through and reduces the need for nagging and cajoling. Children’s sense of responsibility increases if they have suggested or at least agreed to do the chores. And they may very well know what tasks they would like, or at least not mind, doing.

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Be Specific about What an Acceptable Job is

Being clear in advance about what your standards are in regard to a chore can decrease conflict, confusion or struggles in the future. Although some degree of flexibility is helpful as you take into consideration what is reasonable for your child to accomplish, you are entitled to expect that jobs be done to your satisfaction.

This means being clear about what exactly the job entails.

For example, if it is important that the lid be placed securely on the trash can, be sure to let your child know this fact.

If cleaning their bedroom means putting clean clothes away, putting dirty clothes in the hamper, and putting toys away, you can make a list or cut out pictures that reflect each part of the job.

If the job needs to be completed before a certain time, your children should know this also.

Your children can gain a real sense of accomplishment and capability knowing that they have completed their chores in a way that meets your standards. By being clear beforehand, they have a means to judge their performance as they go along, rather than hearing your correction (or criticism) after the fact.

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Teach, Teach, and Teach Some More

Children are not born knowing the skills needed to carry out these tasks. Often you have to demonstrate how to do them.

Before you ask your youngsters to make their beds, you might have to show them exactly what that means. You need to demonstrate the skill – perhaps many, many times before they will know how to do it.

Keep the instructions simple and don’t expect anything even remotely close to perfection the first few times around. Remember, they are beginners – they’ll only master these tasks over a period of time.

Sometimes, children may not be living up to expectations. Go back and make sure they fully understand how to do the task. You may need to re-teach the skill and work with them for a while until they have mastered the assigned activity.

As your children mature, you will be able to give simple reminders, such as “Feed the dog” and eventually, they will complete the task without any reminders.

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Specific Tasks Appropriate for Your Children’s Ages

In deciding which chores to select, perhaps the most important factor to consider is your children’s capability with regard to particular tasks. While this will vary from child to child based on their physical, intellectual, social and emotional maturity, following are some general suggestions that can help you to choose the right chores for each child.

3-4 Year Olds

  • Putting dirty clothes in hamper
  • Putting toys back in their place
  • Dressing self
  • Matching socks into pairs
  • Watering outside plants
  • Putting coat on hook
  • Putting shoes in proper place
  • Putting out dinner napkins


5-6 Year Olds

All of the above plus:

  • Collecting small waste cans around house
  • Carrying small grocery bag from car
  • Helping to put groceries away
  • Bringing mail in
  • Stacking newspapers for recycling
  • Brushing pets
  • Walking pets
  • Separating whites and colors
  • Bringing their dish to the sink after dinner


 7-8 Year Olds

All of the above plus:

  • Watering plants- indoors
  • Cleaning litter box
  • Emptying trash
  • Sweeping floors
  • Loading dishwasher
  • Feeding pets
  • Cutting and sorting coupons
  • Putting clothes in proper drawers
  • Folding clothes
  • Clearing the dinner table
  • Setting the table for dinner
  • Dusting


9-10 Year Olds

All of the above plus:

  • Vacuuming
  • Unloading the dishwasher
  • Changing sheets
  • Fixing snacks for self and younger siblings
  • Walking a pet
  • Helping prepare a meal
  • Cleaning their room
  • Cleaning glass
  • Pulling weeds


Parting Thoughts

While reviewing this list, remember to consider the unique qualities and interests of your children, how much assistance they will need to complete the task, and their maturity levels with regard to each task.

Allowing them input and being specific about what constitutes an acceptable job will also go a long way towards finding an effective match between your children and the chores they do.

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For more information about children and chores, check out the following books. Purchasing from through our website supports the work we do to help parents do the best job they can to raise their children.

How Much is Enough? by Jean Illsley Clarke Kids Are Worth It by Barbara Coloroso  Pick Up Your Socks by Elizabeth Crary

<all our recommended parenting books


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