2- to 4-Year-Olds:
Start ‘em when they’re young! Toddlers can take on simple tasks like filling the family pet’s food bowl and putting clothes in the hamper. In the kitchen, they can sort flatware and set napkins on the table. Most important, they can put their own toys away, which means no more Lego minefields for Mom and Dad to navigate.
TIP: Praise your child’s effort instead of perfection. Offer a “Great start, keep going!” while the chore is in progress, and a “Good job!” when it’s done, whatever the outcome. After you’ve modeled the job once or twice, resist the urge to jump in and take over.
5- to 7-Year-Olds:
Armed with improved motor skills and concentration, school-age kids feel like they can conquer the world—but it’s best to start in the kitchen. Big kids can put away groceries, set and clear the table, water plants, unload utensils from the dishwasher and use a hand-held vacuum to capture crumbs. Budding chefs can fix a bowl of cereal and peel vegetables. This age group can also make their beds, sweep floors, dust and sort laundry. If you have a garden, let young green thumbs weed, rake and plant alongside you.
TIP: Youngsters this age can follow a chore chart. Sit down together and talk about the tasks that keep your household humming, then assign each child a few daily jobs (clear the dishes, tidy up the toy area) and a once-a-week gig (wipe down the bathroom).
8- to 10-Year-Olds
Imagine: A load of laundry done—load to fold to drawer—without laying a finger on the washing machine. It’s possible! Bigger kids can complete simple laundry loads, as well as vacuum, mop, wipe windows and walk small pets. In the kitchen, work side by side with your child to cook meals—though he or she can take full responsibility for simple dishes like toast and sandwiches—and load the dishwasher together when you’re done.
TIP: Don’t micromanage. Constantly checking the status of a chore (“Did you do the dishes yet?!”) undermines trust. Ditch tight deadlines (“You must make your bed by 8 a.m.!”) in favor of consequence-based reminders like, “After you make your bed, you can play outside.”
11 and Up:
Tweens and teens are capable of regular jobs like ironing, unloading the dishwasher and changing sheets, as well as bigger projects like cleaning out the garage, polishing silver and washing the car. Kids this age have some problem-solving experience, so talk through your expectations, then let them decide how to tackle the task.
TIP: Consider adding a financial upside to family chores. Offer an allowance or a per-chore reward that can be spent on toys or games—or saved up for a big-ticket item.
Nobody likes chores, which is exactly why you shouldn’t have to do all of them. Instead, recruit the kids to pitch in. Your house will (eventually) be tidier, and they’ll learn about responsibility (and why you’re so tired all the time).
Of course, sending your 4-year-old to change the light bulb isn’t really what we have in mind. Hover over the red circles in the image above to learn what tasks your kids can handle at every age. And click here to learn seven shortcuts to make your own cleaning jobs easier.