How to Divide Chores Among Your Kids

Assigning Chores Appropriately and Keeping the Kids Motivated

Girl in boots and a dress cleans a window with a soapy sponge

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Dividing chores among your kids in an organized and effective fashion is important for their development and important for your sanity as a parent. Chores teach children responsibility, improve children’s self-esteem, and give them a sense of accomplishment. Giving a child chores prepares them for independence when they move away

When you have a big family, having the children help around the house is important for you as a parent. When your household includes six or more members, one or two people alone aren’t going to be able to keep things running smoothly. You need everyone to pitch in. Otherwise, not only will you feel overwhelmed, but you may develop feelings of resentment. This can lead to having a shorter temper with your kids or partner. No one wants that!

Here’s how to divvy up the chores among your kids in an effective and positive way, and keep your home running smoothly.

At What Age Can Kids Start Helping?

How old should kids be when they start participating in chores? Honestly, as soon as they are old enough to follow directions. A child between the ages of one or two years old can already follow a simple, one step instruction like, “Put this toy in this box.”

Toddlers and Preschoolers

While you can’t assign an 18-month-old child chores, you can get them started by having them be a helper in cleaning up their own toys or even carrying their plastic plate or cup to the dishwasher.  

When it comes to assigning chores, the age most children are ready is three or four. Children this age can follow three-part directions. (“Get your cup, pour out the extra water into the sink, and then put it into the dishwasher for me.”) They are also at an age when they are excited to help.

Young Children

According to the classic developmental theorist and psychologist Erik Erickson, children ages three to six years are all about initiative and volunteering. “I want to help, let me!” is something commonly heard from children this age.

Some parents, however, hesitate to allow kids this age to help. Since a three-year-old’s help can sometimes require more effort than the adult doing the chore themselves, some parents may be tempted to say, “I’ll do this, you go play.” Resist the temptation to reject your preschooler’s help!

Let them have their own chores, even if you will need to go back and redo them. (Or lower your standards so they can do their chores imperfectly.)

Allowing your preschooler to help is going to be to your benefit in the long run. When they are old enough to complete chores effectively, they will already be used to helping.

Also, your child’s developmental needs at this age are to feel like they are important and can be of service to others. Allowing them to experience that role and feel a sense of accomplishment will build their self-confidence and aid in their development.

Age Appropriate Chores

What chores can you assign to a three-year-old? Or to a six-year-old? How about your 12-year-old? This will depend on the child, as every child is unique. You know whether or not your six-year-old can handle loading the dishwasher better than anyone else.

That said, here are some general guidelines to consider.

Ages 3 to 6

  • Make their own bed
  • Put away their toys in their bedroom
  • Set the table for a meal
  • Help feed pets
  • Clear their plate after meals
  • Push the button to start the dishwasher
  • Sweep the floors (especially if you can get a child-sized broom)
  • Clean and wipe surfaces with water
  • Dust low-to-the-ground furniture (at their height) 

Ages 6 to 9

All of the above plus…

  • Unload the dishwasher
  • Dry dishes
  • Help gather dirty dishes and bring them to the kitchen
  • Wipe down tables and surfaces (with water and a little dish soap)
  • Fold clean towels
  • Pull the sheets and pillowcases off their own beds
  • Collect toys throughout the house and put them away
  • Rake leaves

Ages 9 to 12

All of the above plus…

  • Help scoop up pet poo in the yard
  • Pull weeds in the yard with gloves
  • Help carry in groceries and put them away
  • Wash fruits and vegetables
  • Peel and cut fruits and vegetables with supervision
  • Assist with cooking basic foods in the toaster or microwave and following directions, with supervision
  • Pack their own lunch with supervision
  • Load the dishwasher
  • Use the vacuum cleaner
  • Put pillowcases and sheets back on their bed (though they may need a little help)
  • Fold their own laundry and put away

Ages 12 to 16

All of the above plus…

  • Push a lawnmower
  • Shovel snow
  • Walk the family pet
  • Clean using environmentally safe cleaning supplies
  • Collect their own laundry and put it into the washer and dryer
  • Assist with folding and putting away the families laundry
  • Help create a grocery item list
  • Help select grocery items at the store with a list
  • Pack younger siblings lunches
  • Cook using the top of the stove and inside the oven, with supervision 
  • Wash dishes by hand
  • Take out the trash (depending on how heavy it is)
  • Mop floors
  • Help with cleaning out the refrigerator and wiping down surfaces
  • Clean bathrooms
  • Help younger siblings clean their rooms
  • Babysit younger siblings

Ages 16 to 18

All of the above plus…

  • Clean using regular cleaning supplies
  • Big cleaning projects like cleaning the oven, the freezer, or cleaning behind appliances
  • Change light bulbs or assist with household repairs
  • Load the family's laundry into the washer and dryer
  • Iron clothing
  • Operate a riding lawn mower
  • Go to the store and purchase groceries with a list

Ages 18 and Older

All of the above plus…

  • Drive younger children to school or extracurricular activities

When assigning tasks, remember that it’s not only about the child’s ability to safely carry out a chore, but also the child’s attention span and patience. If a chore is too complicated, takes too long to complete, or is overwhelming (like lots of toys spread out over a large area), the child may feel upset and refuse even to try.

