The Importance of Household Chores for Kids

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Kids hate doing chores. But are any of us over the moon about them, really?

Chores are like Spanx. They’re both unsung heroes: Spanx of the form-fitting dress, chores of the average household.

Most people notice the fabulous dress, never imagining the spandex scaffolding holding everything in.

Same with cleaning the baseboards. No one thinks to credit that small task with keeping the floors clean. That is until a few weeks go by without them being done.

For a household to run smoothly, chores must be done.

If the laundry isn’t done, I get disheveled faster. If there aren’t enough clean dishes, we rely on take-out. Not doing chores can literally make me smelly and full of trans fats (this is a stretch, and mostly a joke, but you get what I’m saying).

It’s easy to see why chores are important for that grown-up life, but why is it important to involve kids in day-to-day household upkeep?

autistic boy helping family make dinner Why Should Kids Do Chores?
The boys help us make dinner, ALOT (it’s a great sensory activity, too!)

Why Should Kids Do Chores?

Do you know what the biggest predictor of young adult success is? According to Marty Rossman at the University of Minnesota, it was whether those young adults did chores as children.

The Harvard Grant Study found that individuals who did more housework as children were happier adults.

So, while not stepping on Legos is nice, there’s more on the line here than organized toy bins.

Chores Teach Life Skills

I want my children to have the life skills to live successfully on their own. But it’s a progression, right?

The five year old who can’t button their own coat becomes the eight year old who can’t pour their own juice becomes the eighteen year old who can’t do their own laundry.

For younger children, doing chores can increase coordination, hand strength, and the overall knowledge needed to complete more and more advanced tasks as they age.

For teenagers, learning household skills prepare them for adult life. Being able to cook for oneself, manage expenses, and maintain home upkeep leads to a less stressful life.

toddler boy helping push the shopping cart while grocery shopping
Pushing the cart

Increase Self-Esteem

Increasing self-esteem isn’t all compliments and participation trophies.

Completing tasks and goals leads to a sense of accomplishment. And a sense of accomplishment increases self-esteem.

Increasing self-esteem is teaching children that they are capable of doing hard things; or, that they are resilient.

Resilience gives children and teens feelings of competence that don’t rely on school performance or social standing (and will arguably suit them better in the long run, anyway).

Ease Parent Workload

Sure, kids doing chores is for their own good. But it also makes household management easier for adults.

There’s no reason to take on everything. Delegate, delegate, delegate.

Autistic boy helping with laundry
Surrounded by books and laundry, Big A does his best impression of me

To recap, doing chores helps children:

  • Learn important life skills
  • Feel a sense of purpose and contribution
  • Gain understanding and appreciation of currency (if giving allowance)
  • Prepare for employment/bigger responsibilities
  • Learn consequences (example: a favorite shirt, not put away, can be harder to find)
  • Set a good foundation for functioning independently
  • Increase self-reliance and time-management skills
  • Learn to complete projects by executing small tasks
  • Gain empathy

AND MAYBE MOST IMPORTANTLY

  • Eases parent workload

Why Adults Resist Kids Doing Chores

I know what you may be thinking, “yeah, yeah, yeah, great research, but what about real life? I barely have time to cook dinner, let alone supervise or re-do sloppily done chores, it’s quicker to do it myself.”

I hear you. And you’re right.

It’s true, young children’s helping will be more…hindrance than anything. They will spill and break things, leave streaks and ask endless questions.

And I know. I know we’re busy and overworked and overstretched and oh so tired.

But young children, developmentally, want to be around their family. And they want to help. Even if (when, I mean when) it takes more work on our part. It’s really important to encourage their participation in household tasks.

toddler boy helping feed his baby brother
Little A helping feed Tiny A

Seriously, Stop Telling Young Children To “Go Play”

I’m as guilty of this as anyone else. But we’ve gotta stop telling young children to “go play” if they approach us while we’re doing chores.

Yes, finding toddlers a job creates more work for adults. But if we redirect toddlers away from helping enough times, they’re going to stop offering.

The three year old that breaks dishes and spills water while “doing the dishes” will be ten in the blink of an eye.

Including young children in chores (and dealing with the fall-out) is an investment in our future household workload.

It will be a great help when older children can competently do chores. And they won’t get a chance to get competent without practice.

Why Children Resist Chores

Well…that’s just the nature of the beast.

(That’s a saying, I’m not calling children beasts.)

(Ok, I am a little bit.)

It’s their brains, you see. Young children and teens simply do not have fully developed frontal lobes.

That means they are:

  • Lacking in judgment: Children and teens don’t know how to run a household and are unable to think of the long-term consequences of not doing so.
  • A bit self-absorbed: Again, not trying to be insulting, but putting yourself in another’s shoes takes cognitive skills that young children and teens haven’t mastered yet; they simply don’t naturally consider the needs and expectations of others.
  • Impulsive: Children and teens want what they want when they want it; things that aren’t immediately gratifying (like doing chores) aren’t on the agenda.
children doing outdoor chores
Potting plants

How To Get Kids To Do Chores Without Nagging

What’s a caregiver to do? These are hardwired traits, difficult to fight.

Fear not. There are ways to encourage kids to do chores without power struggles or constant scolding.

Role Modeling

Listen, I’m talking to myself as much as I’m talking to you.

If we want children to do chores without complaining that means we have to do them without complaining. Or rolling our eyes and dragging our feet.

Treat chores matter-of-factly, neither disappointed nor excited, as if they’re just a part of life. Because they are.

Kids will follow suit.

Always Involve Young Children

You’d be surprised at what young children can do. I know I am, every day.

