Getting children to do chores—and even getting ourselves to do chores—can be a chore in and of itself. We grumble and resist, and so do they! Resistance shows up no matter how big or small we are!

Contributing to daily life tasks is healthy and appropriate for children to learn … and they should not be ‘paid’ to do these kinds of jobs. Our home and life together requires care and attention to which we all contribute.

So how can we expect our children to be cooperative? Here are a few ideas to help your children participate:

  1. Offer choices: Create a chore list together with your children, including the timeframes in which certain chores need to be accomplished. They can then choose chores from the list that they wish to do.Think with your child about the best times for them to undertake their task, as well as the best time for you. Problem solve together how best to manage if their timing and yours is different.You also can give your child some power and choices within the limits that you set. For example, with the chore of feeding a pet consistency in time of day is important. Let your child choose what time of day she will feed the cat and which which small scoop to use to measure the amount.
  1. Mix it up: Repetitive tasks get boring for children as well as adults… so how about changing chores weekly, so no one has to do the same thing all the time? Write each chore on slips of paper and have your children pull them out of a jar to see what their weekly tasks will be.
  1. Create a system to follow: Help your children figure out what they need to do and how to know when it has been accomplished. You could create a simple Velcro picture chart, with “To Do’s” on the left, and “Finished” on the other side—each chore is a picture that is moved when it’s done.Maybe your child would like to make a picture chart and put a check by each task accomplished. Or, perhaps create a symbol for each person in the family, and the chores each does are listed under the individual’s symbol.This can also work with magnets or Post-its or even “chore rocks” that are put in each individual’s jar. Making things creative and fun goes a long way with children because they are naturally playful.There are also apps for getting chores done like Chore Monster; however I’ve found that a system that is always visible in the home tends to work better over time.
  1. Work together—it is always more fun! Working together helps make tasks less overwhelming, easier to accomplish, and gets the the job done more quickly. Cleaning up a mess can be overwhelming, especially for younger children (and even for adults). A child who is cleaning up their room or their toys will manage much better if you work alongside them and help to guide them, steb-by-step, through the process. ‘You put the little animals in their basket, take the dolls to their bed, etc.’ helps them to organize the job and organize their mind.
  1. Be a great model: Remember, we are the models for our children. They imitate us both consciously and unconsciously. If we begrudgingly do our tasks, can we expect our children to happily engage in their tasks? If we grumble about our work, it gives them the message that they should grumble too.
  1. Give age appropriate chores: If a task is too hard or too easy, we have more resistance to doing it. Remember that something you expect a 3 year old to manage, can be done by an older child as well. Below is a list of chores by age to use as a guideline. You might be surprised of what your child is capable of doing with the right guidance and motivation!

Chore List by Age

AGES 2 — 3: Specific guidance is needed, and just ask for one thing at a time (fold this napkin, now this one; put these in hamper; etc.) You can get help with anything they like to do with you, which is often most things!

  • Put away toys
  • Stack books on shelf
  • Put dirty clothes in hamper
  • Throw away trash
  • Carry firewood
  • Fold small cloths/napkins, etc.
  • Set table
  • Fetch diapers and wipes
  • Dust simple things like baseboards
  • Sponge off table, etc.

AGES 4 — 5: Guidance is still needed. This age is more capable, and the more playful you are, the greater cooperation you will receive. Playing pretend can really help to get the job done—imagine the floor littered with lots of little pieces of paper from an art activity, and say something like. ‘Where are the little squirrels that can eat up all the seeds?’.

  • Feed pets
  • Clean spills
  • Sweep
  • Make bed
  • Water plants
  • Sort eating utensils
  • Prepare simple snacks
  • Use hand-held vacuum
  • Set and clear table
  • Put own dishes in dishwasher or sink
  • Put away dishes
  • Pull weeds
  • Pick rocks out of the garden bed
  • Help with meals: wash fruits/veggies, gather items for dinner, etc.
  • Water plants with guidance

AGES 6 — 8

  • Gather trash
  • Fold laundry items like towels and napkins
  • Match socks
  • Put clothes away in drawers
  • Use dust mop on floor
  • Vacuum
  • Empty dishwasher
  • Rake leaves
  • Peel fruits/veggies
  • Make salad
  • Water plants independent of guidance

AGES 8 — 9

  • Load dishwasher
  • Wash laundry
  • Fold clean clothes
  • Dust/polish furniture
  • Sweep inside or outside
  • Put away groceries
  • Help write grocery list
  • Find things in grocery store
  • Simple cooking with guidance— eggs, cookies, fruit salad, etc.

AGES 10 — 11

  • Clean bathrooms
  • Vacuum
  • Deep clean kitchen
  • Plan, with help, and prepare simple meals
  • Mow lawn
  • Clean car
  • Get mail
  • Simple mending
  • Larger sweeping and clean out jobs
  • Garden help — like raking
  • Clean and polish things like furniture, inside of car, etc.

AGES 12 & UP

  • Mop floors
  • Change light bulbs
  • Trim hedges, weed, dig up garden, rake leaves, etc.
  • Independantly shop for household items, groceries, etc.
  • Prepare whole meals from start to finish, including finding recipes, baking, etc.
  • Wash windows, walls, etc.
  • Iron clothes
  • Walk dog
  • Independently watch younger siblings
  • Simple home repairs

Bonnie Romanow is a parent educator and early childhood mental health consultant at Parents Place in Marin County.