Think about how you feel when you look at a very messy house and need to clean. You’d probably rather go online or watch TV than clean, too!

For younger kids who feel overwhelmed by a task, break down the job into smaller parts. You can also use a timer. (“I’m going to set this for 10 minutes, and whenever it goes off, your job is done.”) Offering to complete the chore alongside the child can also reduce the feeling of overwhelm.  

Using a Buddy System

Depending on the size of your family and the age ranges, you may want to consider using a buddy system. You may pair together close-in-age siblings (the 10-year-old with the 12-year-old), or you may pair together older siblings with a younger “helper” sibling (pairing the 5-year-old with the 12-year-old).

Pairing an older sibling with a younger one can assist with training the younger child in whatever chore they are helping the older sibling with, and teach the older child how to be a good mentor and role model. It’s a win-win situation!

For siblings who share a bedroom, while you will likely assign all siblings in that room to keeping their own space orderly and clean, you may want to assist them in divvying up tasks. Depending on the maturity and relationship between siblings, fights can break out over who “doesn’t help,” who is messier, or whose mess belongs to whom.

One way to reduce these arguments is to have them have a sibling meeting (like a family meeting, but smaller!) to decide jobs between each other. If they make the plan and decisions on their own, they will be more likely to carry them out. You can attend their meeting as a mediator and advisor. Let them set the rules, write them out, and assign tasks between each other. 

Safety and Chores

Is it safe to have your nine-year-old peeling and cutting carrots? Is it safe for the seven-year-old to put glass cups back on high shelves? This depends on your child’s individual temperament and maturity, as well as your time supervising and educating them on how to carry out tasks safely.

Safety is also dependent on providing them safe tools to complete their chores. 

Have a sturdy kitchen stepping stool. While your child can stand on a kitchen chair to put something away, it’s likely safer for them to use an actual kitchen ladder.

Store things in reachable areas. Or don’t have the child put away something they can’t safely reach, especially if it’s breakable or heavy.

Make sure toxic cleaning supplies are locked up. Also, teach the older children who are able to use cleaning supplies why they need to put them away securely to protect the little ones.

Remember: environmentally friendly cleaning products don’t mean child-safe. Safe for the Earth doesn’t always mean safe for kids. Even a non-toxic cleaning product can cause major damage if it gets in a child’s eyes. Giving younger kids a simple spray bottle with water is safest. As they get older, you can have them use gentle cleaning products.

Teach kitchen safety to every child. Your nine year old can safely peel and cut vegetables, but only if you show them the proper way to hold the vegetable and the knife. Taking the time to teach them will pay off in the long run when they start making dinner for the family at age 12!  

Teach your children first aid. What if the 12-year-old “accidentally” sprays cleaner into the “annoying” five-year-old’s face? What if while cooking, a fire breaks out in the kitchen? What if they cut themselves?

Teaching your children first aid is important, regardless of what chores you assign them. Having a fire extinguisher in the kitchen isn’t helpful if none of the kids know how and when to use it. Always have emergency phone numbers and your home address and phone numbers posted on the kitchen refrigerator as well, so if someone does need to call 911, the information is available.

The Red Cross has babysitting classes for kids starting at age 11, where they will learn first aid and CPR. Whether or not your child is babysitting, signing them up for the course is a great idea.

Rotating Chores vs. Consistent Responsibilities

Should children rotate chores, or should they keep the same chore over longer periods of time? There are advantages and disadvantages to both methods.

The pros and cons of rotating chores:

  • Fewer fights about “they have an easier job,” since everyone has a turn doing the “hard” jobs and the “easy” ones
  • More fights about “they didn’t do their job right, so now I have to do more when it’s my turn.”
  • Everyone gets experience with different chores
  • Keeping track of whose job it is today vs. tomorrow can get complicated
  • Completing chores is less boring since it’s always changing

The pros and cons of consistent responsibilities:

  • No question of whether it’s their job today or not—it’s always their job
  • The child can get into a groove and get used to their chore
  • If they aren’t good at the chore, that area/job may always require additional help or follow-up from you
  • Can get boring having the same chore every day
  • More arguments over “their chores are easier” than mine or “when will it be my turn to…”

Or, you can aim for a happy medium and rotate occasionally. In other words, you may want to assign a child chores for a period of weeks or months and then rotate them every three or six months. You may have certain dates, like the starting or ending of a school year, that mark when chores are reassigned.

