What is an appropriate age to expect children to do different chores? When can you expect them to be responsible for their own stuff?
We’ve been talking about emotional labor and mental load this month, when mom carries the mental and physical burden for running the household, often almost entirely by herself. We’ve talked about how to get men more involved in sharing the load (and we’ve talked about what to do if he won’t).
But husbands are not the only ones in many of our households. Many of us have children, too–children who can be taught how to take responsibility for themselves and taught to share in the household load. And children who, if they aren’t taught these things, will end up contributing a LOT to your mental load.
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I think we don’t expect very much out of kids with chores now compared to what was expected in the past.
Read Little House on the Prairie and see what Laura was expected to do when she was really young! Our kids have it easy. All over the world little children have tremendous responsibility at a very young age. I’m not saying that I advocate child labour; only this idea that kids aren’t able to do tasks young is almost an entirely North American phenomenon.
They’re not able because we’ve never taught them, and we haven’t raised them in an environment where they would expect to have to work. Too often, for many kids, the point of life becomes being entertained, or doing things that they like to do.
I just can’t understand 13 and 14-year-olds who go off to summer camp for a few weeks (back when we could go to summer camp!) who don’t pack their own suitcases. Why is mom packing for them at that age? And what about a 10-year-old who doesn’t know where to start when it comes to cleaning their room?
So I’m going to suggest a few ages for things, and I’d love comments on what you think. This is a rough guide; I may revise it later. But here is what I think is reasonable to expect from children (which means that you have to teach it to them at that age, of course):
Age Appropriate Chores for Kids
Age 4: Put toys away in toy bins. Dust a coffee table. Clean the outside of the stove and the bottom of the fridge. Dust baseboards. Get dressed by yourself.
Age 5: Brush teeth by yourself (especially with an egg timer there). Start putting dishes in the dishwasher. Choose your own clothes. Clean walls/cupboards/doors with water and a cloth.
Age 6: Make your own bed. Sort socks. Sort your own laundry by whites and colours (empty your hamper into the laundry room).
Age 7: Dry dishes. Put your own laundry away after parents fold it.
Age 8: Clean room by yourself. Tidy anywhere in the house. Clean a bathroom (including the toilet). Wash dishes while standing on a stool (not necessarily pots yet). Pack for yourself if you’re going away. Pack your lunch for school.
Age 9: Wash dishes. Fold laundry. Make cookies by yourself, and cake from a mix.
Age 10: Put a load of clothes in the washing machine. Mop a floor. Pack for yourself if you’re going away.
Age 11: Vacuum. Make three different meals (spaghetti, chicken pie, ham, for instance). Supervise younger siblings by yourself.
Age 12: Baby-sit. Sort out the organization of your own room, or a linen closet, or a front hall.
Age 13: Be pretty much self-reliant. Need parents more for advice about any household task, but already know how to do them all. Start to become independent by using a clothing allowance.
Age 14: Start to buy your own toiletries, with allowance if parents prefer. You’re responsible for your shampoo, deodorant, toothpaste, etc. Allowances can be given on monthly basis for this.
A few tips for helping kids own age appropriate chores:
Kids need mentoring before they can do a chore on their own
Kids will not be able to do things as well as you. If you want a child to take over a task, you have to be patient and let them learn, even if that means it’s not done perfectly for a while.
And you’ll have to teach them how to clean a bathroom by doing it with them. Show them that they have to dust the back of the toilet or the top of the toilet paper roll; show them what the cleaners are for, and your own tricks for streak-free mirrors. Give them checklists for each chore–what’s involved in cleaning a bathroom or taking out the trash (empty all garbage cans into one bag; replace bags in garbage cans; add new garbage to garbage in garage; attach garbage tags (if applicable); take to curb; sort recycling; take to curb). “Taking out the trash”, in other words, doesn’t just mean “carry the full garbage bag to the curb on time”. It means much more, and they need to “own” the whole task.
So do it the tasks with them for a few weeks. Make a game out of it. Ask them to examine YOUR work and see if you missed something. Have fun while teaching them!
Kids need reminding to do their chores
To relieve all of the mental load from you means that a child will do the chore without being asked. However, realistically, most kids do need reminding until they’re into their teens. It can just be a quick thing–“do your chores as soon as you’re home from school!”, or “chores before TV!”. But they may need to be told.
