What chores your kids should be doing at every age & why it's important not to get it wrong
CHORES are a great way for children to learn skills that will set them up for adult life.
But if you’re looking at them as a way to tick off some of your to-do list, you’re probably making work harder for yourself in the long run.
Sophie Giles, parenting and behavioural consultant and founder of the Gentle Start Family Consultancy, says: “What you really don’t want to do with chores, at any age (unless they’re deliberately messing them up), is to flag that it’s not done well enough.
“Because then you’re telling your child that they’re not good enough, which isn’t great for their self-esteem, but also they’re far less likely to want to carry on chores in the future if you’re very critical of them.
“Hence it’s really important not to give them a chore that desperately needs doing because that’s not terribly fair.
“Anything really important, the adult should be doing themselves.”
Involving children – particularly little ones – in household chores can be laborious and time-consuming for parents, but if you see it as an investment in your kid’s future, it’s time well-spent.
“The issue with never giving any chores and never expecting your child to help you with anything is, if you’re not careful, you can raise a slightly entitled child who views adults as staff,” explains Sophie.
“Children who are raised never to do anything can find it quite hard to adjust later on and can find it quite hard in other settings where actually things are expected of them.”
She says children who are used to adults being responsive and reactive to their wants don’t learn to delay their gratification, miss out on vital self-care tools for later life and are often less proactive in sorting problems out for themselves.
“Children do like to help out, many of them will follow their parents around the house copying what they’re doing,” says Sophie.
“Role playing and learning through doing is a massive part of childhood so if they want to help then by all means you should let them – even if it’s slightly annoying for the parent!”
The minute chores become something that children resent, it’s something that they’re less likely to want to action when they’re older
At every age, Sophie emphasises the importance of chores being optional.
She says: "The minute chores become something that children resent, it’s something that they’re less likely to want to action when they’re older.”
Parents should use their own knowledge of their child to decide which jobs are reasonable, but here’s what Sophie recommends for each age group.
AGE 2 – 3
“I generally start around two or three, and then it’s more about cooperation,” says Sophie.
“For example, you can have little cooperation charts which are fairly short-lived – the whole rewards chart thing – but it gets them into the swing of doing it.
“It certainly helps through the terrible twos and terrible threes because at least a child is then motivated to do things.”
So children aged two up should be helping to tidy their toys away
Reiterating that none of these chores should be compulsory, Sophie says that suitable tasks could include:
- Pulling their duvet back on their own bed
- Taking off their own clothes and (as long as you’ve selected comfortable, easy clothes for them) dressing themselves
- Carrying their own bowl and plate (as long as they’re not breakable) from the table to the sink, for example, after they’ve finished eating
- Cooperating with putting their shoes and coat on and getting ready to get out of the house
She adds: “Nurseries will have children tidying up to some extent by the age of two.
“So children aged two up should be helping to tidy their toys away.”
When to reward for chores
ALTHOUGH young children may need a small incentive to get going with chores, Sophie says that certain things like saying please and thank you and doing their homework should never be rewarded with treats.
It’s also important that any reward is a very small thing, so you don’t risk getting caught up in escalating treats.
Sophie says: “It’s generally unhelpful to reward with food, but small children can be very motivated by food.
“So it may be that, if you are allowing sugar, you very much restrict the amount of sugar that you give your child and that is something that they then earn.”
This could be a single sweet after lunch or dinner if they’ve done their chores that day.
Some children will also be happy with a sticker.
Sophie suggests screen time as another effective reward.
“Children are very invested in getting as much screen time as they can,” she says.
“Aside from schooling, your child doesn’t have to have screen time so if you want to use that then you can and that’s quite good leverage.
“They’re earning their screen time and you’re limiting the amount they also get, to maybe an hour maximum a day.”
However, bribing older children with pocket money to get chores done isn’t a good idea.
Sophie says: “I tend to think you need to give your child a level of pocket money that they just get, to help them budget and learn how to spend within their limits and figure out what they want and things.
“Then they could earn extra money by doing extra chores, but it’s up to them.