Running errands and working from/maintaining our home is hard with three little ones underfoot.

Our answer is to involve them. Big and Little A (four and three, respectively) help us cook meals, clean surfaces, sweep floors, do the dishes, grocery shop, do yard work, and even clean the oven.

Sure, everything takes longer. And is messier. But it’s worth it.

Real Contributions

A word of caution: when involving young children in household chores, make sure their contribution is real.

This was a mistake I made frequently. I’d go to clean, set the boys up with their cleaning toy equivalent, and feel smug about it.

But my kids got the message real quick: I didn’t expect real help from them. So they wandered off and got into stuff instead.

If I give the boys a real chance to help, with a real mop, pointing to an actual small section of the floor, they glow with a real sense of accomplishment. And they’re more eager to help in the future.

I cannot emphasize enough how much this is a win-win. A water covered floor win, but a win just the same.

child doing chores in the kitchen with dad
Cleaning the oven with dad

Ask For Input

Know what kids like more than a clean kitchen? Autonomy.

Children are more inclined to complete chores if they have a say in the process and a stake in the outcome.

Older children can design their own chore chart, picking the tasks they want to do (within parameters), the time that they’ll do them (before or after school), and/or their preferred reward system.

Even young children can decide between two chores or what kind of stickers they’d like on their charts.

Create Initiative

“No fun until chores are done” is a regular mantra in our house.

I mean, it rhymes. That’s hard to argue with.

This statement creates a sense of urgency (focusing on the “something fun” instead of the present drudgery) and removes me as the fall guy (the boys are motivated by the “something fun” instead of my nagging).

Until the chore is completed, I don’t go out of my way to do anything fun. There’s no dragging out art stuff or going to a friend’s house or screen time.

Use A Timer

Using a timer is another way to create a sense of urgency and remove me as the fall guy.

And all at the click of a button, not the expense of my patience. If anyone balks or complains, I just point at the timer. No yelling necessary.

If the timer goes off and the chore is still not completed, the fun stuff is off the table. Or 20 minutes of electronic time is taken away; or bedtime could be half an hour earlier.

Reward Systems

When we think of reward systems and chores, we typically think of allowance.

But chore reward systems can take on several forms. There could be charts for prizes, privileges earned/taken away, or points earned for big-ticket items.

Or there can be no reward system at all; chipping in simply an expectation.

toddler cleaning his play oven
Monkey see, monkey do

Developmentally Appropriate Chores, Listed By Age

Adults can set up kids for failure by raising the bar too high. It’s important to assign chores that are developmentally appropriate.

For example, most toddlers lack the spatial reasoning to organize toy bins; a five year old likely isn’t coordinated enough to successfully mop the floor, and I doubt you’d let a seven year old babysit younger children.

It can be difficult to find the sweet spot between “challenging enough to teach new skills and keep kids engaged” and “so hard that kids will give up.”

Use this rough guide to assign developmentally appropriate chores. Chores build off each other; tasks listed for preschoolers can also be completed by toddlers. Teens can complete all the chores listed, not just the last ones.

Chores for Ages 2-3

Remember, young kids are eager to contribute. One study found that 20-month-olds would stop playing with a new toy just to help an adult pick something up off the floor. Take advantage of their willing spirits!

  • Set table (with supervision)
  • Dust/wipe off a small area
  • Pick up toys (with supervision)
  • Place clothes in laundry hamper/washer
  • Fill pet bowls with food
  • Mop a small area with dry mop
  • Help make beds
  • Put away clothes (with supervision)

Chores For Ages 4-5

Preschoolers retain helpful attitudes, but with more strength and abilities!

  • Use hand-held vacuum
  • Make own bed
  • Match socks
  • Wash plastic dishes (with supervision)
  • Clear dirty dishes (with supervision)
  • Put away clean utensils
  • Dust/wipe off bigger areas
  • Pull weeds
  • Water flowers
autistic boy helping dad with yard chores
Mowing the lawn

Chores for Ages 6-9

Elementary school children have reached an age where they need much less supervision. Hallelujah.

On the other hand, they’ve now reached an age of rebellion. Use the tips listed above to increase chore compliance.

  • Sweep floors
  • Vacuum
  • Dust/wipe off even bigger areas (entire rooms by now)
  • Empty trash
  • Make own breakfast and snacks
  • Help prepare school lunches
  • Help cook dinner
  • Put away own laundry
  • Wet mop floors

Chores for Ages 10-13

Middle schoolers can be responsible for tasks without constant reminders.

Let the chore chart do the reminding, instead of adults. There’s less pushback that way.

  • Wash dishes/load dishwasher without assistance
  • Prepare easy meals
  • Babysit younger children (while parents are home)
  • Use clothes washer and dryer without supervision
  • Wash family car

Chores for Ages 14+

Older teens can do pretty much anything an adult can do. Don’t let them tell you otherwise.

  • Clean out refrigerator
  • Help deep clean kitchen
  • Scrub toilet, sink, and shower
  • Iron clothes
  • Accomplish small errands (like picking up a few things from the store)
  • Assist with simple household and automotive repairs
tired kid falling asleep after helping with chores
Tired after a long day of physical labor

When kids do chores, they learn life skills, gain self-esteem, and are happier adults. Most importantly, kids doing chores can ease caregiver workload.

Armed with these tips and insights, a little finesse, and clear communication, kids of all ages can help run their households.

Happy task delegation!

Love,

megan imhoff
Megan

Megan

Megan writes everything on Ish Mom. She possesses a bachelor's degree in psychology, a flair for theatrics, and a whole lotta nerve. She lives in the Midwest (and loves it) with her wonderful husband and three young boys.
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