kids & chores

Even toddlers can help put things in their place, but before you assign tasks, check out these guidelines for age-appropriate chores.

Chores are an important part of every child's development. They promote socialization, build a sense of responsibility, as well as teamwork and cooperation skills. But before assigning chores to your child, it's important to keep in mind that these everyday tasks need to be age appropriate and match your child's cognitive, language, and physical abilities.

Chores for Toddlers

For kids this age, it's best not to think in terms of "chores" but rather "helping to clean up" because kids in this age bracket shouldn't be expected to complete tasks entirely on their own. These cleanup tasks will probably require your encouragement and oversight, so you may have to create some tasks for your toddler. The goal at this young age is not really getting help from your child; it's about socialization, giving your child a sense that they are contributing, and finding opportunities to praise your child for their efforts.

Here are some "chores" appropriate for toddlers.
  • Putting crayons back into a bin or large container
  • Putting one to five toys back into a toy chest or large bin (Most toddlers are not ready to put away or sort more toys than this.)
  • Putting one to three pairs of their shoes or a family-member's shoes on the closet floor

Chores for Preschoolers

Although preschoolers' motor skills are more sophisticated than toddlers, they are still uncoordinated and clumsy at times. So, if you assign your toddler a task that requires coordination--such as sweeping and using dustpan--you should not expect it will be done perfectly. You'll still find considerable dust left on the floor. But this shouldn't stop you from assigning this kind of task. Just lower your expectations a bit. There are many chores that preschoolers can do quite competently, although some chores will need a parent to do a little preparation first. Keep in mind that preschoolers need parental participation, presence, and acknowledgement during these chores.

Here are a few chores appropriate for preschoolers.
  • Helping to set the table by folding napkins in half. This can even be done earlier in the day for a later meal
  • Placing napkins next to each plate. Try modeling the task for them first, as kids can have trouble remembering left and right
  • Empty the contents of the hamper onto the floor and ask your preschooler to help put them into the laundry basket
  • Take several coats and hangers out of the closet. Put the hangers on the floor and ask your preschooler to hand you a hanger one at a time as you hang each coat and put into the closet
  • Using non-breakable plates, direct preschoolers to place the plates on the table. Place nickels where the plates should go until they memorize the placement themselves

Chores for Kids 5-9

Primary-school-aged children are able to do more complex chores than their younger counterparts--both physically more advanced and cognitively more advanced. Keep in mind, however, that the goal is not perfection.

Here are a few chores appropriate for ages 5-7.
  • Helping to make their bed (Each person takes one side of the bed and works together to pull up and smooth out the sheets.)
  • Sorting clothes (socks, pants, shirts, etc.).
  • Folding clothes in half. (Older school-aged children can fold their clothes more completely.)
  • Helping to sweep the floor
  • Helping to take out the trash
Here are a few chores appropriate for ages 7-9.
  • Folding clothes in half
  • Vacuuming the carpet
  • Making the bed independently
  • Cutting coupons and sorting them into food categories
  • Setting and clearing the table
  • Washing and drying the dishes
Vanessa Ann Vigilante, Ph.D., is a psychologist in the Department of Neonatology at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.
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