Age-Appropriate Chores for Little Kids

Helping young children learn responsibility, skills, and self-reliance
Cute child washing up in kitchen sink
Oksana Kuzmina/Shutterstock.com

Many parents wonder how old their child should be before they assign chores.Teaching responsibility does not have to be à la Cinderella, but little kids love to "help", so you can harness that enthusiasm (before they learn to roll their eyes) and start with age-appropriate responsibilities and activities that you can build on from year to year. These chore ideas can build a child’s confidence and self-reliance, teach them to take care of their belongings, and help them take pride in the work they do.

Age-appropriate chore list for young kids

18 months

  • Put away 3 or 4 toys hand-over-hand

  • Get their own shoes when asked

  • Put shoes away hand-over-hand

  • Put something in the garbage or compost

  • Put dirty clothes in the hamper

2–4

  • Help sweep or vacuum a small area

  • Wash a few dishes

  • Put away their underwear and socks

  • Wipe the table after a meal

  • Bring their own dishes to the sink

  • Help you make the bed

5–8

  • Set the table

  • Water indoor plants or the garden

  • Feed the pets

  • Pick out their own clothes

  • Clean the windows and dust

9–12

  • Clean their own room

  • Make their own lunches and snacks

  • Unload the dishwasher and wash or dry dishes

  • Take out the trash, recycling, and compost

  • Clean the bathroom

  • Organize games for younger siblings

Helping younger children with chores

It is much more enjoyable for little kids to make the mess, so tidying may come with some protest. When children are young, the focus is mostly just to teach them about responsibilities. It does not matter how well it is done but more that they have attempted or completed the requested task.

Provide guidance through the chore

  • Young toddlers may need guidance in the form of "hand-over-hand" where you put your hands over theirs and gently guide their hands through the task.
  • Stay with them to ensure that you are guiding them as they go. They need to have someone there to tell them what to clean up and perhaps even where to put it. You can also try encouraging them to collect the toys, bring them to you, and you put them in their bins.

Set little kids up for success

It can be overwhelming for a child to see a huge mess that needs to be cleaned up. Think about how you feel when your house is such a disaster that you don’t even know where to start! Make sure there is time to complete the chore–don't ask when it's almost time to eat or go out. Ensure the conditions are such and requests are phrased in a way that the chore won't be waylaid by distractions or excuses.

Make sure there aren't too many toys

Children are tempted to take out and play with every single toy that is available to them: it's their nature. If you have a lot of toys at home it can be overstimulating and cause them to dump them out rather than actually play. Try putting some away to rotate out every so often. Encourage unstructured outdoor play so there isn't as much around to pick up to begin with. Teach them to clean up the toys that they have finished playing with before they take out the others.

Have a designated bin for everything

Whether it's clothes, dry goods, or toys, containers and bins can make kids' chores feel more like a sorting game. Try taping pictures of what goes inside each bin on the bin to make it easier for them to recognize.

Make chores fun

  • Choose a task that they may have already shown interest in, whether it's helping with the dishes, making lunch, or baking–though it may seem counter-intuitive, make spaces like the kitchen child-friendly and don't be afraid to let them make a mess! In time, they will gain more control.
  • Children benefit from a lot of encouragement while learning to follow through with their responsibilities so get silly and cheer younger children on while they are completing their tasks.
  • For younger children you can set a timer to see how fast they can tidy up.
  • Play music during chore time. Have a song that you sing to signal it's time to tidy up.

Clean up, clean up, everybody clean up
Clean up, clean up, everybody, everywhere
Clean up, clean up everybody clean up
Clean up, clean up everybody do your share

Ease the transition from play to chores

Sometimes kids aren't ready to change activities or finish what they are doing. You can help them through by making a bold or bright chore chart of their daily routine so that they know what comes next, can be prepared for tidy-up time, and look forward to the charting event. Little ones cannot tell time, therefore they organize their day by sequences of events. Having a visual (using pictures for the pre-literate) that they can see and plan for can go a long way in reducing the stress around transitions.

Make chores gender-free

Raise a child who can help around the home without gender boundaries. Girls can mow the lawn and shovel snow; boys can do the dishes and laundry. Besides helping you at home, this grows a child to be able to function in their own home as an adult and develops life skills for many other situations such as the work environment.

Encouraging the older child

Even if you started chores and responsibilities early with your child, once they become a pre-teen or teenager, getting them to help around the house is famously often a battle of wills. However there are things you can do to encourage them to help out.

  • Allow them access to WiFi and devices only after their chores have been completed.
  • Set a clear time limit to discourage procrastination: "Room needs to be cleaned by Thursday." This also teaches them time management and consequences.
  • Older kids like money. For those who give a weekly allowance you can consider paying them for chores that are above and beyond their regular maintenance-type ones (like making their bed and doing laundry). Have a list on the fridge with a dollar value for the extras (especially during the summer months) such as cleaning the cupboards, wiping baseboards, or organizing the shed.

Keep at it and they will start to learn how their contribution helps the family work together and frees you up to do more things with them! Remember, if even your two-year-old can operate your tablet or phone, they can surely learn how to put their own dirty clothes in the hamper!