Another option: if everyone is okay with their assigned duties, you may just have kids keep the same chores year-round. You might want to reconsider chore responsibilities on the child’s birthday, so they can help with new tasks as they mature.

Quality Control Without Being Discouraging

The hardest part of assigning chores to kids is learning to be okay with the job being done differently than you would have preferred. You, of course, want your child to learn to complete the chore “right,” but if you are constantly correcting them or doing it over again after them, they will feel discouraged. They won’t want to help anymore.

Ways to deal with this issue include...

Praise effort, not results. “I see you worked hard at wiping that kitchen table.”

Provide constructive criticism very occasionally. Correct them once in a while, not every time.

Lower your standards. If you have a big family, you’re not going to be able to keep things pristinely clean at all moments anyway. Let your kids do a “good enough” job.

If you’re going to re-do or go back over their chore, do it when they aren’t around. Don’t rearrange the dishwasher when they are standing there watching you. They will feel bad for not “doing it right” and not want to help next time. Wait until they are at school or in bed for the night, unless it’s absolutely vital it be redone (if it’s a safety issue, for example.)

Remember, they are just kids. If your expectations are unrealistic, you will be disappointed. Remind yourself they are children. They are not adults. Even some adults can’t seem to do chores right!

You may want to consider taking photos of the chore done correctly, to guide the child. For example, if you want the toys to be arranged in a specific way, having a photo of a clean play area and all the toys in their proper places can help the child see what is expected.

Should You Pay Your Kids for Chores?

Some parents believe kids should receive monetary compensation for chores. They see it as a way to prepare them for the world of work—effort means money. Other parents don’t want kids to think they can choose not to do their chores, and thereby choose to not get paid. They believe kids should help around the house because they live at home. Everyone needs to pitch in.

This is a personal, family decision.

Some things to consider when deciding whether or not to tie financial compensation to chores include...

Kids may expect more money for doing extra chores. Maybe this is okay with you, but it may not work for all families.

Not all families can afford to pay what the chore is worth. Someone may be able to make an argument that paying a child much less than a chore is worth teaches him or her to accept unreasonable pay.

Kids can learn how to handle money by receiving an allowance that isn’t tied to chores. You could tie other privileges, like TV or computer time, to chores instead.

Some families pay for doing “extra” chores but not for their regular chores. This may be more financially sustainable for big families.

Encouraging Compliance and General Chore Guidelines

You can assign chores, but that doesn’t mean they will do them. You also don’t want a situation where you’re constantly nagging kids to get their chores done.

Here are some things you can do to get the kids to help with fewer arguments.

Start young. As mentioned, the earlier you start, the easier it will be to get their help as they grow up.

Make expectations clear. Whether you have a general list of chores or use a fancy chore calendar or chart, make your expectations clear. Be sure to clarify when a child is expected to do a chore as well. Right after school? Before bed? Before 6 pm? After dinner? Before dinner? What happens if they don't do their chore?

Give them cleaning tools they can use and enjoy. For example, you may want to provide colorful cleaning clothes, small spray bottles with water that their little hands can hold, or a child-sized broom.

Make it a game or play special "cleaning" music. Especially with little kids, if you make it fun, it’s more likely to get done.

Clean alongside them. While this isn’t always possible, your kids are more likely to want to help if they see you’re busy cleaning too.

Display a positive attitude when it comes to doing your own household activities. They learn from watching you. If you or your partner constantly complain about chores, then why shouldn't they complain too?   

Teach them why doing chores is important for their development. You probably already tell your kids that eating their fruits and veggies is good for their physical health. Explain how learning to cook, do laundry, or help their younger siblings is good for their developmental health.

Explain how helping with chores will help them today. Why should they clean their rooms? Because then it will be easier to find the toys they want to play with. Why should they help in the kitchen? Because then, mom or dad will have more time to spend with them.

Maintain a routine but also be flexible. If one child has a big exam to study for, allow them to give their chore for the day to a sibling in exchange for taking over the siblings chore on another day. The tricky thing is if one child is busier all the time. Then, you may want to sit down with that child and come up with chores that fit their schedule best.

Ask them what they want to help with. One child may be extra excited to help cook, while another loves to vacuum. Let them do what they like whenever possible.

A Word from Verywell

While your child is learning how to complete chores, you’re learning how to assign and manage your children. You may start with a system that sounded amazing at first but just doesn’t work. You may have failed to get your oldest kids started doing chores at a young age, but your next kids you got them started younger. Just like you’re forgiving of your children and focusing on effort over quality, do the same for yourself. Don’t be afraid to experiment or change chore systems. With time and patience, you’ll find a grove that works best for your family.

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