Children, Chores and Responsibility: Tips for Parents

June 2, 2021

Children, Chores and Responsibility: Tips for Parents


This is the first of two stories on children learning responsibilities through completing chores around the house.

Wanted: Help around the house. Days and hours vary; no experience necessary!

Limited time and increased duties make you feel like you can’t get it all done. Rather than placing a help-wanted ad, seek help from those who live with you, and you can start with toddlers but kids of most ages are capable of helping.

With so many responsibilities of running a house some parents feel that teaching children at a very young age is important. It shows that all family members can work together and each person can do their share. When assigning chores, make sure that they are developmentally and appropriate. It is important that the child have the tools and knowledge to complete the chore effectively.

Parents need realistic expectations and patience to help children as they develop the necessary skills. Think of it as three different phases of being able to help:

  1. Child helps. Parent does the planning and motivation and child does part of the work (folding washcloths). Parent picks out all washcloths from laundry basket with very few steps for child to do.
  2. Child helps but need reminding or supervision. Adult and child share in planning, child completes task with supervision, such as helping to make a bed. This is one of those skills that takes time to learn.
  3. Child works independently. Child does the planning, motivation and work including clean up, such as packing his or her own lunch. More complex tasks will come easier to older children.

Introducing children to chores is a process, not a one-time task. How chores are presented makes a difference.

  • The chores should not be overwhelming. Break down the chore into small parts and let your child master one task before adding another.
  • Make the job clear and what expectations there are including a deadline to have it finished.
  • The chores/tasks are taught in the child’s learning style. Does your child need to see it demonstrated and try it (hands-on learning) or have the steps explained verbally?
  • Involve the child in choosing which chores they do. Children like to have input into decisions.

As a parent you may need to let go of the control and live with the one that they choose. Do you want to empty trash or set the table? Do you want to clean alone or do you want me to help show you? Do you want to pick two chores or do you want me to assign them?

When a child expresses interest in a particular chore such as being willing to vacuum but not empty the dishwasher, take the opportunity to teach what’s involved.

Be specific with your directions. “Clean your room” may mean different things to the parent and child. Explain what you consider an acceptable job.

Another factor to consider when presenting chores would be the child’s temperament.

It might be best to give a child with high activity level the task of sweeping, raking the leaves or gathering the garbage from around the house. Highly distractible kids may need reminders to stay on task until the job is complete. Some children do better with a visual reminder (a picture checklist) to help them know what is expected to complete the task. Some chores make take several tries to get it right and patience on the part of the parent is very important.

In the second part of this story, we’ll look at finding the right fit between children’s ages and the chores they can take on.

By Twila Perkinson Certified Child Life Specialist, Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health Center. She included additional information from Brittney Schrick, an author with the Center for Effective Parenting, Parenting Press.