When Can Kids Do Chores

The other day someone asked on Facebook when kids are old enough to put their laundry away.  Confession: I’m thirty-three and don’t put my laundry away.  I’m great at sorting it, washing it, heck, even folding it, but then it stays in a lovely row of baskets.  Freud would say it is my mother’s fault. I’m sure I never had to put my own laundry away when I was a kid.  Or maybe I lived out of wash baskets then, too, and I just don’t remember?  In any case, I am fortunate in that I married a husband who has no problem delivering clean laundry to proper locations (although I do notice that he gets to my clothes last every single week), but on the chance that my children will not marry as well, I think it’s important to teach them to take care of themselves.

So when does it start?  And how organized do these chores need to be?

I’ve found that “chore charts” are not terribly useful. In the beginning they seem like a great idea, and I’ve always enlisted my kids in helping to create the chore chats that we’ve since lost (perhaps they’re hidden under the piles of clean underwear?).  I’m sure that spreadsheets of kiddie tasks work wonderfully in homes like the Duggar’s where all 19 children have a long list of daily jobs, but in my home of four low maintenance people, managing the system becomes more laborious than the tasks itself.  This does not mean that my kids don’t have chores, it just means that we’re flexible about who does what and when.  The important part is that the kids a.) know how to complete the task and b.) actually do it when I tell them without bribery, um, incentives.

We started around the age of two and a half or three with both of our children.  Every pre-schooler can throw away a napkin, push in a chair, even carry a cup or plastic plate to the kitchen counter by the age of three or so.  For this reason we felt that the kitchen was a great place to start teaching the kids to contribute to the family running smoothly. While working on the laundry, pre-schoolers can not only sort dirty laundry by color, but they also can match socks as they come out of the dryer.  Around the age of four or five you can up the ante and encourage kids to actually put their own socks and underwear away in their drawers, and back in the kitchen, those little hands that have been throwing away dirty napkins for a year or so can now place clean napkins on the table before dinner.

With our children now at seven and nearly five, we’ve got kids who put away their toys, make their beds, put away their shoes, hang up their coats, get their own snacks, set the table for dinner, clear the table after dinner, sort laundry, match socks, and put their folded items away…at least some of the time.  Yes, our older child often works harder than our younger because of his height and oh-so-adorable (sarcasm) four year old attitude, but we don’t entertain “It’s not fair!” conversations in our home.  Some day he’ll catch up, and in the meantime, big sister is setting a great example. While I certainly have no intention of turning my children into servants, I do love not only the sense of accomplishment on their faces when they take care of themselves and each other, but I also appreciate how their contribution helps our family run more smoothly, get out the door more quickly.

As our lives get more and more hectic with after-school activities, sports, and lessons, I’m happy that we started requiring our children to help at a young age.  Now if I could just teach them to put my clothes on hangers….

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  • “While I certainly have no intention of turning my children into servants”

    Why on earth not!? Take advantage, baby! I’m kidding…sorta.

  • I completely agree… kids can start doing their own thing at a very young age. I have pictures of my son at around 18 months putting away his dishes (I had a drawer assigned to him) and now that he’s three, he does his own bed, vacuums his room, wipes down coffee tables, fixes the throw pillows on the sofa and basically helps out whenever he can. He sees me doing all the housework so he doesn’t see housework as jobs but rather, responsibilities.

  • The earlier you get the kids involved in helping around the house, the easier the transition into doing it themselves as they get older. When they’re younger, making it fun like a game keeps their interest and enthusiasm high. As they get older and their skills improve, they get better at it and can be given increasing responsibilities. Yep, I’m all for getting them involved at an early age.

  • You’re not training kids to be servants, you’re raising them to be responsible adults.

    Hang in there.
    I’m actually looking forward to help with the lawn mowing.

    It’s a lot like web work, right? A lot of work off front for some passive income later 😉

  • Sigh off front? I meant up front. I’ve written too much today.

  • My daughters (ages 7 and 5) do little things to help around the house, like helping me set the table, clean their and their little brother’s rooms, and tidy up the kitchen after we’ve cooked together. I hope that my kids see “chores” the way Pattie’s son does because I don’t want them to see household tasks as chores, but rather family responsibilities that every member of our family needs to contribute to.

  • Karla

    I don’t have kids yet, but I am a strong believer in training kids from a young age. Way to go.

  • Amy-sarah

    HELLL yeah. MY 9 yr old sn loves to be mommy’ little housekeeper helper now, so I would say he started doing some kind of chore when he was about 4 years old. After he started reading.. you see I raised a smart and resourceful one. I am a strict single mom…like mommie dearest. and a very VERY loving one. He is my world my everthing my team mate. Turn them into slaves I say…haahahahahahahah..ahahahhah..hahaha
    cya later. I could always use a friend. HAPPY mommy’s day to all and to all a good night.


  • This post reminded me that I need to start being better at dishing out on chores and ensuring they get done.

    I agree on the chore chart – also spent way too much time putting together that design, then realising I was still doing all the chores.

    I live in SA and domestic help is quite a common phenomena here, so we have domestic help. The reality is that my kids do not “need to do chores” but I do agree that children SHOULD do chores as part of a contribution to the family and the home.

    My son is 9 and he had to work for 1/2 the money towards buying his Nintendo – the result was he cleaned, and tidied, and did anything and everything because he had motivation.

    But this post reminded me that I need to get my kids to take responsibility for certain chores (in case they do not marry well).

  • bigmomma

    Use Upsees.com to make chores really simple. We’ve been using it for months and it’s great.