How to get our kids pitching in with chores

Has there been a whole lot of moaning and groaning at your place when you’ve asked your kids to help out around the home? I mean, it’s not like you’re asking them to paint the house or spring clean the whole place, right? Be it setting the table, bringing the bikes in so they don’t get wet, or just getting the mail, sometimes the little things our kids used to do slip off the list of ‘regular to dos’ and a little attitude slips in instead.

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What does the research say?

Getting chores established at home takes time and energy – and with life getting busier and busier, it can feel easier to throw in the towel. But chores help prepare our kids for life. They positively affect their self-esteem, help them deal with frustration and teaches them delayed gratification. In fact, the research suggests that involving children aged three and four in household tasks is a great predictor of their success as a young adult in their mid 20s. [1]

What’s the dream?

The dream here is to for our kids to help around the house willingly without being paid for it, without bribes, and without us hovering over them to check things are getting done. If the family rule is that chores come before TV, then we want to know that they will keep their side of the bargain. If it’s their turn to empty the dishwasher, we want to trust that they’ll do just that. The dream is for them to chip in, even when no one’s watching – and that? That’s called integrity – doing the right thing, even when no one’s around to see it. So how do we make this happen?

How to make this dream a reality

Paint the picture

All families need a bit of a dream and some inspiration. Let your kids know that everyone is a wonderful part of the family and everyone is needed to chip in and help. Keep the growling out of it and let your kids know that you’re confident they can do a great job.

Show them how

A little bit of time explaining how to match the socks or how much food goes in Fido’s bowl all set children up for being successful. Some children will drain your ‘patience’ bucket, but showing them a few times may be what’s needed.

Use a list, not your voice

Too many verbal reminders can end up as nagging. Let the list on the fridge do the reminding. Each child gets to see what their tasks are for the week. Keep them age and stage appropriate. (See our age guide for chores below).

Chores are for love, not money

There’s a temptation to offer pocket money for helping. It gets complicated and can mess with the big life lesson that we do things because we’re part of a family and even when no one’s watching. Children can earn money for extra jobs not on the family chore list when there is a special project or item to purchase.

Routines turn into habits

Patience and persistence are required. Children get better at things slowly. Hang in there when the going gets stuck. Children do research on their parents – they want to know if doing chores is a flash in the pan or a way of life. It will take many days for the routine to become a habit.


Notice the little things you see your children do and acknowledge it. “Thanks for setting the table without being asked – I appreciate how you just got on with it.” Have times when the whole family celebrates that the chores are done for the day. On a Saturday, have a moment to enjoy morning tea or an ice cream while you express your appreciation. We keep going when we feel that we’re noticed and valued.

An age guide for chores

Chores for 3-5 year olds

  • Pull up the duvet cover
  • Put PJs under the pillow
  • Empty the non sharp things from the bottom of the dishwasher
  • Set the table
  • Feed the cat
  • Take plates to the sink
  • Put toys away

Chores for 5-8 year olds

  • Feed the dog
  • Collect the mail
  • Sort and match the socks
  • Help with simple dinner preparation
  • Take out the rubbish
  • Tidy their bedroom
  • Empty the dishwasher

Chores for 8-12 year olds

  • Unpack the groceries
  • Make part of the meal
  • Stack the dishwasher or wash/dry the dishes
  • Vacuum a room
  • Make their lunch for school
  • Get washing into the laundry
  • Walk the dog

Chores for teens

  • Vacuum the house
  • Clean the car
  • Make a meal
  • Unload the groceries
  • Clean the bathroom
  • Hang out the laundry
  • Bring in and fold the laundry
  • Do the dishes


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