Age-appropriate chores for kids

Encouraging your child to take on certain chores around the house will ease your household responsibilities, but will also teach your child valuable life lessons and develop a sense of autonomy. By Marianne McDonald

This stage-by-stage guide to chores for kids will help your little one develop into a happy little helper, but feel free to add in appropriate tasks as they come up in your household.

ALSO SEE: Why your kids should be doing chores, whatever their age 

Toddler

This is the first and last time you’re likely to have to beg or demand that your child help you around the house. Your little one is bound to show enthusiasm for helping you with everyday tasks and will relish the time together and the sense of accomplishment he gets from it. But, patience on your part will be essential since tasks are likely to take longer and may even produce more mess than there was to begin with.

Nadia Khan, a preschool teacher at FastTracKids preprimary in Johannesburg, explains that although this can be frustrating, “the child should never be criticised for not doing it right, or the way the parent would. This will just discourage him and prevent him from developing the skills to do the chore well later on.” She also explains that this is a way to develop self-motivation. “However, make sure that you show your child how to perform the task. You won’t have much luck simply telling your child to tidy his room – he needs to be shown how to categorise his toys into the different compartments.”

Chores your 2 to 3-year-old can do under supervision

  • Picking up toys
  • Wiping tables
  • Dusting
  • Washing plastic plates and cutlery
  • Feeding pets
  • Baking (mixing)
  • Watering plants

Preschoolers

“At this stage, your child will be learning self-awareness and how to care for his own needs,” says Nadia. Your child will be developing a sense of responsibility, too, and he is likely to take his tasks seriously.

“Your little one will still be unlikely to be doing his chores with precision, but if you support him and refrain from criticism, he will have mastered most of them in no time,” explains Nadia.

Chores your 4 to 6-year-old can do

  • All of the above
  • Make their own bed
  • Baking (measuring and mixing with parent)
  • Hanging up their own towel
  • Placing dirty laundry in the laundry basket
  • Assisting parent in hanging up laundry
  • Setting the table and helping to clear up after meals
  • Helping to fold laundry (matching up socks can be a particularly fun game)

Primary school +

Nadia explains that if you have encouraged your child over the years, you may be surprised at how adept he is at certain tasks. However, you may notice some resistance to helping out around the house. While you may be tempted to offer carrot-and-stick rewards and consequences, these will only work in the short time. Soon the novelty of receiving a sticker for each task will wear off. “What you really want is to cultivate self-motivation,” explains Nadia.

ALSO SEE: The difference between bribes, rewards and praise 

In his book, Drive, Daniel H Pink offers advice on how amplifying our intrinsic drivers results in long-term success whereas punishment and reward results in short-term adherence.

Daniel suggests the following methods:

Offer autonomy

This means allowing your child to choose a few tasks he actually enjoys doing. This could be using the spray bottle and squeegee to clean windows or helping to prepare family meals.

Find you child’s “Goldilocks zone”

Your child should feel challenged, but not overwhelmed, so work on finding tasks that aren’t too easy, but still challenge your child. For example, once he has mastered hanging up laundry, he could teach his sibling how to do it too.

A sense of purpose

For adults and children alike, this is a huge motivating factor. Ensure that you praise and thank your child for the tasks he is completing and never tell him he didn’t do it “properly” or well enough.

Chores your 6+-year-old can do

  • All of the above
  • Getting dressed for school
  • Packing lunch box
  • Helping with meal preparation and serving under supervision

More about the expert:

Nadia Kahn is a passionate teacher and mother of two girls. She currently teaches preschool children at FastTracKids preprimary in Johannesburg and believes strongly in learning through play.

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