Guidelines for Age Appropriate Chores (and am I asking too much of my child)?

Guidelines for Appropriate Chores (and am I asking too much of my child)?

Recently I realized that somehow my (almost) 3 year old son had been slipping under my radar when it came time to clear his dishes from the table. The other kids would automatically start clearing up, but he had a habit of wandering away from the table and ignoring his own dishes.

I was usually glad he was occupied and not getting into trouble and so did not call him back to take care of his dishes. Or I’d feel a pang of guilt at asking him to come and help since he was still so little.

Stop right there! I needed to start practicing what I preach. He is certainly not to young to bring a cup and a plate to the sink! And if I don’t teach him how to do it now, I’ll have a heck of a time convincing him to do it later!

I get a lot of questions about how to know if you’re putting too much responsibility on your child.
If you’re asking this question, you’re probably not being too demanding.

Guidelines for Appropriate Chores (and am I asking too much of my child)?

Here are my guidelines for assigning age appropriate chores:

  • Does the child know how to do the job?
  • Is it safe for him or her to do this job? (No lawn-mowing in this house until about 11 or 12 years old.)
  • Does the child have enough free time in the day? Are extra-curricular activities keeping her busy all week long? Having free time and helping out at home are both more important than non-stop extra-curricular activities.
  • Is the workload approximately fair for each child? (Fair does not mean even – bigger kids are expected to do more than smaller ones.)

If the answers to these questions are yes, then I’m happy with my kids’ assignments and am able to add or modify chores freely as needed.

Give praise where it’s due.

I always try to make sure the child understands that his help is needed and we value his contributions. We thank our kids often for doing their chores. We function as a team and teams help each other out. Constantly being served and not being required to help fosters a very bad attitude in children (and adults as well!)

Toddler vacuuming
My little kids LOVE to vacuum.

Don’t take complaining too seriously.

It is the rare child who will automatically do all her chores without a fuss, especially if doing chores is a new occurrence in the house. So do expect some grumbling and don’t allow this to persuade you that your expectations are unreasonable.

And then, there’s the guilt.

Why do we feel guilt over asking kids to do chores?

  • We may feel that it’s our job to take care of our kids. Asking them to help out may feel like we’re shirking our job. The solution to this feeling is to realize this: it’s a parent’s job to help a child grow into a responsible adult. Teaching them to work with a good attitude is a big part of that job.
  • We may feel like we already ask so much of them. Perhaps this is true; perhaps it isn’t. If this is your feeling, take an objective look at what you really expect your kid to do. If the workload isn’t really so heavy, maybe said child is just hoping to convince you to back off on the work.
  • If you have a circumstance such as illness or being a single parent which requires you to ask for extra help from your child, you shouldn’t feel guilty about it. Having the responsibility of helping at home helps to create strong, independent kids. When you rely on a child to do something, you’re telling them that their contribution matters and the work they do is important. This is incredibly affirming for a child and gives them a sense of accomplishment. Even if they gripe about their responsibilities, they are still learning valuable skills that will serve them well throughout life.
  • If the child does truly have a lot of housework to do and you truly need her help, do take heart. Doing extra housework won’t kill your child, even if he tells you otherwise 🙂 Proverbs 14:23 says “All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.” I want my kids to learn how to work hard!
  • The child makes us feel guilty. Some children are born with a talent for inducing guilt in their parents. How do they learn to whine so perfectly? I don’t know the answer to that question, but I do know that the more you give in to the complaining, the worse it gets. Complaints like “So-and-so never has to take out the trash!” should be shut down immediately, preferably with a smile and an extra chore.

Guidelines for Appropriate Chores (and am I asking too much of my child)?

Strategies for dealing with complaining over chores

If your child is complaining about his work, you have a couple options.

  1. Rule #1 is attitude – your attitude. Make sure you aren’t complaining about your own chores or other obligations. How can you expect your children to work willingly if you aren’t setting the right example?
  2. Ignore the protests. Just keep right on about your work. Once your kid sees that the complaining isn’t effective, he may just get the job done.
  3. Work together. When everyone is working on a job, it’s harder to complain of being unfairly burdened.
  4. Use checklists instead of verbal instructions. A checklist is completely objective – it’s hard to argue with a piece of paper, and also hard to insist you forgot something. Train your kids to work off a list and make sure everything is done.
  5. Work before fun. After the kitchen is cleaned up in the evening, we usually do something fun together. Knowing there’s a reward ahead makes the work go faster. We don’t always follow this rule, but it’s a good guideline.
  6. Play some music to set the right mood.
  7. Let your kids do the “fun” jobs. In our house, the little kids think vacuuming is a special privilege. So I let them do this job, even if they miss a spot (or three). They feel grown up by being allowed to use the big, loud vacuum (supervised, of course).
  8. Make the jobs entertaining. My 6 year old has a special job where he gets to sit on the kitchen counter to clean it. He pretends he’s trapped on an island while his big brother is mopping the floor around him. Fun times at the Mueller house, right?!
  9. Don’t nag. Give your instructions, have the child repeat them so you know he’s heard you, make sure the kid knows the consequences if he doesn’t perform, and follow through. Maybe he’ll miss out on dessert if he doesn’t set the table when asked to. Maybe he misses the family movie night if he didn’t do his homework earlier in the day.
  10. Don’t expect perfection. It takes time (maybe months or years) before a kid is proficient at a job. You may see the crumbs she missed, but she may have worked hard to sweep up the ones she got. No one wants to work for a boss who constantly criticizes. Don’t be that boss. If the work isn’t up to your standards, guide her back to finish up, but be nice about it 🙂