“You shouldn’t be forcing a child to do it – you want them to do it because they want to.”
AGE 4 – 5
At this age, lots of the chores could help children developmentally.
Sophie suggests sorting activities like:
- Helping you with the laundry, matching socks
- Sorting the recycling into different types of material (provided there is nothing very sharp or breakable)
Other tasks, depending on your child’s ability, could include:
- Putting their clothes in the hamper
- Setting and clearing the table
- Hoovering a little bit (depending on how heavy the vacuum cleaner is)
Sophie says: “I will often suggest that they help foster a little bit more independence in terms of food, so a four year old should be able to spread stuff on their own toast at breakfast – and they really like doing it.”
Initially, parents would need to provide a little bit of butter on the side which may seem laborious, but it fosters learning – it will help them to limit themselves and do it better later down the road.
I’m quite pro children being taught to use tools safely, so I would be perfectly happy, in a supervised way, for an eight year old to be using quite a sharp knife
Four year olds will often also be able to cut up their own fruit and things with a plastic knife and help with some of the cooking.
And remember, they’re more likely to eat it if they’ve made it themselves!
AGE 6 – 8
By this time, children should be enjoying helping with meals and cooking a lot more.
Sophie says: “I’m quite pro children being taught to use tools safely, so I would be perfectly happy, in a supervised way, for an eight year old to be using quite a sharp knife.
“But again, that’s very dependent on your child’s developmental level, impulse control and gross and fine motor skills.
“So I might start them off with a plastic knife that can cut quite well and graduate up.”
Other chores could be:
- Putting their own clothes away when you’ve washed them
Also, if you have pets, children in this age bracket (usually closer to eight) may be able to feed them.
This comes with the usual caveat that adults will need to check that everything’s done properly.
The risk of praising too much
Sophie says it’s important not to over-praise.
“Chores are just a part of life, everybody has to do them, and by giving your child chores from an early age up, you’re helping prepare them for adult life,” she explains.
“If you over-praise, you risk looking too emotionally invested, so the child might turn around and refuse to do it if they want to annoy you.
“You basically want a child doing a chore because that’s just what you do.”
AGE 8 – 10
Now that they're a bit older, children can do more – although parents must make sure to teach their kids how to do new chores and not assume knowledge.
Sophie suggests that doing the laundry can be a great task for this age group.
She says: “That’s another sorting activity – what’s light, what’s dark, reading special labels and following instructions is all really useful for an eight year old.”
Other chores could include:
- Helping more with cooking
- Hanging out the washing (if they’re tall enough)
“For the older age group, it’s really about the financial stuff because that’s the stuff that they’re going to need to know later in life and you’ve already taught them how to do the rest,” says Sophie.
If you’ve involved your child in the weekly food shop from a young age, she suggests a good idea is putting a 12 year old, for example, in charge of dinner once a week.
You give them a set budget, and they can buy whatever they want but it can’t include processed food.
So if they want pizza, they’d have to buy the base and the topping ingredients.
Children often have no idea how much things cost and it helps them plan
Sophie says this helps children to learn how to budget and cook but also to take into account other people’s preferences as they need to choose something that’s appropriate for everyone in the family.
Children are also very motivated by being given money, so it’s much more interesting for them than simply making dinner from ingredients you bought at the supermarket.
When they’re a bit older, you could also give them a budget to plan a family day out that you OK afterwards.
They will need to think about where to go and what to do, but also how to get there, what to eat and drink once you’re there, how to save money and what to prioritise.
Sophie says: “Children often have no idea how much things cost and it helps them plan.”
Other chores for the over 11s can include:
- Ironing their own clothes
- Mowing the lawn
Even for adolescents, Sophie believes it’s important that chores remain optional.
She says: “If you don’t really enjoy the chore or you’re not a massively tidy person to begin with and that sort of thing doesn’t appeal to you, if you are made for all your teenage years to iron everybody’s clothes, you’re probably going to go absolutely the opposite direction once you’re an adult and do very little.”
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