Age-Appropriate Chores for Kids 2 through 17

Chores. Deep down, most of us know that our kids should probably be learning how to clean up after themselves and take care of their environments. 

But nothing about it is easy. 

When my first son was old enough to start really helping, I thought I could just say, “Set the table,” and it would get done. After all, he’s seen me do it countless times. He used to “help” when he was a toddler. He knows where everything is, and he knows where everyone sits. Easy.

I was sorely mistaken. And I’ve learned since then that no part of kids doing chores is easy. Teaching them to do it (well) takes time, supervising takes time, fixing it takes time, and then they start whining about not wanting to do it anymore.

What’s easy, is throwing up our hands and just doing it ourselves. But the right things are rarely the easy things. The truth is, it’s foundationally important for kids of all ages to do chores, and it’s worth the extra time we need to invest in them at every stage.

Childhood chores create successful adults

Let’s be honest: Getting kids to do chores is not always the easiest task. You have to teach them how to do it (and how to do it well), supervise for a season, and about the time they get it down—the shine has worn off and they don’t want to do it anymore.

It’s often easier to just do it yourself, but it’s better for everyone (in the long-run) to stick with it.

Why? Primarily, because childhood chores are one of two key ingredients to raising successful adults. One of the longest longitudinal Harvard Grant studies ever conducted spent decades trying to determine what successful adults have in common, and researchers came up with two factors: love and a history of childhood chores.

In a stunning TEDTalk, Julie Lythcott-Haims (former Dean of Freshmen at Stanford and the author of How to Raise an Adult) quotes the study to discuss the importance of raising kids who know how to roll up their sleeves, anticipate needs, solve problems, and trust in their own abilities. 

It’s not the only one, and every study agrees: The sooner kids start doing chores, the better.

It’s also better for you in the long-run. Yes, they’re going to load the dishwasher wrong and make a mess of “folding” laundry right now. But the sooner you start, the sooner they’ll get it right.

Disclaimer: The following is a list of what many kids in each age group can reasonably do, but every kid is different and you know yours best. Assign chores that you know are within their ability.

Chores for toddlers

That’s right: toddlers. Because a University of Minnesota study found that, “the best predictor of young adults' success in their mid-20s was that they participated in household tasks when they were three or four.”

Many kids this age are shadowing you every chance they get anyway, and want to “help” with whatever you’re doing. This is the age when they start to develop some autonomy, so it might be easier than you expect to get them to cooperate. 

Good chores for toddlers include:

  • Making their beds
  • Cleaning up their toys
  • Helping feed family pets (with supervision, when directed)

Cleaning up toys is made easier by setting a consistent time and by making sure there is a clear “place” for everything. 

Chores for preschool kids

Five and six-year-olds still want to “help,” so try to let them as often as possible. Assign some specific chores, though, so they can take some ownership over their responsibilities.

In addition to the tasks listed above, good chores for preschool-aged kids include:

  • Setting and clearing the table
  • Putting away groceries
  • Watering houseplants

Chores for elementary school kids

As kids get into grade school, you may start to experience more resistance. Be consistent. 

Kids this age are also (1) able to do more, and (2) eager to be “big” kids. This is a good time to start a chore chart to help them keep their tasks organized, and to allow them some control over when their work gets done.

In addition to early childhood chores that they’re still doing, good chores for kids in elementary school include:

  • Taking care of pets (with less and less supervision)
  • Cleaning floors—sweeping, mopping, and vacuuming
  • Emptying garbage cans
  • Helping with laundry

As they start to do more chores with less supervision, be prepared for the dynamic to shift. When they feel like they don’t need you watching, for example, try to step back and just review the final result. 

Chores for pre-teens

Around middle school, kids’ schedules start to get busier. They will start to have more homework and more extracurricular activities, but they’ll also be more interested in social activities. 

They still need to do chores. It’s so tempting to make exceptions, but learning how to manage time and prioritize responsibilities is crucial development. In her book, Lythcott-Haims points out, “When they're at a job, there might be times that they have to work late, but they'll still have to go grocery shopping and do the dishes.”