Doing regular chores has some additional benefits as well.

Research by Rossman at the University of Minnesota showed that kids who were helping with housework at ages 3 and 4 were much more likely to be successful as young adults (in completing their education, starting careers, etc.) Kids who didn’t start helping until age 15 or 16 had much less success in these areas.

Conclusion: when you teach your young kids to work, they’ll transfer those skills and work ethic to more complicated tasks in later life.

Having kids who know how to work hard is a real blessing. Getting to this point requires a huge investment of your time and patience. When the day comes that the kids surprise you with a sparkling clean kitchen, you’ll be so glad you made that investment.

For more advice and inspiration, see the other articles in this series on teaching your kids to do chores.

For lots of other perspective, see my Pinterest Chores board and Chore Charts board.

What about my own little helper?

My little man now gets a reminder from me and a helping hand to clear up his place after eating. He is actually quite proud of himself; maybe he feels that I’m now treating him like a big kid because he has chores to do, too.

Do you feel a little guilty when you ask your child to do a chore or does your house run ship-shape?

Photos by Morguefile, Sarah Mueller, Abby BatchelderJenny Lee Silver


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12 thoughts on “Guidelines for Age Appropriate Chores (and am I asking too much of my child)?”

  1. You are so right. I grew up in a very large family and a lot was expected of me, but it wasn’t too much and there were certainly times when I didn’t do my fair share because of extracurriculars. When I moved off to college, I remember cleaning the shower one day before class and that’s when it occurred to me that there probably weren’t many college students cleaning showers that day. I called my mom and thanked her for all she had taught me.

  2. I soooo need to start some chore stuff with my 3 1/2 year old. Thanks for sharing these tips with this new mama. I pinned this and am sure I will need to refer back in the very near future.


  3. Good tips! I always try to give the chore to the youngest child I think can manage it. Sometimes I have the younger kid do the chore together with the older kid like setting the table.

    And yes, I have some kids who will try to induce guilt when given a chore. Sometimes the complaint is true; they do end up with a lot of chores simply because they’re near by. Sometimes they just need more practice. 🙂

  4. Adults can and should teach the child how to do chores–but for the child’s sake not the adult’s. The point of chores is to help and teach the child to learn practical skills and how to take responsibility NOT to lighten the burdens on the parent. I have been a frazzled single mom who wanted/needed/was desperate for help. I forgive my old self but it was for me not the children and they sensed it. Trust me, this causes justified resentment and resistance. There is a huge difference between chores done WITH the child and IN the family and chores delegated by an overburdened parent to lighten their own load at the expense of the child.

    Teaching children chores entails more adult responsibility and investment, not less. It takes time to teach, encourage etc. often it requires willingness to remain on the spot and not leave to do something else. Often it is faster to do it oneself and faster still to delegate and disappear only to come back to mess and procrastination and then make the emotional atmosphere worse by yelling.

    • Hi Jens,

      Thanks for your comment. I do agree that it takes plenty of time to teach and encourage (and check up on the work). But I respectfully disagree that the only point of doing chores is to prepare a child for adulthood. I would be lost if I didn’t depend on my kids to help me with housework, dishes, putting away groceries and such. My kids have been “in training” for years and the 3 oldest kids at 8, 11 and 15 are a tremendous blessing to me. I think children appreciate their work being needed, although I’m sure no one likes to be over-burdened.

      I try to make sure that when we are doing chores, that everyone shares equally, as he is able. Everyone pitches in and then no one feels taken advantage of, even me. Certainly I end up doing more housework than the kids, but I do depend on them quite a bit.

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  6. These tips are very helpful for me. I am not sure yet how to start the chores process as I usually pick up after everyone… Thank you for your advice and please keep me on your list.


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Welcome. I’m Sarah!


I’m the creator of Decluttering School (formerly known as Early Bird Mom), lover of organized spaces, encourager to women and mom to four boys. Click here to read more!

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