Teaching your kids to do household chores is a win-win for parents; it takes some weight off your shoulders, while instilling a sense of responsibility in your little ones from a young age.

The challenge for most parents is figuring out what types of chores to give your kids. While you want to teach them the value of picking up after themselves and helping out around the house, you also don’t want to ask too much of your little tykes before they’re ready! While your toddlers are growing, developing, and learning about the world, start them off small with a few basic chores. As they get older and more capable, gradually increase the amount and complexity of the chores you ask from your kids.

To decide where to start with your children, use our easy guide outlining age-appropriate chores for kids:

Ages 3-5

Children can start doing small chores around the house as young as two or three years old. Remember, at this stage they’re still developing their dexterity, so they can’t handle big physical tasks yet. That doesn’t mean they should sit out during clean-up time, though! Simple chores for young kids, that will teach them the importance of cleaning up after themselves, include:

  • Picking up their toys (trying making this a fun clean-up game!)
  • Throwing away their own diapers in the trash can
  • Folding washcloths
  • Putting dirty clothes in the hamper
  • Helping set the table
  • Clearing the table
  • Putting away clean silverware
  • Straightening their own bookshelf

At this point, most chores should be performed with supervision. Being nearby will ensure you can gently correct any bad cleaning habits, before they become second nature. Try making a team activity out of things like putting away toys, or setting the table, to encourage a little family bonding and show your kids that chores apply to everyone in the house — young and old alike! Toddlers especially love feeling like they’re doing what the “grown-ups” do, so find ways to do chores together. Your 5-year-old can put away silverware, while you put away the plates and bowls.

Don’t be afraid to make it fun by playing music while cleaning up, or turning chores into a game. While you’re folding the laundry, you may have the kids play a matching game with the socks. Or, have each kid pick a color, put away toys of that color — building basic color recognition skills while tidying the room.

Ages 6-8

By ages six to eight, things like picking up toys and helping set the table should become habit, and your kids won’t need as much supervision. Now that they’ve grown a little, and are starting to think for themselves more often, they can handle a bit more responsibility. In addition to continuing their previous chores, you can add a few chores to their list, for instance:

  • Lightly cleaning the bathroom (wiping down the sink and sweeping the floor)
  • Helping unload the dishwasher
  • Folding laundry
  • Sweeping floors
  • Taking clothes out of the dryer
  • Dusting
  • Feeding pets
  • Picking up the yard before the lawn is mowed
  • Cleaning windows
  • Weeding the garden

Remember that your children are still learning how to perform these chores in a neat way. They may not get all the dust while sweeping, or fold the laundry perfectly, or fill the dog’s water bowl without spilling. Have patience. Give constructive feedback when necessary, but always praise them for helping out so they don’t develop bitter feelings towards cleaning. If you allow them to make their own mistakes and learn in the process, your kids will strengthen not only their ability to clean, but also their problem-solving skills.

At this age, you may not get your kids to clean up their whole room — so, request one smaller task at a time. Telling them to clean up the bedroom may be overwhelming, but telling them to put their clothes away gives them a good start. Breaking down tasks like this helps keep them focused within a shorter time period. Cleaning an entire room takes a lot of time, and offers many more opportunities for distractions.

Ages 9-11

Now that your children are bigger and taller, they can handle tasks that are even more complex or physically demanding — and many children are eager to show they’re maturing. Instead of handing Mom and Dad dishes to put away, they can unload the dishwasher on their own (though they might still need a stool to reach higher shelves). At this age, they should also be able to handle the vacuum cleaner. In addition to the chores they’ve been doing so far, other chores for this age group include:

  • Cleaning their bedroom without help
  • Changing their sheets
  • Making the bed
  • Doing the laundry
  • Vacuuming
  • Washing dishes
  • Taking out the trash
  • Helping cook dinner

Your kids should no longer need supervision while doing most chores, and they’ll as they become used to certain tasks, they don’t need as many constructive suggestions. By this point, your 9-year-old can likely feed the cat, fold clothing, and sweep the floor without help. However, they may need help with newer tasks like cooking, or washing dishes — be available to teach them the ins and outs of working with food and kitchen supplies. Continue to praise them for their help, reinforcing a positive association with housework and chores in general.

Ages 12-13

By age 12, your kids should have enough experience in their chores to be pretty self-sufficient when it comes to cleaning and tidying. They may need help with cooking new recipes, but by this age, they should be able to cook easy meals on their own (think pasta, soup, or omelets). Other chores you can start having them do include:

  • All previous chores
  • Mowing the lawn
  • Preparing meals
  • Babysitting younger siblings
  • Washing the car
  • leaning the bathroom
  • Cleaning the kitchen

This is also the age where your kids will start showing focused interest in specific activities. Some kids really enjoy cooking, while others may be interested in learning how to garden, or exploring how cars work. Take these opportunities to teach your kids about the more complicated household tasks — some of these chores can open the door to teaching moments and discussions about more adult topics (like taking care of a vehicle, or planning a grocery list with meals in mind). Try to focus on their personal interests, and balance the workload across family members, so they don’t get bored with their chores.

Tips for Giving Your Kids Chores

Doing household chores teaches children about responsibility and teamwork, and hones new skills that will be useful in adulthood. Though many children resist chores, for the time and effort they require, you can prepare early on to frame chores in a positive and constructive way.
Don’t use chores as a form of punishment — this will only set your kids up to resent their chores, and build negative associations around doing them. It also indirectly decreases the desire to do chores at other times: “If taking out the trash is my punishment, why would I do it on days when I’m not in trouble?”

Lead by example. If you expect your children to keep their rooms clean, make a point to keep your own bedroom clean.

These suggestions are just that — suggestions. They aren’t set in stone. If your child finds certain tasks challenging, or is a particularly quick learner, feel free to modify your child’s chores as you please. Be careful not to give them chores that exceed their physical or mental abilities; this can be detrimental to their self-esteem, or cause them to act up. That’s why adding a few new chores every couple of years is a good strategy, because it eases them into new tasks that don’t seem as challenging as they work up to them.

Author's Bio: 

Jennifer Paterson, A.R.C.T., Master’s of Music (voice, piano), has degrees from Boston University, The Royal Conservatory of Music of Toronto and the University of British Columbia. She was a recipient of The Canada Council Award to study at the well-known Royal Opera House in London, and was the principal soprano for the Boston Lyric Opera Company. Her dedication to the legitimate training of the voice and piano has made her a definite asset to the musical community of Southern California.