Good chores for pre-teens generally include:

  • Dishes—washing, loading, and putting them away
  • Meal prep
  • Yard work—raking leaves, mowing grass, weeding beds, etc.
  • Cleaning the bathroom
  • Changing bed sheets

An easy way to create more responsibility at this stage is also to simply expand on the chores they’re already doing. If he’s vacuuming regularly, teach him when and how to replace the vacuum bag. If she’s emptying garbages, make it her responsibility to take the garbage down to the curb on garbage day.

Chores for teenagers

By the time kids are in high school, they’re preparing to move out. It’s painful, but it’s true, and we do them a disservice if they move out with huge gaps in their knowledge of how to fend for themselves. 

Treat 16 and 17-year-olds like the adults they’re about to be. They will be busy, so help them maintain a set schedule.

Good chores for teenagers include:

  • Complete meal prep—planning, shopping, cooking, and cleanup
  • Laundry
  • Cleaning windows
  • Cleaning appliances
  • Maintaining the car they drive—oil changes, maintenance appointments, etc. (Yes, even if it’s your car!)
  • Helping with basic household repairs

Teenagers usually try to insist on complete ownership of their bedrooms, but insist on some standards: regularly cleaning up, changing the sheets, doing their own laundry, etc. Set a schedule and help them understand why it’s important, so you can (hopefully) instill some good habits.

Final tips for getting kids to do chores

It would be nice if this were as easy as delegating office tasks, but it’s not. This is some of the hard work of parenting, and it’s worth it.

  • Praise good efforts — This is important for younger kids. They want to do it “right,” and even though they’re totally messing it up at first, appreciate and praise the effort. This is also a good reminder that their best effort is more important than the end result.

  • Set aside extra time — Plan on these chores taking longer than when you do them, especially at first. It’s easy to assume that kids have seen you do it a hundred times, so they must have some idea, but they probably don’t. Set aside time to walk them through each step the first several times, and then to supervise, etc.

  • Be specific — “Clean up your bedroom” is a big, vague task for a younger child (and “clean the bathroom” sounds much different to a teenager than to a mom), so set them up for success by giving clear, specific instructions.

  • Expect imperfection — Teach them how to do it right/well, by all means, and as your kids get older, hold them to higher and higher standards. But it will be easier for everyone if you can admit that it’s not going to be perfect the first time.

  • Be consistent — Washing dishes and folding laundry are facts of life, and our kids need to know that they won’t go away when we get busy or want to go out with friends.
  • What about allowance?

    There’s no consensus on allowance, unfortunately. One the one hand, it helps kids learn about earning money and saving up for purchases. On the other hand, kids need to learn that some work just needs to get done because—that’s life.

    There are a couple options for meeting in the middle, if you’re undecided—or if your pre-teen is begging, or if you and your spouse disagree:

  • Pay an allowance for work that affects the whole family. Some parents choose to pay an allowance for chores that have a communal impact (like dishes, toilet scrubbing, etc.), but not for personal chores (like making their own beds, doing their own laundry, etc.).

  • Pay an allowance for extra chores. Some parents establish a list of chores that are the responsibility of each child, but offer an allowance for chores done above and beyond those responsibilities. (Bonus: Kids doing extra chores.)
  • Kids can (and should!) do chores at any age

    If you haven’t started a routine of chores with your kids, now is the time. (It’s summer: They’re bored anyway.) 

    If they’re older, you may need to have an official chat to explain that it’s time they start helping out around the house. Try to open a discussion, rather than laying down the law, for better buy-in. Tell them why it’s important, apologize for not starting sooner if you need to, and ask how they want to start.

    If your kids are younger, you can announce the exciting news. Start with one chore and wait for them to master it before adding more. (A wise mama once told me that her kids get a new chore every year, on their birthdays, and I immediately stole that idea. Shoutout to Gloria.)

    And if they whine, tell them it’s for their own good. It’s science. 

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