child cleaning

At What Age Should Children Participate in Chores Around the House?

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The University of Maryland conducted a study several years ago that suggested children were spending about 24 minutes a day doing housework. At the time, that was a 25% decline. I would think that it’s even less now. Why? Well, kids have a lot to do these days. When I was young, I would get home from school by 3:30 or 4 and my only “job” was to get supper ready for the family. I was about 12 at the time. Sometimes I had homework, but it would usually be done before we sat down to eat. That left me 3 or more hours of “me” time. Which usually involved me annoying my parents or watching TV. So I can definitely see being able to get 24 minutes in per day.

But now? Kids are doing extracurricular activities. Sometimes more than one. As I got older, I certainly had my fair share but not in the age range that the study is focused on – which is between the ages of 6 and 12. A Harvard Grant study shows that people who did more housework in their childhood were happier later in life. Is that really true? This study suggests that chores can give kids a better sense of judgment, make them less impulsive and help them become more aware of other people’s needs. I’m not sure if that is accurate, but it is interesting to think about.

Laundry became my own responsibility when I was about 5. My mother told me that I was changing my clothes too often and she was tired of having to do my laundry. Little did she know that I would grow into a person who had to have clean clothes all the time. In my 20s, I was doing laundry 3 or 4 times a week. Keep in mind, I’m a single person (as in I don’t have a family size amount of laundry to do), but I had this compulsion to always make sure my clothes were clean. That’s changed now that I’m in my 30s, and laundry has become the bain of my existence. Perhaps I’m not the “standard” for this particular study.

If you want to start teaching your kids what it’s like in the real world, here are some ways that you can build it into their every day lives. I’ve broken it down by age group.

family cleaning

Toddlers and Preschoolers

Little kids like to mimic what older people are doing. Use that enthusiasm to build an “everyone pitches in” mindset. Keep in mind that their way of helping might end up being more work for you. If your child really wants to pour his own milk, let him. But also make sure he understands that if he spills he has to pitch in to clean it up. It will help him understand work ethic.

child cleaning

Elementary School Kids

Keep your expectations low. Do I really need to say more? It’s going to take your child a long time to figure out how to do some things. They might be amazing at it, but they might also require a lot of time to perfect it. I still get schooled when it comes to peeling potatoes by my father. A task that I’ve been doing since I was old enough to use a knife. (Which is probably a lot younger than most parents allow) Don’t micromanage them. Remember that they’re building skills and helping out, not just trying to do the work for you.

child cleaning

Middle School Kids

Help them to become proactive. Instead of handing your kids a checklist of things to do, help them become contributing members of the household. You want them to look around your house and ask “what else can I do?”. An example might be – the garbage is overflowing. You might want to ask them “what can we do next time that the garbage doesn’t overflow?” The idea is that they will start to anticipate next steps and not have to ask you what to do.

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High Schoolers

Give them big projects. My parents gave me some pretty big projects when I was in high school. But I didn’t have a typical childhood and many of my “projects” included helping with the family business. What kind of project can you give your child? Suggest that they assemble a dresser or learn how to cut the lawn. Most parenting books suggest that you don’t want to pay your children for chores, but you can pay them when they go above and beyond what you expect of them.

Lastly, your kids aren’t there to do the work for you. Giving them tasks doesn’t mean you can sit on the couch and watch TV. Work with them. Expect their help. Also, thank them. You don’t have to gush for hours about how they put their laundry away, but a simple thank you goes a long way.