Make it easy for kids to remember what to do
At the same time, you don’t want to be giving extensive orders all the time. Keep lists on the fridge where they can check off their chores, or check what needs to be done. Use FamZoo like we talked about yesterday so that it sends reminders and checklists to the kids. Or use an app that will remind kids. When kids are younger, pictures of what they’re to do can help if they can’t read well yet.
Once they’re well into teenagehood–say, by 15 or 16–you can start expecting them to remember by themselves, and have consequences if they don’t do the chores by a certain time each week (say, they miss their allowance or you change the wifi password for a day). That way you don’t have to say anything, but the kids will learn that it’s best to remember! And they can set up their own apps to make sure they do (and I do recommend FamZoo!).
Age Appropriate Responsibilities for Kids
Okay, we’ve covered chores. But what about other things, like homework, practising piano, remembering to bring their lunch, remembering to make sure their sports equipment is packed and ready to go?
When we revisit Sandra and Mark’s story that opened this emotional labor series, a big part of Sandra’s stress was kid stuff–kid birthday parties, homework, and piano practice. When can we let this fall from our mental load to theirs?
Supervision is always part of parenting
Parents need to know what their kids are doing and what is up in their lives, and that means that we will always be supervising to some extent. We need to know whether they’re doing their homework or failing; whether they’re practising music or we should drop it; whether they’re bringing home all of the school notices.
But just because you have to supervise doesn’t mean that more and more of the first-line responsibility can’t fall on the kids as they get older.
I’m a big believer that the best way for kids to learn responsibility is to face the consequences of their actions. For instance:
- Forget their lunch? They have to come home for it or buy it out of their own money (when they’re old enough)
- Fail in school? They lose wifi privileges so that they have time to do their homework.
- Don’t have their stuff ready for a sports practice? They don’t go (or they’re late)
I talked about this for younger children in my post on alternatives to spanking, but as kids get older, the consequences should fit the crime, too.
Now, I would never jump straight to those consequences, and they should be age appropriate. Spend considerable time mentoring them. Talk about what they need to do to get ready for sports practice. Remind them the night before. Set up checklists. Remind them on the weekend if they have to do laundry. Make it a habit for quite a while that you do it with them before you expect them to do it without reminder. But if you don’t want to be bothered by the constant, “Mom, where are my soccer cleats?”, then you need to transfer that responsibility early, and train them even when they’re very young to keep their shoes in a particular place.
Even if you do all of this, though, you will still have to keep tabs. That’s part of being a parent. But I found that when we expected a lot from our kids, and we equipped them and taught them how to carry it out, they lived up to it! And Rebecca talks a lot about this in her book Why I Didn’t Rebel–which you really need to check out!
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A few other considerations about age appropriate chores and responsibilities
Expect the same from your boys as your girls when it comes to chores
I’ve seen the dynamic in so many families where the girl is expected to help with housework while the boy is not. Boys need to be able to clean as well. If in your family the boy gets off without cleaning or cooking while the girl has to pick up after everyone, then your daughter is likely to marry someone who doesn’t help, and your son may end up being a bad husband. Train both of your children how to manage a household.
Expect the same chores and responsibilities from your youngest as your oldest
Did your oldest have to start chores at 8? Then so should your youngest. Could your oldest cook spaghetti at 11? Then so should your youngest.
Now, some children have more challenges than others, but all things being equal, your youngest should also be expected to contribute. In some homes, the oldest does far more, at far younger an age, than the oldest. That’s not a good dynamic, either.
We need to raise kids who are capable of looking after themselves. And they can’t learn everything starting at 16!
We have to start younger.
If we do everything for our kids, then they grow up thinking that it is the mother’s job to look after them, and they can’t be expected to do any work. If that’s what they think, they’re likely to become lazy adults, or selfish adults, who don’t realize when they are putting other people out. We all know people like that; people who take advantage of your hospitality, or who expect you to bail them out of a jam, because they don’t realize how much work is involved. Or maybe they just think they deserve it, because someone has always done everything for them.
Being a Christian parent does not mean that we do everything for the family. It means we work hard to work ourselves out of a job. I know not every family would be able to work towards that timeline. Learning disabilities, or maturity levels, would also play a part. Some children will be ready for things before others. I just encourage you to think about what you want your children to be able to do, so that they do become teenagers who are motivated and helpful.
So please comment: is this list fair? Have I left anything out? Am I too easy on the kids? Too hard? I’d love to know!
Sheila Wray Gregoire
Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum
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