Family life is a messy life. Chores are a Sisyphean task in the life of a family – cooking, shopping, cleaning, laundry, school, and managing schedules – the list is long and never complete.
The good news is that your children, beginning around the age of 2, can help with these tasks.
The great news is that it is good for your child’s psychological development to help with these tasks.
Children who help with chores around the house on a regular basis have greater self-confidence, academic success, and life satisfaction. Kids who participate in chores at home have lower drug and alcohol use as teens and fewer behavioral problems like delinquency. At the same time, these kids tend to be more engaged in school, have better mental health, and report they have close positive family relationships. Plus, children and teens who do chores at home have greater life skills, meaning that the transition to independent life (read: adulthood) is smoother and happier.
The problem is that parents aren’t asking their children to participate in chores. Rates of child helping with chores have been declining dramatically with each generation. A recent survey found that 82% of American adults reported doing chores as a child, but only 28% of these adults ask their own children to do chores.
This is a big problem. First, we aren’t helping our children by not making them do chores – in fact we are hurting them since chores are linked with better psychological functioning. Second, parents are hurting themselves by not asking for help from their children. Modern parents report high levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. Plus, one of the most frequent marital arguments revolves around chores. Putting it all together, it is critical that we be have high expectations that our children help around the house and take care of themselves.
The rule of thumb with chores is that if your child can do it, they should be doing it. As children age, the expectations and number of chores that they take on should increase and be more independent. There are lots of ways that children can help around the home and with their own lives. Let’s talk through some of the ways you can encourage your child to lend a hand.
Keep in mind your child doesn’t have to be doing all of these things. These are just examples of ways to get your child helping around the house. Each family is different.
Between 2 and 5 children are enthusiastic helpers. When they were 2, my children held the job title of “official sprayer” – a job they took very seriously. Anytime a surface had to be wiped down or dusted, they would spray the cleaner. One time #1 covered the ENTIRE dining room table with cleaner so much that it was overflowing. The table was “excellently cleaned” – or so #1 claimed. It took longer than if I did it on my own, but by 4, both of my kids were able to spray and wipe down a surface completely independently. Other tasks that preschoolers can do is push buttons to turn on the dishwasher or laundry, move over laundry from the washer to dryer, take their plate to the counter, load dishes into the dishwasher, make the bed, pick up toys, and help set the table.
By elementary school, kids can be helping out quite a bit, with things like putting away their own laundry, cleaning their own room, making their bed, setting the table on their own, putting together their own meals or snacks, taking care of pets, managing their own homework, or learning some serious kitchen and cooking skills. Teaching your child how to slice vegetables, season food, and bake are key to you having some more help in the kitchen (A bonus feature of having your child participate in making dinner is that they are more likely to eat it. This can be very helpful with picky eaters.). By late elementary school, kids should be able to cook an entire meal on their own without your help – and serve it to the family. Around the same time, your child should be responsible for doing their own laundry and packing their lunch. They key to success as you add more chores is making sure that your child can developmentally do the task – and that you help with it and supervise at first. Over time, they will become more independent. You may also have to make some changes. Take making the bed for example. One tip that facilitated my kids learning to make their beds – we got rid of flat sheets. Yep, did away with them. The kids have a comforter only on the bed, making it easy for them to straighten it out each morning. Is it technically the “correct” way to make a bed? No. But they can do it on their own and that leaves me more time for other tasks.
Middle school and high school students should be really contributing to running the house. They should be able to complete grocery shopping, yard work, care for younger siblings, and help with big home tasks like repairs or painting. These kids should also be able to manage their own life – figuring out their own school schedule, use public transit, schedule their own rides to events and school, and manage homework. These skills are preparing them to move out of the house and be able to take care of themselves.
Including your child in helping with chores is important for helping them develop into healthy, happy people. Plus, it ultimately will reduce stress in your life as a parent and build family cohesion as you all work together. Your family life will still be messy, but at least you’ll have help.