Giving Kids Chores: A Beginner’s Guide

A lot of people ask us when do I start giving my kids chores? How can I start giving my kids chores?

In 2015, Marty Rossman with the University of Minnesota published a study on childhood chores and success that she did on 84 children that she followed for 25 years. She studied these kids at 3 stages of their childhood (preschool, elementary school, high school) with a follow up survey at 20 years old. She found that kids that were most successful at age 20 started chores in preschool or before. Those that started in their teens had higher instances of drug use, lower college attendance and lower career development.

The later you start chores with your kids the worse outcome you have.  I suggest giving chores to your kids around 18 months old or 2 years old.  Yes toddlers can do chores, with lots and lots of help from parents. Check here for my list of chores for toddlers. 

Most toddlers are all about helping anyway. Mine is always saying “Me help! Me help!” It makes them feel proud and big to help out. It grows their self confidence like nothing else I know.

4 Steps to Giving Chores to Kids

There are 4 steps to start giving your kids chores that will in turn help you. Studies show that kids who do chores grow up to be more successful in life. 

Step 1: Assign Chores Early

Assign chores in preschool or earlier. If you are late to the game and you have a 5 year old or an older child that you are staring chores with, don’t hesitate. Assign them some chores. Give them a job or a few that they do daily.

Step 2: Teach New Chores

Teach your child new chores.  Here is the kicker, you can’t just say “Go unload the dishes” “go start your laundry,” you have to teach your child these chores step by step multiple times. Kids who do not have instruction on how to do a chore likely won’t figure it out successfully on their own. 

Teach your child a chore by showing them how to do it, then do it side by side (work together to get the job done), then allow them to try on their own. 

You’re child likely won’t learn to read with one lesson or be able to add with one quick demonstration. Same goes with chores. You are going to have to teach those chores by having them help you with them and explaining along the way. And you will have to do it several times.    

This is why I suggest starting with toddlers when they want to help. Because you will be teaching them.  If they are unloading the dishes with you, you are naturally going to show a two year old how to put the spoons and forks in the correct spaces.

Step 3: Have Fair Expectations

Make sure your expectations are realistic.  Kids are not going to do great jobs for a long time after they start a chore.  Think about a new skill you acquired. I bet it took several tries to be decent at it.  Same goes with chores.  

You have to let go of your perfectionism to allow them to grow. Your expectations should be that they are trying and they are following directions to the best of their abilities.  If their efforts continue coming up short, give them a quick brush up on how you would like the chore done. Adopt the mantra that done is good enough. 

Remember a kindergartner is going to have 5 year old abilities and 5 year old results. Keep this in mind when the chores aren’t done perfectly.  Things are going to get missed and things are going to be done improperly. It’s part of the process. 

Step 4: Don’t Pay for Chores

Studies have shown that there is no discernible difference between the outcome of chores.  Kids who get paid don’t do a better job or argue less about doing chores than those who receive no compensation. I suggest making chores a part of being a part of the family.  

In our family, we remind the kids because we all do chores, we have more time to do fun stuff as a family than we would if Mom and Dad did all the housework. 

Bonus Step: Don’t Divide Chores by Sex

There are no chores that can only be done by one sex. Girls can do yard work as well as boys; and boys can do house work as well as girls.  Teach them to be self sufficient in every area of home management.   

My oldest son is 22.  When all his friends were getting apartments they were living on microwave meals and a cold sandwiches.  One day he came home completely amazed. His friends couldn’t even make grilled cheese sandwiches. He had taught an entire group of 19-24 year old men and women how to cook grilled cheese sandwiches. 

That night he told me the story, “Do you know they had no idea how to make even a grilled cheese? That is so simple. Isn’t that the most ridiculous thing you have ever heard?” I said “Almost as ridiculous as a nine year old having a fit because his mama was making him cook. *mimicking 9 year old him* ‘No one else’s mom makes them cook! This is so unfair! You are just making me cook because you don’t want tooooooo. Wah wah.” He said, “Yeah yeah. Well I guess it was a good idea.” 

He wound up starting a side business teaching his friends how to cook and they paid him to do it. Here is the thing. He hated that I forced him to learn to cook. He stomped his foot and would make it 10 times harder than it should have been. I bit my lip and kept pushing him. In the end, he thanked me for it. And your kids will too. (And if not them, their future partners will).

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